University of California
Informatics and GIS Program

Posts Tagged: GIS

Putting Winter Break to Good Use with Online GIS Training

For many people, the winter holidays are a good time to catch up on things that you've put off the entire year - that article you've been working on since last summer, your merit and promotion package, and taking your GIS skills to the next level! Fortunately, no matter what you want to learn, there are a number of great online resources you can turn to.

Knowing what you want to learn is often half the battle. If you're just starting out, perhaps exploring some of the basic concepts and learning how they apply in your field would be a good place to start before jumping into software tutorials. Or maybe you've been stuck for a while on a specific task, like importing data, fixing the labels on your map, or turning your paper map into an interactive web map. If you'd like to chat with a GIS consultant to clarify your goals, feel free to sign-up for the IGIS online office hours, and we'll get you pointed in the right direction.

The IGIS team put together some of our favorite "go to" online GIS training resources that we use ourselves all the time. If you don't see what you're looking for below, or have another other site you'd recommend, please leave a comment or drop us an email and we'll add it to the list.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Mapping!

Andy, Shane, Sean, Robert, and Maggi


ESRI Web Courses, Training Seminars, and Tutorials

A little known fact about the University of California's site license with ESRI (including ANR) is that it includes virtually unlimited access to their entire catalog of web courses and online training seminars. Instructor led classes still require a fee, but there are literally hundreds of high-quality recorded e-courses you can take, ranging from introductory to advanced topics, from basic concepts to specific software steps. ESRI web courses are typically 3 hours long, while training seminars are 1 hour, so you can fit them in on a slow day. Check out the course catalog, and remember to filter by "E-Learning" as the format and what you would like to learn in the "GIS Capabilities" box.

To take most of ESRI's online training, you need a UC sponsored account (note that accounts are different and won't do you any good here). If you don't already have an enterprise account and you work for ANR, IGIS can hook you up with one. Just fill in the software request form and check the box for an account. You'll also have the option to download the latest desktop GIS software, which might be a good idea if you're still using an older version of ArcGIS Desktop.

TIP: If you're brand new to GIS, consider starting with the 3-hour web course called Getting Started with ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro is relatively new, has a much more intuitive interface, and will eventually replace the venerable ArcGIS Desktop.

For additional hands-on experience, ESRI also has a number of self-paced guided exercises you can work through for most of its products.

Recorded GIS Webinars from

Connected to, a national resource network for US Cooperative Extension professionals, is a GIS training and support group called Map@Syst. They have published a number of recorded webinars on applications of GIS for cooperative extension work, including using maps to engage your audience, story maps, working with Lidar data, Landsat imagery, etc. A great resource definitely worth checking out.

ESRI Hacker Labs

If you've got a little experience with web mapping (perhaps from taking an IGIS workshop?), the exercises in the ESRI Geodev Hacker Labs library are a great way to learn / remember the basic steps. Lots of code examples and explanations take you from A to Z, and everything is on GitHub so they're completely free!
(anything to add here?)

Technical Workshops from the 2016 ESRI User Conference

ESRI holds a ginormous user conference every July, which is a great place to move your GIS skills to the next level. If you can't wait until next summer, there are recordings of over 50 technical workshops from the 2016 User Conference available on YouTube.

QGIS and ESRI Courses on

Another under-utilized resource available to all ANR staff is the virtually unlimited access to the thousands of online courses at These professionally made courses include a number of GIS subjects, including Up and Running with QGIS, ArcGIS Pro Essential Training, and GIS on the Web. Courses are generally 2-3 hours long.


If you have a little more time and would like a little stronger foundation, consider taking a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). UC Davis sponsors a series of five GIS courses on the e-learning platform These are four-week courses requiring about 5 hours per week, so they cover a lot of territory and are generally very good. For a fee you can complete all five courses and earn a certificate, or you can audit them for free. Check out the syllabus and reviews if you're not sure.

ESRI also has a handful of MOOCs, including "Going Places with Spatial Analysis", "Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps", and "Earth Imagery at Work". They also keep a list of links to other GIS MOOCs offered by Universities. See for details.

Modeling Ecosystem Services with InVEST

While not GIS software per se, InVEST is probably the most developed multi-purpose ecosystem modeling software out there. Our friends at the Natural Capital Project have developed a 4-hour online course that introduces the main ideas behind ecosystem services and gets you started with InVEST. Both the course and the software are free. See An Introduction to the Natural Capital Approach.

