The Language of GIS

Guest blogger today is Jerry Prince, EAST Senior Director of Program Services.

Imagine walking into a room of 10,000+ people speaking a language that you are only just beginning to learn — only to get caught up in their excitement about new events and processes. The event was the ESRI International Users Conference, July 12-16 in San Diego, California. The language spoken was GIS (geographic information systems).

Over the past few years, I have tinkered with GIS just enough to be intrigued — while remaining very challenged by the advanced toolset. GIS advancements from around the world are being applauded and new versions being previewed, bringing great excitement, even among those of us who barely know the language.

GIS has been hammering away in the background for years and is finally finding its way into the mainstream consciousness. More data is becoming available to the casual user and the tools are getting more sophisticated, while mysteriously — and thankfully — easier to use. And more and more is available for free — much of which is online.

Timing could not be better for the perfect storm of GIS in education here in Arkansas. Our EAST students have been doing remarkable things for years, drawing attention around the nation as well as in their own back yards. The Arkansas Department of Education has seen the value of GIS and is working with ESRI to make the tools available to every school, for educational as well as administrative uses. And ESRI continues to launch fresh tools and online resources, making GIS even more accessible. Yippie!

As explanation for the casual (GIS-phobic) reader: GIS is a tool that makes data visible. By data, think spreadsheet. While geography is involved, the power is in the analytical capacity that comes with multiple data sets. Comparing and analyzing various sets gives capacity that does not exist anywhere else — much more information than a dot on the map.

If you are interested in testing some of the technology, a great place to start is with ArcGIS Explorer. Review the demos online, then download to explore, visualize, and share GIS information. Basic information is given at launch. For more info, find  “Add Content” on the toolbar. You can search online for maps and data that others have collected and shared. Data from the US Census Bureau as well as a massive amount of other information is available. Give it a try!

For the beyond-casual user (GIS-intrigued): some great presentation tools are available. Check them out! They blow typical presentation tools away, allowing for interactivity (zooming, panning, etc.) during the presentation. Nice!

So if you are just getting interested in GIS, it’s a great time to look around. If you are with an Arkansas school or boys/girls club, drop us a line about getting these powerful tools on your campus. Visit for more details.

I believe if you look into today’s GIS tools, you’ll be as excited as I was by the ESRI GIS Users Conference!

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