I'm looking for a good usability study and feature comparison for popular GIS packages, especially ArcView.
January 13, 2004 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good usability study and feature comparison for popular GIS packages. Particularly, I am interested in ArcView for classroom (middle and high school) use. [More inside.]

Googling has resulted in a few leads, but not quite what I'm looking for. Unfortunately, many of the leads I've found are on ESRI's site, so I can't really use them. In addition to a pointer to a usability study, I'd love to hear from the horse's mouth - are there any teachers here who've used ArcView in their classroom? I am interested in developing stepping stone technology that will help younger students develop the math & geography skills that would help down the road in the use of a "real" GIS, and so am trying to find evidence of what is most needed or what is most deficient in ArcView when it comes to young students.
posted by badstone to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I've used ArcView in a training session, although not in the classroom (I'm not a teacher, but I do work with educational technologies). I thought it seemed pretty good for following through lesson plans and structured assignments, but a bit limited for self-exploration. It might be difficult to tell if students are succeeding because they've mastered ArcView as a tool to complete assignments, rather than because they've developed geography skills from using ArcView, that they've then applied to completing assignments. However, the GIS aspect is neat.

But I guess this is a criticism that can be made of the other tools, too.
posted by carter at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2004


As you've found out, most of the ArcView training materials come from ESRI directly. (And they are usually expensive!) I would suggest looking into GRASS.

You may find the book Open Source GIS by Markus Neteler and Helena Mitasova helpful. It was designed for teaching GIS at the university level, but may have some useful ideas for you.

As far as what is deficient in ArcView for young students: my experience has been that the program is awfully deficient for anyone. The interface is awful, stability is poor and ESRI as a company seems rather unresponsive. But it is the de facto industry standard. Sound familiar?
posted by ahughey at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2004


ahughey -
I've been pleased to find a wealth of Open Source GIS libraries and apps out there, especially the listings at OpenSourceGIS.org. I will have a look at the book you mention. What I really hope to find, for the purposes of grant-writing, is a good paper to cite that documents the usability issues you mention. Yes, ArcView is the indsutry standard, so kids will have to use it eventually, but I can argue that it is so difficult to use that it is best to learn "pre-GIS" concepts (like map scale and symbolic representations) in an simpler environment, then go on to tackle the problem of learning ArcView's broken interface separately. Then they can move on to actually "doing" GIS.
posted by badstone at 1:40 PM on January 13, 2004


Oops, bad italics. Las sentence should be: Then they can move on to actually "doing" GIS.
posted by badstone at 1:41 PM on January 13, 2004


help younger students develop the math & geography skills that would help down the road in the use of a "real" GIS,

Part of my job revolves around the use of ArcView, ArcMap, and Maptitude. I don't really understand your question and what you are trying to accomplish. What do you consider "'real' GIS"?

Geography is a neither a computer subject, nor a software package that one can master. Instead, once learned, the concepts translate into all of the serious GIS software packages equally well. My suggestion is to teach those concepts first, and then introduce a software package of your choice to demonstrate some common applications.

Otherwise, software and interface will be a distration that takes away from learning the concepts that drive geography. It's akin to trying to decide whether to use Word or Wordperfect to teach a fiction writing seminar.

Best of luck,

Witold
www.witold.org
posted by Witold at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2004


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