Printer-Friendly Version
Site Search
IT newsletter fall 2010
Location! Location!  Location!

We’ve all heard the phrase “location location location” with regards to purchasing a house. The idea with this phrase is that a house in a nice location is more likely to appreciate in value. While I have no idea if this advice is still good given today’s real estate market, I do know that in today’s world, location matters.

Today, location is being used in new ways that push the limits of the imagination, beyond just helping you choose where to buy a house. With the advent of Global Positioning Systems improved accuracy, Wifi hotspot mapping and mobile internet devices that know where you are and are connected to the Internet, there are limitless possibilities for utilizing a location in different industries and disciplines. Specifically location is being used in brand new ways with regards to technology, social media, and now and in the near future, in education.

This all started back on May 1st, 2000. The Department of Defense used to have an intentional wandering signal built into the Global Positioning System, which would give a civilian user potential error on their location of up to 100 meters, or 328 feet. Having a GPS that might be up to 328 feet off was not terribly useful for folks to use in real time.  On May 1st, 2000, this was turned off, and instantly, GPS units became drastically better at giving a user a close approximation of their position. This opened the door for a widespread consumer market for GPS units and services using location. Car navigation GPS instantly became popular. Another use has been a location-based treasure hunt called Geocaching.

Geocaching is a game that is played across the world. The basic premise is that someone hides something at a location and records the Latitude and Longitude coordinates. Someone else gets those coordinates, and tries to find what is hidden. Once they find it, they sign a logbook and put it back. This game was only possible to play after the government turned off the wandering signal, allowing the location to be precise enough for locating an object. Everything is coordinated through the website, where you can look for geocaches nearby, get the coordinates, track your finds, and leave a note for the next person looking for a geocache.  You can learn more here:  If you are interested in learning more about geocaching, or about when we might go on an outing, please email to be added to the geocaching list.

Today, GPS is embedded in mobile Internet devices, such as the iPhone or Android device, and you may use these to do things like Geocaching. Additionally, if you pay for a data plan you are “always” connected to the Internet (so long as there is cell phone coverage.) These two items, location plus an Internet connection, have the potential to enhance or alter the way we experience the world.  There may be new opportunities for learning outdoors, or, put another way, taking the classroom outside.
Here are just a few examples of apps and technologies that may be used on the trail or for in situ learning.

Accuterra is an app that records your location as you hike. It also lets you mark points or take a picture and mark it on the map. Current price is less than $5. It works even if you don’t have an Internet connection.
Star Walk is an app that allows you to look up at the night sky and identify constellations and stars. You can also read more about them using the interactive astronomy guide. Less than $5.

Park Maps is an app that gives you a map to every state park on your device, for less than a buck.

iBird puts a bird guide in your pocket, including call recordings. Different pricing is available for differing levels of information – $9.99 or $29.99.

Layar Reality Browser is a platform that allows you to publish geographically reference objects and access them through a smartphone. They could be markers pointing out some unique flora, pictures of historic buildings placed right at the same location today, or even short videos describing buildings on a college campus.

And, to solve that Location, Location, Location problem…

ESRI’s Business Analyst Online is an app that gives you a demographic snapshot of a location in a mile radius. It gives you neighborhood classification, median age, annual income, college educated, unemployment rate, etc.

The GIS Center for Interdisciplinary Research is going to be focusing more on field mapping and enhanced mobile learning platforms in the near future, especially with regard to location-based content.  If you are interested in learning more, updates on our progress will be shared on the new blog On Location found at

Alex Chaucer
GIS Instructional Technologist