Mapping made easier

Education | Trista Yeung 10 May 2016

Drawing maps is always a challenge for most geography students. However, the Map in Learning program, launched by Hong Kong Education City and Esri China, suggests it may be otherwise, as it effectively makes data analysis and information study easier.

The free program comes with a cloud-based Geographic Information System, called ArcGIS Online, to enable teachers and students present data as dynamic maps and applications, with a range of supporting functions for interaction and discussion.

The initiative began in the United States when mapping software giant Esri responded to the ConnectED Initiative of US President Barack Obama with an ambitious goal to provide 99 percent of American students with access to next-generation broadband in their classrooms and libraries by 2018.

In 2015, the California-based company agreed to provide free access to ArcGIS Online accounts -- the same mapping technology used by government and business -- to every US school to allow students to map and analyze data.

Victor Cheng Pat-leung, executive director of HKEdCity, described the decision to introduce the program to Hong Kong as a groundbreaking move that will benefit students through a gigantic database.

"The technology has already been prevalent among worldwide scholars for many years. It makes the examination process easier by immediately adding data to a map and sharing it widely," Cheng said. "We also have a huge open database with statistics and information from 3,000 worldwide organizations and researchers for students to dig deeper into different subjects and world-concerned issues."

The cloud-based feature of the configurable application offers great flexibility and accessibility, as it may be utilized at any time and anywhere through desktop, browser, tablet or smartphone.

Esri China chairwoman Winnie Tang Shuk-ming said: "It enables our students to create interactive open data catalogs or portals within minutes, providing an efficient and effective system for sharing data with their teachers and peers."

Launched in Hong Kong at the end of last year, more than 70 primary and secondary schools have since participated in the program, experimenting with what the online platform has to offer.

Wing Chung, a geography teacher at Wah Yan College Kowloon, said the handy application enables students to explore a wide variety of maps on topics such as population, weather and traffic.

"The database comprises authoritative maps and data on thousands of topics. It largely facilitates students to attain reliable figures to conduct independent research," Chung added. "They can also visualize data collected in various fields, raising their interest in subjects by bringing our lessons out of the classroom."

Law Hei-lun, one of Chung's form three students, agreed the software has left quite an impression on those who are no good at map reading or analyzing.

"Rather than reading maps and data in textbooks, we may actually create professional maps, such as satellite maps, heat maps and size maps. We can map physical things near school, as well as focus on projects that we have an interest in," Law said.

Pooi To Middle School geography teacher Lui Chi-keung said possibilities under the application are unlimited.

"It can be applied to vast subjects that have a geographic component, such as history and liberal studies," Lui said.

"History students may trace the origins of leading figures by putting their life stories, images and even multimedia contents such as videos under the story map function, creating a systemic showcase on what is happening at a certain location and time."

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