Spreading the Word on the Evolution of Modern Mapping

by Karen Schuckman and Tom Keiter

In the twenty-first century, geospatial information has become an indispensable scientific, political, and economic strategic tool—affecting commerce, planning and development, taxation, human rights, defense, public health, climate change, disaster relief, and more. Politicians use it to target voters, California firefighters use it to combat fires sweeping through Malibu Canyon, soldiers in Afghanistan use it to gather intelligence and target their enemies, and humanitarian organizations use it to monitor the movement and security of people in Darfur. In 2010, geospatial technology will drive the data gathering for the U.S. census. Further engaging interest and concern, all of these applications raise issues of privacy and access, ownership and ethics.

Geospatial information influences nearly everything in the lives of individuals in our society today. Yet, as a public, we know little about the history, the technology, the ubiquity, and the essential nature of these technologies.

Penn State Public Broadcasting is developing the Geospatial Revolution Project—an integrated public media and outreach initiative—about the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave, and interact.  The project goal is to increase public understanding of mapping sciences and geospatial technologies by drawing on the stories of the people who are implementing and being affected by these new tools.

The project will feature the web-based serial release of eight video episodes, each sevent to ten minutes long. Overarching themes and historical context woven throughout the episodes will tie them together.  The project will also include an outreach initiative in collaboration with our educational partners, a culminating documentary, chaptered program DVD, and online outreach materials.  Partners who will extend the outreach initiative include the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, NASA, and the National Geographic Society.

Each video episode will stand on its own as a succinct and engaging story, while linking to the project’s entirety. Broad topical themes include:
  • Public health, safety and security—disaster response, fire, police, floodplains, homeland security, national security, immigration, customs, disease tracking
  • Defense and intelligence—military applications, human terrain, precision warfare
  • Science and environment—archaeology, energy, climate change, oceans, water quality, natural resources
  • Government—national census, transportation infrastructure, local government, taxes, real estate, elections, national map
  • International—human rights, mapping populations
  • Commerce and business—transportation, logistics
  • Agriculture and food resources—precision agriculture
  • Personal and consumer applications
Overarching themes may include: historical perspectives, how the technology is changing the way we live, privacy, national security, workforce development, technology ownership, and future implications.

With the intent of reaching new media audiences and capitalizing on current trends in information consumption, the project is adopting an innovative approach to production and distribution. Rather than wait the years it often takes to produce and release a traditional documentary, this production and distribution plan calls for the ongoing serial release of eight video episodes on the Web, with a new episode appearing every four to eight weeks. As they are released, online viral distribution of the episodes through internet sharing and blog postings will be encouraged. After the ongoing internet rollout is complete, the episodes will be edited into a one-hour documentary for public television distribution.  A short video that provides insight into the project is available at www.geospatialrevolution.psu.edu.

The project goal is the broadest distribution and maximum use of the videos and accompanying online materials possible. Since the March release of the preview, a broad spectrum of academic, government, and professional organizations has flooded the project Web site and expressed enthusiasm for our project. These connections have built on our initial partnership with the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences to include outreach partnerships with the National Geographic Education Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey/AmericaView Consortium, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center—and, through NASA, links to the Integrated Geospatial Education Technology and Training project (iGETT) and the U.S. National Park Service.

In addition to extending awareness of the project, the partners will use the videos as engagement tools to enhance post-secondary education recruitment and academic program support, government and industry perspectives, and workforce opportunities. With the partners’ outreach help, we hope to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people nationally and internationally through both Internet distribution and television broadcast.

The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, DigitalGlobe, and GeoEye Foundation are early leadership funders for the project. Seed funding for the preview on the website came from The Pennsylvania State University and the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Foundation.

Penn State Public Broadcasting, in collaboration with faculty from the Penn State Department of Geography and the Dutton E-Learning Institute, is developing this public media initiative on the evolution of modern mapping. An initial grant from the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) launched the project and allowed PSPB producers and writers to begin development.

This project has already received a significant amount of attention in the geospatial community and was used as briefing material in a Congressional hearing held July 23rd, 2009. We hoped that, in addition to educating the general public, this project will help advocates and decision makers communicate about the importance of geospatial information to the future of our nation.

While the initial support for this project arose from within ASPRS, the surveying community also has a vested interest. Surveying is the cornerstone of all things geospatial. This project will also enhance the public perception of surveying as a profession and serve to excite and attract bright young people to surveying as a career.

Karen Schuckman is a senior lecturer in geography at Pennsylvania State University, teaching remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online GIS programs offered by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. She also serves as a consultant to URS Corporation in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where she provides expert knowledge in remote sensing and photogrammetry to engineering practice groups, including floodplain mapping, disaster response and preparedness, critical infrastructure and transportation.

Tom Keiter, executive producer: With 25 years as a documentary filmmaker and 15 years experience on the film and video faculty at Penn State University, Tom Keiter brings a wealth of production knowledge and experience to the Geospatial Revolution Project.

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