Storytelling school

How ArcGIS is changing the digital storytelling landscape

In recent years, the way students learn has changed. While technology and social media have made it difficult for teachers to keep students engaged in the classroom, the shift to virtual learning brought on by COVID-19 has presented even bigger issues. Educators accustomed to teaching in person found themselves teaching at home and on small black screens. The problem of overdue homework has also increased, although students at home have more free time.

These issues, which have accompanied the abrupt shift to online classrooms, have proven to be a harrowing experience for teachers and students. Soon, clicking on a PowerPoint or scrolling through a Word document with a mute lesson became sour and boring. However, the need to adapt to a new learning environment has made lesser-known digital creativity platforms relevant. Platforms like Prezi have exploded with interest from students and teachers. Another candidate is also taking over, especially for students and others involved in higher education. For some students, creating a visual presentation seems daunting, but with the pandemic forcing people to stay home, presentations have been forced to become more interactive. The ArcGIS platform has become a popular outlet not only for showcasing projects, but also for telling stories.

Released in 1999 by the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), ArcGIS began as a family of software products with an online geographic information system, or GIS. After a decade of the then-fresh internet, the company noticed an opportunity, specifically how “the web has created exciting new opportunities for map-based storytelling.” After another decade of enterprise GIS software and systems living in the world, Allen Carroll approached ESRI with the idea of ​​creating “specific story topics and creating custom user experiences to support those stories”. After working as art director and chief cartographer at National Geographic for 27 years, Carroll helped ESRI launch the ArcGIS StoryMap program. These stories cover everything from environmental science to the origin points of Titanic’s passengers.

After years of experimentation and trying to create a way for people to create their own map-based stories, the company found success. In July 2019, it finally updated its ESRI StoryMap to become a more interactive experience for users. This was a version, according to ESRI’s official site, “that allows you to share your maps in the context of narrative text and other multimedia content.” When first developed, ESRI’s StoryMap feature was just a way to map data. Today, it’s a way for teachers and students to tell their own stories and spread awareness of countless hot topics and events.

The maps portion of ArcGIS has always been a strength for ESRI, but allowing storytelling to accompany its standard functionality has opened the door to a whole new group of users. Along with STEM students and data analysts, liberal arts students are also encouraged to delve into the world of geomapping. They can compose stories and embed their own express cards to add context or information. With tools that allow users to do anything from create image galleries to record original audio and video for their projects, the sky’s the limit for the kinds of stories people can tell. .

In recent years, the company’s programs have received praise for their ability to give voice to marginalized communities, many of whom create their own maps. For example, ArcGIS StoryMaps enables inclusive storytelling, and studies of the platform’s virtual field experiments illustrate how these spaces have become a gateway to “mitigating the alienation, harassment, and sexual assault experienced in the field by student scientists.” , people of color and members. LGBTQ communities. Students now have a curriculum, unlike PowerPoint or Word, where they can use features like mapping to incorporate place-based stories that signal the value and support of their cultural context.

An example of a StoryMap created to give voice to different communities is “The Voices of Grand Canyon”. This project maps the 11 indigenous tribes around the Grand Canyon and uses links in StoryMap to tell their stories through audio files and video clips that give context to the history of the Zuni, Diné, Hopi, Havasupai, and Hualapai tribes. The StoryMap has since earned a place in the ArcGIS gallery, ensuring readers are aware of the canyon’s historical past, not just its geological past. Another StoryMap on the platform paid particular attention to “women in national parliaments”. The StoryMap highlights the under-representation of women in international politics. The authors prove their point by illustrating the percentage of women in parliaments around the world, with the highest in Rwanda, at 55%. The StoryMap also identifies barriers for women wishing to run for office, and offers strategies that could be implemented in places like the UN to inspire more women to campaign for elections.

Although these StoryMaps make the official ArcGIS gallery, none have made headlines like the following. The previous two examples are from more professional organizations, but everyday people have had just as much success telling stories through StoryMaps. In April, a showcase of StoryMaps was shown at the University of Redlands. A group of students presented their plan for a spring seminar on remembrance of the Holocaust. Specifically, the project was “to tell the stories of Holocaust survivors, based on their study of Holocaust testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation’s video archives.” What could have otherwise been a presentation with slides has become a much more interactive display. One of the goals of the student projects was to see if the platform could “visualize the terrifying and tumultuous journeys of Holocaust survivors.”

With the advancement of technology, especially in this new era following the COVID-19 outbreak, teaching and empowering students with new resources to communicate data and research is more important than ever. By enabling them to use a platform like ArcGIS, educators enable students to create a story that can bring about change, influence opinion, and create awareness in their environment. Now that learning environments have adapted to different forms of teaching, whether on Zoom or in the classroom, so have the mediums through which this information is taught.