Affordable High-Accuracy GPS for Education

Author Larry Fox

Obtaining high quality geographic information systems (GIS) data depends on effective field data collection. Poor field collection wastes labor resources and ultimately undermines the value of your GIS database.

GPS receiver capabilities range from survey grade (centimeter level accuracy) to consumer grade (~5-meter level accuracy). Of course, this demands a cost-benefit tradeoff ranging from free to prohibitively expensive for most educational institutions. Between these two extremes lies mapping grade GPS, which delivers 1 meter accuracy.

When students learn the concepts of designing a GIS, they must consider more than the storage, manipulation, and analysis of spatial data. Effective and reliable collection of field data enables successful development of a complete GIS strategy. Traditionally, only survey grade equipment could deliver sufficient capabilities to support these aims and the equipment to do so incurred significant expensive

With the advent of smartphones with integrated GPS receivers, the idea of a free GPS receiver seemed the ideal answer for education. Nearly all students own their own smartphone and so they came to class already equipped! However, Location services truly became a ubiquitous technology, but the reliability was too far from acceptable to meet the goals of teaching spatial field data collection best practices effectively.  Sometimes the smartphones supply very good results, while other times the accuracy deviates hundreds of meters.  This lack of reliability limits the smartphone as a viable tool for many situations.

We really need a tool that provides satisfactory accuracy at an affordable price, so instructors can focus on delivering their students real, hand-on field data collection training that reinforces best practices and proper technique.

A mapping grade GPS provides sufficient accuracy at an affordable price. Instructors can focus on delivering their students real-world field data collection training; reinforcing best practices and technique. As a category, mapping grade GPS receivers deliver affordable accuracy without the inconsistency and variability of a smartphone GPS experience.

Exposure to hands-on GPS data collection in the post-secondary environment enables experience based learning of essential field data collection skills for any GIS program.  The same techniques and skills, when brought to classrooms of K-12 students, can enrich studies in other disciplines.

Bad Elf, an Esri business partner, designs and manufacturers mapping grade GPS receivers.  We have collaborated with Esri for the past year to ensure that Bad Elf GPS receivers work well with Esri Collector and Survey123. Taken together, these tools allow instructors to focus on training and technique during their class and field time with students, without breaking the budget. Look at the Geoporter program or the San Andreas High Technology Academy as excellent examples of this approach; solving real-world local problems with Bad Elf GPS receivers.

Bad Elf, LLC proudly supports students and educators of all ages in our K through Anything program. Any student or educator can sign up to the Bad Elf Educational Discount Program and receive discounted pricing on select Bad Elf products for the classroom.

If you have any questions or comments, I am always happy to help or collaborate. You can contact Larry Fox at

Images courtesy of San Andreas High School

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