Thursday, September 28, 2006

Google Maps: Mapping the Afghan Experience in the U.S.

Mapping the Afghan Experience in the US:
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Spatial Reserves

Our library's spatial reserves program just hit a new milestone as our latest project uses Google Maps as the front interface, as opposed to standard ArcIMS interfaces we have been using. (To learn more about our spatial reserves program, see this paper I presented at the 2004 ESRI Education Conference.)

Purpose of the Project

The purpose of Mapping the Afghan Experience in the US is to allow multiple sections (app. 20 sections) of a freshman English composition course (ENGL 1301) to explore various sociological aspects of the Afghan experience here in the US. To support our campusÂ’ 2006-2007 OneBook event, every freshman composition course is assigning students to read The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. A major portion of the book focuses on the character Amir (an Afghan) and his experiences in the US. Toward the end of summer, the information literacy librarian and I thought this provides an excellent opportunity to introduce GIS, mapping, and data into a freshman English composition course. Not only were we going to build a spatial reserves project for these classes, but we were going to use the Google Maps interface as the front end.

We presented the idea of to a number of the instructors, and they loved the idea of requiring their students to use both the traditional literature resources to write their Kite Runner papers as well as demographics gleaned from an easy-to-use mapping interface. I now have 20 instruction sessions with freshman English courses. For me this is a really, really big deal. I so very much want this to be successful as this can be the beginnings of a formal adoption of the use of data and GIS mapping in a required campus-wide course. If this program can grow, perhaps there will soon be a day when every single student is exposed to GIS as a freshman. Very cool indeed!

Why Google Maps?

Google Maps was used for three reasons:

  1. Students are already very familiar with the Google Map interface. The idea is that their comfort level will be much higher with this interface than the standard ArcIMS interfaces.
  2. The appeal and draw-factor of implementing a Google Map mashup will prompt students to explore the application and perhaps increase interest in GIS.
  3. The availability of the base map and satellite/aerial imagery.

Mapping the Afghan Experience in the US

According to the Census 2000, there were only 22 counties with at least 100 Afghan residents. Users are presented with a Google Map zoomed to the 48 contiguous states (excluding Hawaii & Alaska) and a buffers marking those 22 counties. Users can then change the background map to different layers showing various demographic attributes, derived from Census 2000, establishment count fields, and layers downloaded from Geocoding is also available. Metadata records are viewable for all of these layers. Users can also add markers for a few establishment types.

So, WhatÂ’s Under the Hood?

This ASP.NET application was developed in Visual Studio 2005. The application uses the Google Maps interface to bring together the following services:

  • Google Maps API
  • Public ArcIMS Service: Server:, Service: afghanUS
  • Point features in XML format

Thank You

A big THANK YOU must go out to the following folks who helped us to create this application:

  • Jeremy Bartley of ESRI (formerly of the Kansas Geological Survey and Mapdex) was invaluable to us. He was very generous with his time, advice, and ColdFusion source code. Without Jeremy, we would not have been able to implement the Google Maps + Cached ArcIMS logic.
  • City of Rockford, IL who created and released the following ASP source code for overlaying ArcIMS services with Google Maps. Here is the post concerning this on the MapDex Blog. This was invaluable to us as it made it much, much easier to adopt JeremyÂ’s logic into ASP.NET after viewing the classic ASP version.

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