Related: For a great intro on approaches to economic valuation of ecosystem services, check out the video lessons from the Conservation Strategy Fund.

There are many other great learning resources out there including a lot of tutorials on YouTube, but these are a few that we know from organizations who have put some real time and thought into it.

So there you have it - no more excuses for not knowing enough GIS to do what you want! If you don't like online training, then we'd love to see you at an IGIS workshop in 2017, or stop by our online office hours for some free tips.


Posted on Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 2:11 PM
Tags: ESRI (4), ESRI (4), GIS (6), GIS (6), IGIS (5), IGIS (5), training (2), training (2), webinars (2), webinars (2)

GIS as Calculus, and other Reflections from the 2016 California Naturalist Conference

Getting closer to nature?
I must confess when I first thought about a GIS-themed poster for the California Naturalist conference last weekend, the two topics seemed like somewhat odd bedfellows. The central character of naturalists, it seemed to me, is a deep-seated passion for nature, rooted in direct experiences in the outdoors, keen powers of observation, and lots of reflection on the connections to our deeper selves, our personal and collective histories, and our communities. The big insights from GIS, on the other hand, stem from slicing and dicing the real world into abstracted layers that can be stored, shared, and manipulated in a digital realm. How could these two vastly different ways of knowing, epistemologies if you will, complement each other? At best I thought GIS might be useful to make navigation maps to help naturalists find their way through a forest. At worst, I thought the technological mediation of experience that GIS brings to bear could dilute the essence of what draws people to natural history.

I was wrong on both fronts, of course. Or at least incomplete. As I learned through many conversations and presentations during the conference, naturalists are indeed grounded in direct observations of the natural world, for which the best tools are probably a notebook and sketchpad. A great talk by John Muir Laws suggested a set of questions to cultivate an intentional curiosity about nature, as well as a way to think about how we take notes and sketches:

I notice…

I wonder….

It reminds me of …

Questions about Connection
At this level, a cell phone app may not be what you want to record or structure your thoughts. However I also saw that many of the questions that come out of observations and reflection are exactly the kinds of questions that GIS shines in answering. What is the history of this thing? Why is it here? Where else is it found? And how is it connected to the things around it?

Natural history has been around much longer than GIS, but already there are some spectacular examples of technology enabling the work of naturalists. The mobile app iNaturalist shines in this space, because it not only is an incredibly useful tool for recording observations, but also extends the value of making observations by creating connections across a vast online community of other naturalists. Nature watchers can learn from each other, as well as aggregate their observations so the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

The Wild Pig and iNaturalist apps bring people with common interests together
Communities of Interest
In bringing people and data together, iNaturalist is a good example of what is more generically known as community and citizen science, of which there are hundreds of examples. The CalNat conference featured several presentations about citizen science, which highlighted another connection between naturalists and technology -- in many cases citizen science has provided the motivation or on-ramp for people to venture into the field in the first place. Guided to a meadow or wetland by a citizen science program, they can then develop observation, curiosity, and connection which are the hallmarks of naturalists.

Spatial and Temporal Scale
Seeing things at different scales is another part of GIS, and large scale datasets such as satellite images or topo maps can highlight patterns and relationships not visible from a worms-eye view. GIS is also a good tool to “see” important characteristics that are not visible to the naked eye, such as the annual temperature range, precipitation levels, or soil types. Naturalists are also curious about the history of species, and how thing will change in the future. Through GIS, we can access the observations of naturalists who went before us, such as the Wieslander photos and vegetation maps from the 1920s and 30s. To some degree we can also “see” into the future, using tools like Cal-Adapt or the California Climate Console, which present different models of the impacts of climate change.


Wieslander's photo of French Lake and English Mt. looking north, morphing into 2014 photo by Joyce Gross. Wieslander's photo shows a large area of barren and semi-barren oak.
Wieslander's photo of French Lake and English Mt. looking north, morphing into 2014 photo by Joyce Gross. Wieslander's photo shows a large area of barren and semi-barren oak.

