Data mapping assignments

Mapping assignments tend to be either data visualizations or map annotations. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but tend to involve different activities. An annotated map is one in which students add textual or multimedia descriptions to points or regions on map. When the user clicks on the marker or region, the corresponding description appears. Google Maps and OpenStreetMap are very common examples of annotated maps. Data visualization maps are those that display some form of data, usually by color-coding regions on a map. The colors represent some numeric value associated with that region. While a rather simple tool such as Google MyMaps is capable of importing data and displaying the result, most mapping projects that involve geographic data are done with geographic information system (GIS) software, such as ArcGIS, Q-GIS, or ArcGIS Online.

Learning goals

  • Visualize data through a spatial lens and potentially highlight relationships between data points
  • Gain experience gathering, cleaning, and manipulating data


  • The ArcGIS Online platform allows students to create maps, add data layers, and to share their maps with others. It is also possible to create groups within the system so that multiple people can work on the same map.
  • ArcGIS Online includes access to vast repositories of geographic data that can be imported and layered on custom maps. While Google MyMaps allows one to import data, one would need to acquire and prepare that data beforehand.
  • Geographic data on the web is often made available as geojson or KML files. These types of files are very well suited to online mapping tools. Larger datasets may be available as collections of data containing ‘shapefiles’. These types of files can usually be converted with GIS software, such as ArcGIS, for use on the web.
  • Google MyMaps is a very attractive tool for small-scale mapping projects. Restrictions in the platform however limit how many layers may be included in a map and how much data can be imported and plotted.
Student preparation
  • Advanced mapping activities such as computational analysis of geo-spatial data might require  significant training and the use of desktop software rather than online tools. Contact the Maps and Geospatial Information Center in the Library for more information or to find out about training opportunities.
Posted by May 10, 2021