Tag Archive: students


This is the third and final post in a 3-part series discussing a partnership I initiated between Tulane University, the American Red Cross, and OpenStreetMaps, in which students in my undergraduate IDEV4100: ICT4D course participated in real-world mapping for OpenStreetMaps using satellite imagery, to support development and disaster preparedness initiatives being conducted by the American Red Cross in coordination with local host Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies.

Outcomes Beyond the Base Maps

For Robert Banick, GIS analyst at the American Red Cross, through our emails and conversations, I know that at times fitting our class sessions into his schedule could be challenging, though we tried to be as flexible as possible, his travel schedule was often demanding. This also meant that his ability to Skype with our class could be challenging, particularly when he was in the field with one of his partner countries, such as when he was working in Chile or Nepal, and we were faced with spotty Internet access and connectivity issues on his end, which compounded some of the troubleshooting issues we were having with software, when one of our technical advisors became less accessible… though it did make for some teachable moments! Another complication was that I could never be certain too far in advance what the exact number of students enrolled would be, which made it difficult to tell how many students we could have working on a particular map, in turn complicating his decision-making somewhat. In addition, I couldn’t guarantee an extended amount of time for the students to spend on the project, because of the other scheduled assignments and to ensure respect for student time, I tried to make sure they knew what kind of time commitment was expected from them in advance. Robert was therefore managing a formula of X number of students times Y amount of time = Z volume of work, while fitting into one of the current needs of his partner Red Cross or Red Crescent National Societies.

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Figure I: Close-Up View of North Jakarta in OSM, February 2015

It is most evident that the students’ work continues to be built upon in Indonesia, when you look at the state of the maps in Jakarta and Depok now, nearly two years later. The maps there have continued to be updated by local volunteers in subsequent stages of the project, with street names and the addition of symbols indicating types of buildings such as mosques and hospitals. (see Figure I) Based on my conversations with him since then, most of the maps our students generated have been used, though unfortunately some have yet to be utilized (I suspect those that haven’t been utilized yet were those in Nepal, based on the limited progress the students made on those maps before they were pulled onto the Haiti project). But according to Robert, “that’s to be expected with a novel pilot approach like this.” Continue reading

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This is the second post in a 3-part series discussing a partnership I initiated between Tulane University, the American Red Cross, and OpenStreetMaps, in which students in my undergraduate IDEV4100: ICT4D course participated in real-world mapping for OpenStreetMaps using satellite imagery, to support development and disaster preparedness initiatives being conducted by the American Red Cross in coordination with local host Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies.

A New Link in the Chain: Tulane Students Generate Maps

I got wind of a ‘mapping party‘the American Red Cross was hosting in August 2012, to jump-start their base maps for Prepare Uganda. The event was held in partnership with Humanitarian Open Street Maps (HOTOSM), who also hosted the data, and little to no previous experience was required on the part of the volunteers. More than 20 volunteers joined the mapping party in person on August 19th and traced streets, paths, parks, and other points of interest from the satellite images into Open Street Maps, a freely editable wiki map. These base maps would then move to the next stage of editing by local volunteer teams on the ground in Uganda using geographic surveys to fill in details like street names and building uses to take the maps to the next level.

The idea of participants needing little to no previous experience was surprising, yet appealing me to. If a one-time event like this with approximately two dozen volunteers could produce a workable product for this kind of project, what might a classroom of university students do in a couple of weeks with some training and support? An idea occurred to me that we might have an opportunity for a “win-win” situation: by partnering with the International Services Department staff at American Red Cross NHQ who were working on the mapping projects, our Tulane students might be able to generate an incredible quantity of base-level mapping work for their OSM project, while at the same time gaining some valuable hands-on learning experience with a real-world technology-based project. It was a new kind of model: a short-term group of crowdmappers with training specific to their project area, focusing on one geographic area, based on a particular need. I contacted the GIS analyst at the American Red Cross who was heading up the project, Robert Banick, and pitched the idea to him. It was an appealing addition from his perspective as well, a somewhat “captive” group of mappers to work on a specific project at a known time. There was an additional space in Braise, Uganda that he and his colleagues in the field were hoping to have a base map available for within the next few months, so students enrolled in the Fall 2012 course offering could fill a definite short-term need for their program.

Just as the Fall 2012 semester was beginning, I quickly modified the course syllabus, adjusted some assignments and timelines in order to accommodate this exciting project opportunity, endeavoring to best match Robert’s needs and schedule as well as the students’ needs and semester schedule. We settled on an “end of semester” project, for late November/early December, to fit Robert’s travel schedule, the needs of the Bwaise local mapping teams, and to give us time to develop our plans for working with the students, while also allowing me to replace the students’ final project for the course with a hands-on OSM learning activity. Continue reading