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K-12 Students to Receive Free High-Tech Mapping Software Courtesy of MU Geographer’s Collaborations

Software will enable school projects and build job skills

Sept. 19, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Timothy Wall,, 573-882-3346

VIDEO: (K-12 Students to Receive Free High-Tech Mapping Software Courtesy of MU Geographer’s Collaborations)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Interactive maps have become a part of daily life via computers, smartphones and GPS units and when coupled with demographic and environmental data, the maps become powerful research tools. Those tools are now available to Missouri students as they start the new school year. All K-12 schools and certified youth programs in the state now have free access to data and detailed maps provided by a Geographic Information System (GIS), thanks to the Missouri Geographic Alliance, which is hosted by the University of Missouri. Besides offering students and teachers a plethora of educational possibilities, the experience with GIS also will give students valuable experiences in a growing field of employment.

“Name something you want to know more about, and GIS can help you understand how it plays out in the real world and relates to other factors,” MU geographer Shannon White said. “Students and teachers will be able to create their own research projects on topics as diverse as regional nutrition, political divisions, environmental change, agriculture and urban planning. Instead of just reading a book about these topics students will be able to explore them and create their own maps using GIS. Since the system is constantly updated, it won’t go out of date like a textbook.”

White recently coordinated with ESRI, a GIS provider, to bring free GIS to all Missouri schools and youth programs like the Boy Scouts and 4-H. Schools and organizations must register online ( to be granted access to the software. Materials can be either downloaded or mailed.

The GIS consists of interactive maps where satellite images can be overlaid with data from thousands of topics to show regional variations and changes over time. GPS units can be used to collect local data and make specialized maps. For example, at MU’s GeoTech summer camp, White led six youths as they used GPS units to note gaps and damage in the sidewalk system of an area in the city of Columbia, Mo.  The young people used their observations to make a map of the city detailing problem areas. They then presented their findings to the city government with suggestions on how to collect data about the sidewalk system in order to improve pedestrian safety.

“We’re giving the world to children in all regions of Missouri,” said White. “Schools with limited resources stand to benefit greatly from this program. If Internet access is limited and computers are scarce, the GIS can be used from a single computer, and teachers can use projectors so the whole class can see. If GPS units are unavailable, students can use their smartphones to mark data points. There’s an app for that.”

With GIS programs in their schools, students also may get a taste of their future careers. The use of satellite images combined with databases has applications in fields such as natural resources management, urban planning, farming and law enforcement. Gaining experience with the system while in grade school may give Missouri students a head start in the race for tech-savvy jobs of the future.

The Missouri Geographic Alliance will host a one-day conference on September 29 at MU. The hands-on workshop will cover GIS, GPS and other geography topics. Missouri teachers who are interested in using free GIS in their classrooms are encouraged to attend. To register, please visit

While the license will be administered by the Missouri Geographic Alliance, it is in partnership with other organizations interested in GIS, instructional technology in the classroom and geography education.  The partnership organizations include:

•           eMints, an online professional development organization

•           MGISAC, the GIS advisory council for the state of Missouri

•           MOREnet, the state network for research and education in Missouri

•           Missouri Botanical Garden’s Litzinger Road Ecology Center

•           Missouri State Office of Geospatial Information

•           MSDIS, the state clearinghouse for spatial data used in GIS and remote sensing efforts

•           University of Missouri Department of Geography

•           In addition, other public and private universities have staff which also will support this K-12 effort, such as the University of Missouri, Northwest University and Washington University

Shannon White is a geospatial extension specialist with the Department of Geography in the MU College of Arts and Science. She also is coordinator of the Missouri Geographic Alliance.