What GIS and Calculus Have in Common
One of the most thought-provoking talks during the conference was given by Charles Convis from ESRI, the makers of the popular ArcGIS software. Convis has a unique perspective on the connection between naturalists and GIS, with a degree in Natural History from UC Santa Cruz and almost three decades at the helm of the ESRI Conservation Program. His talk wove together anecdotes from his own history with reflections on how landscape images and mapping have precipitated paradigm shifts over time, and the evolution of GIS. I was intrigued by an ambitious metaphor Charles made when he argued that GIS is “the Calculus of Natural History and Landscape Ecology”. What he meant by this was that in the same way that Newton's invention of calculus made all sorts of observational data about the planets fit together under one paradigm, GIS is a tool and way of thinking that can bring together many types of environmental data, questions, and models under one roof. I like this way of thinking, because draws attention to GIS as both a conceptual paradigm that connects diverse environmental data and questions through simple but powerful principles (things are situated in space and time, there are different types of connectivity, close things tend to be more related than distant things, etc.), as well as GIS as an increasingly powerful set of tools that can store, manipulate, fuse, analyze, and visualize many types of data.

Bridging Turbulent Waters: Endangered Species 
I saw a great example of the unifying power of GIS during a conference field trip to the Santa Ana River watershed, where we learned about a Habitat Conservation Plan for the upper part of the watershed. Heather Dyer from the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Jeff Beehler from the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District took us on a tour of the watershed and described the very long but ultimately fruitful effort to develop a HCP that will allow the water utility to continue managing the watershed for groundwater recharge and flood protection, while also protecting endangered species and allowing for other uses including recreation and transportation. Successful collaboration around water and endangered species is a rarity in California, but in this case was made possible by some enlightened thinking on the part of the utilities, a handful of strong leaders in key agencies, lots and lots of dialogue, and craftful application of the carrots and sticks in the ESA.

However they also told us it also would not have been possible without GIS, which became the main tool for planning and communication (the calculus if you will). The process of assembling and collecting new spatial data was itself collaborative, and built relationships among the stakeholders that provided a foundation for the more difficult conversations about tradeoffs and compromises. In the coming months as the HCP begins a formal review process, the groups will release the geodatabase behind the HCP, which will enable additional updates, analyses, and discussions.

What Else?
We should always be reflective about how technology is affecting our work and lives, but the California Naturalist conference gave me a lot of insights about how GIS and online tools can be used to enhance the work of naturalists, expand their vision, and broaden their communities. If you have other ideas or examples of how naturalists have productively used (or could use) mapping technologies, we would love to read about it in the comments.


Posted on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 11:46 AM
Tags: California Naturalist (1), calnat2016 (1), ESRI (4), GIS (6), GIS@ANR (2), HCP (1), IGIS (5)

GIS for Needs Assessments

I recently attended a really useful ANR training from the office of Program Planning and Evaluation (PPE) on needs assessment. Incorporating needs assessments into research and extension makes a lot of sense for many reasons. We all want to address issues and problems that are significant and pressing, and develop programs that are effective. A needs assessment can help flush out the challenges in our areas, prioritize needs, and build relationships with key stakeholders. As stewards of public resources, we also want our programs to be as efficient as possible. ANR expects all program staff to do needs assessments as part of program development, and the PPE has put together a great set of training and resources.

How GIS can be useful in a Needs Assessment

During the workshop, it was also exciting to hear how GIS can be a useful tool in many stages of a needs assessment. For example:


A needs assessment often requires talking to people in the program area, which can be daunting because we work with a lot of people. GIS maps can sometimes provide a sampling frame, in other words a master list of all the potential people one might want to talk to. For example Margaret Lloyd, Small Farms Advisor for Sacramento and Yolo Counties, described how a Google Map of strawberry farm stalls in Sacramento County was the starting point for a needs assessment tour of strawberry growers. In other cases, you may get a spreadsheet of growers' addresses in a county. These can be turned to points on a map with GIS using a process called geocoding. This can be particularly helpful to an Advisor who is new to an area.

If there are more stakeholders than one can personally contact (often the case), taking a sub-sample may be a practical necessity. A simple random sample is easy to do, but a GIS also allows spatial sampling. This could be useful, for example, if you want to ensure an even geographic distribution across the county, or a distribution across other units, such as watersheds, municipalities, school districts, etc. Even if sampling is more opportunistic (e.g., meeting attendees), a map can show the distribution of the people you talked to, so you can tell if any areas were over or under represented.

Visualizing Results

Maps from a GIS can be an effective way to communicate the results of a needs assessment. Whether a simple map in a report, or an interactive web map, maps can show a lot of information at once by manipulating the size, shape, and color of symbols. Geographic patterns jump out in a way you don't get in a table or regression coefficients.

