The GeoHub: An on-line platform for geo-exploration and learning

Guest post by Dr. Santiago Lopez, Associate Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Since 2014, groups of students and faculty have collaborated to develop a geographical database (a.k.a. “Geodatabase project”), with geospatial information about the natural and human-made features that make up the socio-environmental setting of the UWB campus and the Bothell area. This information was stored on a private server and was not accessible to our campus and local community. Some attempts were made to develop a site where this information could be hosted but given time constraints and the lack of a simple service that could be used to store this type of information, the site never materialized.

How could these historical datasets and valuable information be preserved and shared so that our campus community can learn about its unique characteristics? Historic preservation provides a link to the roots of the community and its people.  Providing a link to the past through cartographic and geovisual information could be an effective way to learn more about the socio-environmental identity of a particular area and the community therein.

In 2022, with the support of the Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellowship (DSFF) program and Denise Hattwig, head of Digital Scholarship at UWB, Sadie Cimino and Noah Bohmar, two students pursuing a degree in Mathematical Thinking and Visualization in the UWB School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and I formed a team to develop a site that could host this historical geospatial information. The goal was to build on previous efforts to implement an open digital collection of curated geospatial datasets that students, faculty, and the larger community could contribute and have access to for exploration, research, planning, and decision making. Most of these digital datasets were public but did not go through a content curation process that guaranteed a full understanding of their meaning or potential use. The DSFF award was critical in this process since it allowed me to carry out this project with the help and input from students. Their work during the curation and online portal development processes was critical for successful implementation. This fellowship also provided us with cutting-edge online technologies that otherwise we would not have been aware of.

By working closely with students throughout this project, I was able to examine my own research and teaching practice.  I usually oversee all aspects of a research project that I lead from its conceptualization to its implementation.  However, in this project, I really wanted students to get involved at all stages. After one or two initial meetings, I let them take the reins so that they could develop ownership of the project. This step helped them accomplish some of their academic goals as they relate to collaboration, shared leadership, and critical and creative thinking.   This project also allowed the students to reflect on their learning experience, specifically on the challenges and opportunities to work on digital geospatial content, with technologies that were unfamiliar to them. By holding weekly meetings, we had several opportunities to learn from each other’s successes and challenges, which I believe contributed greatly to the education experience.

Although the GeoHub site is not yet complete (and may never be since geospatial information is constantly being produced, updated, and reevaluated), we were able to develop a fully functional pilot site that will be expanded in the years to come. We hope that this site will be helpful for students and faculty and the campus community in general. We are happy to introduce UW Bothell’s GeoHub (V1.0)!

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