Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Geoprocessing & GIS Demonstrations

I want to talk a little bit about the ESRI Geoprocessing functionality a bit here and how wonderful they are for creating GIS demonstrations both for students/faculty new to GIS and for more experienced users.

For the last 3 years (or so) I have held 4 open demonstrations each semester, and about 2 each summer. These demos are 2 hours long and it has always been a challenge to see how much sophistication and excitement I can squeeze into two hours without playing the drill sergeant and rushing them through. This of course would defeat the purpose as no one would show up ever again. So, before incorporating models and scripts into my demos, there was a lot of repetition involving numerous conversions, reference transformations, distance calculations, and such. The students and faulty have always gotten pumped up about the analysis, but I would prefer their first experience with GIS or with a new procedure to be as fun and painless as possible. I normally hit them with a bit of reality when they come visit me during my office hours wanting to incorporate what they saw during a demo into their own project with their own datasets.

Anyway, this is where geoprocessing comes in. For the last few demos I have held starting last summer, I have build models and lately Python scripts which enables the students and faculty to engage in complex and time-consuming analysis by entering a few parameters and hitting the OK button. This leaves time for me to expand upon, in length, the sources of the data we are using, the accuracy of the data, the mathematics behind the particular analysis procedure, the importance of reference systems, and I have even been discussing appropriate journals and books in the library that would help with the particular analysis we are conducting. It is wonderful.

I tell you, I have not had one single student or faculty tell me that they miss working through the analysis the long way during the demos. I have to remind myself that the purpose of the demos is not to teach but to demonstrate particular capabilities and resources that hopefully they will use in the future.

These have gotten so popular that a number of students have asked me to hold a demo showing how I develop the models and scripts. Well, tomorrow is the day and I am just about done. Sure it is cutting it a bit close, but I know of no other way to really do things...

The files for the demo are here.

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