First Annual GIS Day at UW Is a Resounding, Remote Success!

Submitted by Nell Gross on

On Wednesday, November 18, Professor Bo Zhao organized the Department of Geography's first annual GIS Day, an ESRI-initiated event intended to encourage people around the world to engage with Geographic Information Systems. To inspire UW Geography students to participate, Professor Zhao teamed up with Steven Bao, a current geography undergraduate student who has also conducted research with Professor Zhao's Humanistic GIS Lab, and Chase Stephens, an active OpenStreetMap (OSM) community member in Seattle, and together they developed a project that Professor Zhao says would "help students... further explore and understand the nature of volunteered geographical information (VGI) through real-world practice":

"... [T]he students will not only learn how to contribute COVID-19-relevant geographical features to OSM but also more broadly, as discussed during the event, they can also contribute any features they feel interested in. For example, features about the BLM events in Seattle, refugee camps, or other social activities or emerging landscapes. Moreover, Stephens encourages people to join another OSM community mapping event that will be held on MLK Day 2021."

In addition, Professor Zhao notes that Stephens offered many insights into OSM and COVID-19 mapping, "such as the reviewing mechanism of OSM, editing process, [and] relevant copyright and privacy issues."

More than 30 undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty registered for the event! The program began with a tutorial designed by Professor Zhao together with Steven Bao. Bao presented to attendees about how to submit the geographical features relevant to COVID-19. Professor Zhao notes that "OSM has been adopted by many big companies including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook, which means that the crowdsourced data will benefit not only the direct end-users of OSM but also many other users who indirectly use the information from OSM. During this special time of the COVID-19 global pandemic, contributing detailed and up-to-date information to OSM will help those who need to make essential travels complete their trips more quickly and safely, thereby helping flatten the curve."

Since the event, Stephens has been reviewing geographical features submitted by participants and Professor Zhao is already thinking ahead to next year's event, when we hope to be back on campus! Perhaps "a geocaching game on campus or a UW-version Pokémon GO game"? While the date for GIS Day in 2021 has not yet been announced, stay tuned for details coming next fall!