Review of Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro: A Workbook

Review of Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro: A Workbook

By Kathryn Keranen and Robert Kolvoord

Esri Press, 2017

376 pages, $69.99, softcover.

ISBN: 978-1-58948-484-9

Review by: Amanda Tickner, Michigan State University Library

Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro: A Workbook

Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro: A Workbook is the fourth in a series of GIS workbooks by Kathryn Keranen and Robert Kolvoord. Both authors have backgrounds in K–12 and higher education, and their experience is reflected in a text that is straightforward and approachable for audiences from high school on up. This new volume is consistent with others in the series, with a key difference being length: it is substantially longer, with more, and somewhat more extensive, exercises. While several of the exercises are essentially repetitions of those found in earlier series entries—they use the same structure and data to create similar outputs—the exercises have been updated to work in and with the ArcGIS Pro software.

ArcGIS Pro is relatively new, released in 2015, and, unlike earlier iterations of ArcMap, is a genuinely new piece of software. The tools are similar between ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro, but the workflow is very different between the two. In 2020, Esri plans to sunset the ArcMap desktop application in favor of ArcGIS Pro, and this workbook is a useful addition to the as-yet relatively scarce resources available to address this impending changeover.

The authors clearly assume that the reader will have some basic experience with both ArcGIS Pro and with GIS in general, assumptions that might seem to contradict the book’s implied suitability as an introductory GIS text. However, in this reviewer’s estimation, most of the exercises can be mastered with only the most basic understanding of GIS. Familiarity with mapping using ArcGIS Online, and access to an ArcGIS Online organizational account, are also assumed. Many modules, for example, involve accessing online data and while the process steps are given, familiarity and experience are helpful.

The workbook exercises are divided into nine modules, each with two projects. In general, the first project of each module has step-by-step instructions, while the second is less detailed but covers similar materials and processes. This is a nice pattern: the first project is very cookbook-like, while in the second, the user applies the tools without so much hand-holding, but still with guidance and a provided dataset.

The topics and themes vary in kind from module to module. An example of a more planning/government-type scenario (though not labeled as such) is “Module 1: Hazardous Emergency Decisions,” which presents a scenario around a “homeland security” situation involving a chemical spill on a highway. It requires creation of a map of detour routes and relevant facilities within a certain drive time. There are also more environmentally focused scenarios, such as “Module 9: Forest Vegetation Height,” which uses lidar data to observe and manage a forest area.

This variety of topics could be looked at positively (there is likely something relevant for everyone in one module or another) or negatively (many topics may seem irrelevant for users focused on a particular discipline). The lack of a consistent theme could be problematic for a course taught within a specific department, such as Fisheries and Wildlife, or Urban Planning. On the other hand, the range of topics might be useful in a more general GIS course, where getting an idea of the possibilities of GIS within many subject areas is helpful.

Working through the modules was generally straightforward: they follow a pattern of presenting the scenario, identifying deliverables to support decision making within the scenario, documenting and setting up the project, performing analysis, and sharing your results. However, sometimes it was not clear whether it was ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Online that was to be used. The tight integration between ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online—a feature of the software—meant that the line between the two was occasionally a little confusing.

There is an emphasis on raster rather than vector-based tools in the workbook modules, which may not be satisfying for those who rarely use remote sensing or raster data. Vector-based tools are covered, but they just don’t receive as much emphasis and coverage as the raster tools. Overall, however, tool coverage is good, and nearly all the basic GIS toolsets are included: network analyst, spatial analyst, raster calculator, creating composite images from remote sensing data, lidar skills, supervised and unsupervised classification, and using LAS data to make DEMs.

There was a good deal of repetition built into the exercises, and this was welcome—repeated tool use helps the process sink in. Additionally, the modules encourage documentation of the process via note taking, which they list as a deliverable. This is a good practice generally and it was nice to see it promoted in this workbook. Some of the other writing assignments, such as writing an incident report in the first module, felt extraneous. It is clear that the writing assignments were included as part of the book’s mission to teach about using tools to make decisions, and the writing is a reflection of the synthesis of decision making and information gathering, but sometimes the tasks did not hit their mark. Without an instructor to evaluate and critique the written deliverables, the value of the writing exercises is unclear: they could easily be an important part of a course that includes using ArcGIS Pro, but how do they teach you to use the software? Still, the writing assignments can be easily skipped.

Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro would make a good textbook for an introductory general GIS course. The depth of the modules and the wide range of assignments, which include writing prompts, are clear and follow a textbook style. The Esri Press summary for the book lists high school, community college, and university instructors and students as being the audience for the book. This seems reasonable, as the workbook would make a fine textbook for anyone getting started with ArcGIS Pro at many levels of education. It also works well as an introduction to ArcGIS Pro for a GIS professional outside of a class. There are other online tutorials and books that function similarly to this volume, but Making Spatial Decisions Using ArcGIS Pro: A Workbook is a solid contribution to the small pool of ArcGIS Pro learning resources.

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