By Shawn Proctor
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then “story maps” might be worth a million. That’s what students in Professor Jennifer Santoro‘s Geographic Information System (GIS) for Conservation Management class learned as they worked with Erica Hayes, Falvey’s Digital Scholarship Librarian, to design digital maps and embellish them with a powerful storytelling tool.
In spring 2020, Esri Story Maps, an open-source web-based application by ArcGIS, allowed the students in Professor Jennifer Santoro’s class to weave text, still and moving images, videos, and navigation tools to give GIS maps new interactivity and dynamism. It is a popular method of presenting map data, too–in 2019 alone, more than 400,000 new story maps were created using this web-based application. “All fourteen final projects from the GIS class are available online and will be exhibited on the touchscreens in Falvey Memorial Library’s new Digital Scholarship Lab opening Spring 2021. Each map tells a persuasive story about conserving our fragile environment and endangered species,” Hayes says.
“This story mapping application gives faculty and students the tools to inform, enlighten, and inspire those around them. In the past, I’ve worked with humanities students to develop GIS maps that tell stories about our history and how places have changed over time. The students in the Department of Geography and the Environment, however, used their spatial analysis skills to identify habitat suitability for endangered species. They were also able to create impressive story maps that explore the pressing issues of our time, like the effect of the proposed US-Mexico border wall on wildlife and how climate change will impact the habitat polar bears need to thrive,” she explains.
Because the story maps are interactive, viewers can move through the narrative at their own pace, focusing on or bypassing information as desired. For example, in the aforementioned polar bear story map, titled “Ice, Ice, Save Me,” Beatriz DeJesus provides maps with copious data as well as implications and conclusions.
“The possibilities are endless for how GIS mapping tools can be used across the University’s many courses,” Hayes explains. “Once students have learned how to create GIS maps, they can explore ways the maps can be used to tell stories and enhance their classwork and research. I can’t wait to see what our students come up with next.”
Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library.