Data Fusion

With a little more work, the data you collect can be enriched with other useful datasets, such as census or environmental data. Imagine for example displaying the results of an email survey in a map form, overlaid for example with a map layer showing food security, or climate vulnerability. This type of fusion is helpful not only for understanding the nitty-gritty of the challenge, but also opportunities for extension and collaboration.

Building a Foundation for Innovation

Incorporating GIS in a needs assessment may be a little more work for those who aren't familiar with the technology (but see the services offered by IGIS below), however this investment can pave the way for all sorts of additional outreach and analysis. Putting your baseline data in a GIS simplifies ongoing monitoring and tracking, so you can see if your efforts are working. It also enables further technical analyses, such as testing spatially explicit models of a process, which can help you publish your work. On the non-technical side, getting your data into GIS formats dramatically simplifies the process of developing innovative communication tools down the road, such as story maps or web GIS.

IGIS Services

Not everyone in ANR has a lot of experience with the rapidly changing world of GIS, but the good news is that help is a click away. The IGIS statewide program is here to serve the Division, and we love working with Advisors, Specialists, and all the Statewide Programs. If you need software, we can provide ANR staff with software licenses for ESRI GIS software, including the new ArcGIS Pro (at no cost!). We can also point you to open-source GIS software, if you prefer that. Don't know how to use it? We run a series of GIS workshops tailored to specific fields. If you would rather go straight to web mapping, we can set you up with an ArcGIS online account so you can do it yourself, or potentially make a web map for you. Need data? We can help you sift through the massive amount of publicly available GIS data, or help you create a mobile app to collect it yourself. Browse through our gallery of web GIS projects for inspiration, read the service center FAQs, and then submit a service center request and we'll call you back in a day or two.


Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 at 12:14 AM
Tags: gis (6), GIS@ANR (2), IGIS (5), needs assessment (1), ppe (1), sampling (1), survey (1)

Western Wildlife Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT)

CHAT map 03-2013 v2Have you ever wondered what are the crucial habitats and corridors for Sage Grouse, Black Bear, and other wildlife species? Seventeen westerns states have collaborated through the Western Governors’ Wildlife Council to create the Western Wildlife Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) for public release in December, 2013. The CHAT aims to bring greater certainty and predictability to planning efforts by establishing a common starting point for discussing the intersection of development and wildlife. CHAT will be an easily accessible online system of maps displaying crucial wildlife habitat and corridors across the West.  For more information visit

Posted on Friday, December 13, 2013 at 8:22 AM

IGIS brings GIS software to every UC ANR user

The UC system and Esri, the world leader in GIS software, have an agreement that allows each UC campus to distribute software to students and faculty. IGIS worked collaboratively with UCOP and the UC system to expand the master site agreement to enable academics and staff within UC ANR access to software and tools provided by ESRI. Because UC ANR is covering the cost for the whole division, UC ANR users will have access to these software and tools at no additional cost.

This change in the master site license will benefit UC ANR in several ways. First, academics and staff who want to use ESRI GIS software (ArcMap) will not need to buy the software from an affiliated UC campus. We can now distribute ESRI GIS software and licenses to academics and staff in UC ANR at no additional cost. Second, UC ANR will have a cloud-based geoportal hosted by ESRI on ArcGIS Online for Organization ( where academics and staff will be able to browse maps and data created by others within UC ANR. At the geo-portal we will be able be to create and share data and maps containing mash-ups of our data, as well as data from others available from the web. These online maps can then be used to create web mapping applications, mobile apps and dynamic maps for use in presentations. Third, with the access to the new software and tools, problems will arise that we may not be able to resolve on our own. In the past we would have had to work through one of the campuses to receive technical support; now we have direct access to technical support within ESRI.

How do you get access to the new tools?

ArcGIS Software and Data— Desktop application and data that academics and staff can use to create maps and analyze spatial data. To get access to the software you need to go to and login with your ANR Portal credentials and submit the ESRI Download form. After you submit the form you will receive the links to download the image files for the ESRI Software. Staff at IGIS will create an authorization file and email it to you to complete your installation.

ArcGIS Online for Organization— A cloud-based geo-portal where academics and staff can browse maps and data created by others within UC ANR. To get access to the geo-portal at with the ability to add data and create maps and apps, you will need to request a login from and complete the user registration.

For more information, contact Shane Feirer at (707) 744-1424 x114 or

Posted on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM
Tags: ArcGIS (1), ESRI (4), GIS (6), IGIS (5), UCANR (1)
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