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Active Learning, Citizen Science and Research with ArcGIS Survey123

In this blog St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) instructional designer Matt Vernon invites you to try out a survey tool (Survey123)  that he uses to support active learning.

What does active learning mean for you? For me it’s when I am so immersed in doing something that time slips away…so focused on a goal that I tackle learning something complex to accomplish it…doing something that is personally relevant…or working with others so that it’s a socially rewarding task.

What helps you to create and see signs of active learning in your teaching? What technology tools may help you to create active learning experiences? For me, ArcGIS Survey 123 is one great resource!

What is ArcGiS Survey123

ArcGIS Survey123 is a tool to collect location data and pair it with other types of data. Although designed for efficiently conducting field surveys, Survey123 also has educational and research applications ranging from simple individual or class inquiries to crowd-sourced citizen science projects. The remainder of this blog takes you through a way to experience Survey123 and resources to get you started using it.

Learn by Doing: Give ArcGIS Survey123 a Try!

I hope you find this fun! Below is an activity to investigate the relationship between our material stuff, where it was made, how important it is to us, and what might happen to it when we are done with it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Something you use in your work that has a label of origin or you know where it was made
  2. A computer, mobile phone, or tablet
  3. About 5 minutes of your time, maybe less

Step 1: Collect data

Begin by opening this survey123 on a computer or mobile device or Scanning the QR code below. If your device asks to access your camera, select yes if want to take a picture of your item.
QR Code to Survey

Congratulations! you just participated in a…

Did you catch the Thank You Message?
If not, don’t worry, you can try again.

Step 2: View the results and analysis

Survey123 provides a fun set of analysis tools to share your data or keep it to yourself. Filter your data, interpret your results, create charts and graphs, print, share or export your results. Check out our data!

What did you discover about your material goods? Where were they made? Where might they end up when we are done with it?

What else is going on that we didn’t anticipate? What new questions can we ask?

Let me know! email me (Matt) at

Ok that was fun, what else can we do with it?

What’s relevant to you? Social, cultural, political, historic, spiritual, architectural, engineered, business, environment, health, wellbeing, equity, infrastructure; your idea here.

One way to be active and engaged is to explore your own curiosity and explore it with others with similar interests. Collaborating with experts around topics that matter to you can help you to make a meaningful impact in the world. Through engaging in data collection and analysis you can fill in important gaps in data at finer scales, like a neighborhood, that can positively impact or inform decision making and public knowledge.

At its heart ArcGIS Survey123 is about adding all sorts of information to a location.

Image of a handful of road salt on a sidewalk

Image of a handful of road salt on a sidewalk

I sample excess sidewalk salt in my neighborhood. When I encounter it I use a survey on my phone to take a picture and choose from a range of values such as: Small Residual, Medium Residual or High Residual. My phone records location, time and date for me.

Taking a photo helps me validate my choice of values, gives me more context about the location, and provides visual evidence for me to engage stakeholders in increasing awareness of chloride pollution.

Makes collecting data easier so you spend more time doing the fun stuff.

picture of iPhone with a survey123 on the screen

Survey to sample excess sidewalk salt

Survey123 has a wide selection of question types you can use to crowdsource or individually collect data.  The most valuable question type is the map which can capture points, areas, or lines; like a walking path.

A smartphone can sense light (in photos and video), sound, speed, direction, altitude, longitude, latitude, and more.  With the mobile app, you can collect data on or offline. Your phone’s sensors can add a lot of information for you, so you can spend more time exploring and observing, or quickly take a sample when you are out and about or on the move. What do you notice? What’s going on? What else? This too is active learning.

The image gallery below are pictures of the types of questions you can use and more ways to dig in to the data for the locations you sample.

Mapping it!  Let’s look at data on a map!

Here is our stuff represented on a pretty simple map. This map has 4 layers of information:

  1. A base map or canvas to layer stuff on top of
  2. A layer with the locations of our stuff combined with one of our questions; the intensity of our response if we lost it
  3. A layer representing the Human Development index score for 2013 by country
  4. A Layer with human population estimates by country

Tip: Click on the locations to display the results of all the questions we asked for that record

*Layers 3 & 4 and much more are available on the ESRI Living atlas

Communicate it

StoryMaps are great platforms to communicate about data and create compelling stories to showcase your results and draw attention to your crowdsourcing, placemaking and citizen science projects.

If you are interested in using ArcGIS Survey123 to make maps or  StoryMaps , contact STELAR to discuss your ideas and we can help you get started. The University of St. Thomas’ Geography Department graciously manages our ERSI account with ArcGIS Survey123 and other tools.

This post was written by Matthew Vernon, Instructional Designer ( with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about STELAR, please visit our website at or email us at Continue Reading

Technology Tools, Uncategorized

Place Based Digital Storytelling, Citizen Science and Place Making

Think of a few places you have never been to, but feel connected to.

How did that connection develop?  What stories were involved?

