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Teaching GIS in an Urban Design Course

During the 2023 fall semester, I had the pleasure of working with Catalina Freixas, associate professor at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and her graduate assistant Maya Byrd. Freixas approached us hoping to use GIS apps to collect field data. This data would be imported into GIS software and further processed as part of the preliminary data for a grant. She planned on using the students in her Segregation by Design course to capture the location of various features from trees and sidewalks to street signage and building footprints. The study area was a corridor along Martin Luther King Blvd. from Skinker to the Martin Luther King Bridge. The data in this area is out-of-date or uncaptured by the municipal government.  

I introduced her to ESRI’s Field Maps app, which allows the user to create forms that are pushed to a phone app and filled out by anyone with the appropriate permissions and a smartphone. The forms can be configured to allow the user to save their location, attach a photograph to that location, and answer relevant questions such as the type of tree, condition of the sidewalk, or type of siding on the building. This solution allowed Byrd and Freixas to capture geospatial field data without needing to extensively train the students and community members collecting the data.

My involvement in the project involved first training Freixas and Byrd on the Field Maps App, which is included in the University Libraries ArcGIS license and available to students, staff, and faculty for no additional cost. After training the instructors, I used a class session to introduce their students to the ESRI ArcGIS ecosystem and Field Maps. As the semester progressed, I provided troubleshooting support for the issues that arose, including symbology troubles and real-time editing of collected data.

While the overall project is still ongoing, my instructional portion of the data collection phase is complete. To quote Byrd, “[Data Services was] able to help guide us to achieve the results we were looking for. The software also allowed us to be much more organized in our data collection.” We currently have a discussion planned to examine how Data Services can aid the next phase of the project.

Staff photo of Zachary Szczepaniak.

About the Author

Zachary Szczepaniak
Job Title
Data Curator and GIS Librarian