GIS Center Brings Some Mystery to the Skidmore Campus

In Fall 2010 the Skidmore College GIS Center for Interdisciplinary Research decided to add a little mystery to the Skidmore Campus. Alex Chaucer coordinated with his student assistants, Sarah Llewleyn ’12, Greg Lloyd ’11, Aaron Miller ’12 and Andrew Noone ’11 to create a series of mystery maps for the campus to try and figure out.

A mystery map is a map that shows some spatial data, but usually lacks traditional map marginalia like an informative title and a legend. By visualizing data without these conventions, the map viewer must observe the spatial pattern or distribution of the map data, and try to guess what it might represent. For example, what might a map that shows varying degrees of red around the campus and blue in the woods represent? Last semester, this was one of our mystery maps, and it represented air temperature and was based on some data being collected using small temperature sensors around campus in one of Cathy Gibson’s courses looking at the urban heat island effect.

We decided to begin creating mystery maps to engage the Skidmore population in a relatively simple spatial thought activity. By creating these maps and printing them out and hanging them on the wall outside the GIS Center in the Dana Science Center atrium, and also posting them on the GIS Center blog, we hoped that this would be a creative way to engage the community in spatial thinking, and to get people to think about maps and mapping. Also, we hoped that this project could raise awareness regarding some of the research being done around campus as well as current issues and events.

Overall this project helped to engage students and faculty that might not otherwise be exposed to this research, data, and maps in general. With over 2500 hits on the GIS Center blog, and record numbers of students taking Introduction to GIS this upcoming fall, we believe the mystery maps are a worthwhile activity to engage the Skidmore campus in a spatial thinking. The mystery map project will continue throughout the 2011/2012 academic year.

Visit the GIS Center blog to view last year’s mystery maps and to subscribe to blog updates at


Mystery map from fall 2010. What could these colors represent? 

Alex Chaucer - GIS Instructional Technologist



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