Our earliest evidence of stories are etched or painted on stone, inseparable from the places they inhabit. Through digital storytelling we can better understand people whom we may have never met and places we may have never been. In Voices of the Grand Canyonwe are shown places “firsthand from people whose cultures, world views, and livelihoods are inextricably tied to the Grand Canyon region.” In the video below, Jim Enote shares the meaning of petroglyphs in Chimik’yana’kya dey’a.

Video from the “Voices of the Grand CanyonStory Map

ESRI story maps have specialized tools for creating narratives involving spaces and places. They make meaningful and authentic whole class, group, or individual projects when some aspect of place is a part of the study. Story Maps are not new, but recent improvements have made them easy to use to create modern-looking and immersive web experiences. Their use is growing in the private and public sectors, including k-12 and Higher Education. This post provides an overview and examples of Story Maps with resources to get you started using them.

Guide your audience through immersive and interactive scenes with maps, images, video, and sound.

If you were telling a story in person you would probably use gestures and movement. Story Maps have features that help draw your audience in. For the best experience let’s look at some stories that highlight some of these features.

  • Side Cars allow you to create smooth flowing scenes with rich media content and maps. As the user scrolls down the page, the side cars float up triggering new views or scenes. There are a few well designed options for layout that are simple one-click options in the builder. The Story Maps below show some ways sidecars can be used with different media types.
    • Braided by Greta McLain, A Midway Murals Project by the College of Arts and Sciences SOLV Initiative tells the story behind the St. Paul Mural “Braided” by Greta McLain. The central pane features different views of the art while the sidecar uses video interviews with the artist to tell the story behind the mural and its connection to the community.
    • Saving the Shawangunks uses video and text adjacent to maps in the side car.
    • Sounds of the Wild West immerses you in the sounds of the ecosystems of greater Yellowstone National Park. One unique feature of the sidecar is its ability to add sound that will play in the background as the user scrolls down the page.
  • Slide Shows allow your audience to navigate horizontally for a section of your story. This can be used when you want to provide more detail about a topic in your story without taking away from the main narrative. Hannah Wilber’s Slideshow: A new immersive block in ArcGIS Story Maps provides an in depth look at this feature and when you might choose it over side cars.
  • Guided Map Tours takes your audience on a journey through points on a map. Each stop contains a block that you can configure with multimedia and text. By setting the initial zoom of each point, you can draw your audience’s focus to the action. In guided maps you can choose to have your map, or your media focused in the main view.
    • Mapping street art inspired by George Floyd keeps the art positioned in the center while the map and narrative float to the left.
    • Reveal takes you on a short journey of exposed features in the Mississippi River Gorge near St. Thomas. This tour keeps the map as the central focus.
    • TIP If you take pictures using a phone with “location services on.” Location data is encoded in the picture. If you upload those pictures in .jpeg format to a map tour it will automatically create a pin on a map where you took the picture. For a fun activity ask students take 5 random pictures and then ask them to create a story out of them. As a get to know each other activity you can ask students to create a story about 5 places that are important to them and describe why?
  • Swipes let the user compare two maps or pictures. These are great for highlighting change in a place at two different times.
    • Reveal uses a swipe to compare two photos of the falls of St. Anthony at different times. You can also compare maps.

Maps help tell your story.

Creating maps

Why you should use Express Maps provides useful examples of the types of maps you can create in new Story Map builder.  Use express maps to tell your story provides a comprehensive and efficient animated tutorial to create maps. There are Nineteen Steps, but you really only need to do steps 1-3 to create a simple map with location points. For all maps, steps 17-19 are critical to helping your map stand out, look good, and be accessible. It’s easy for maps to get complicated fast. If you are new to this keep your maps simple to start.

Using existing maps

A library of over eight thousand maps are available through Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  Maps built from public data sources such as US Census, academic, non-profit, private industry, and a growing open and citizen sources provide a diverse array of maps to enhance or be the centerpiece of your story.

Citizen Science, Research and Placemaking

A compelling story can motivate people to engage with your cause, research, or contribute to your crowdsourcing call. Story maps offer several affordances to promote engagement. Buttons with links provide “calls to action.” <i frame> support for embedded content help you integrate with other data collection forms and widgets. For citizen science work where you want to crowdsource information with a spatial component (like bird sightings), or for collective placemaking, ESRI’s Survey123 application helps you collect information from your audience and map it. In the story map Reveal there are two surveys to collect data and buttons with calls to action or to view the crowd-sourced data. The map River Stories displays the incoming entries in real-time. Survey 123 makes a fun and engaging class activities and a powerful tool for research.

Resources and guides for creating Story Maps

Planning Guides and Resources ESRI Education team

Get Started with Story Maps ESRI Education team

Teach with Story Maps  University of Minnesota

Making Story Maps Citable for Research ESRI Education Team

Have an idea of how you could use Story Maps but need some assistance?

Let us know!

This post was written by Matthew Vernon, Instructional Designer ( with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about STELAR, please visit our website at or email us at