By Patty Frontiera

Google Collaboratory is a cloud-based Jupyter notebook environment for Python programming.  According to the FAQ, Google Collaboratory is “a research tool for machine learning education and research. It’s a Jupyter notebook environment that requires no setup to use.” I repeat - NO SETUP TO USE! FREE! FOR EDUCATION!  These are all great things (while they last) for folks who use Google tools.  

Google Collaboratory works similarly to Google Docs. Once you go to the Google Collaboratory website and save a notebook to Google Drive you will have a Colab Notebooks folder in your Google Drive. Like a Google Doc, you can share your notebooks with other folks. If you share in View only mode, folks can view and save local copies of your notebook. You can also give folks Edit permission and create notebooks collaboratively, thus the name Google Collaboratory! You can give Google Collaboratory a test drive by opening this simple notebook that I wrote which demonstrates geocoding and mapping a small set of named places in San Francisco.  

As a D-Lab instructor, I have designed and taught many workshops on the use of geospatial tools and techniques using both ArcGIS and QGIS software as well R and Python programming environments. Software installation is often a pain point for students and can dissuade new learners from moving forward. I have found this to be especially true for Python where installing software can be quite complex given differences in Python versions, package versions and operating systems.

To avoid having installation problems derail a workshop before it even starts we try to use tools and environments that make things a bit easier for our students. For ArcGIS workshops we start with ArcGIS Online rather than the full desktop suite which only runs on MS Windows PCs. For QGIS, we encourage students to install the long term stable release rather than the latest release. Thankfully, R programming workshops tend to run very smoothly with RStudio.

Finding a good local work environment for Python workshops has been more challenging and these workshops are often fraught with software installation issues. Cloud based environments like AWS and Google Cloud and Google Cloud Datalab may resolve installation problems for students but given the complexity of setup and deployment they might just move the problem around and lead to additional staff time and operating expenses. Given this landscape, I was encouraged when I discovered the joys of Google Collaboratory. 

I will make use of Google Collaboratory during an introductory Python geospatial workshop, Geospatial Data in Python with GeoPandas, on Tue, November 27, 2018 - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM at the D-Lab. Please join us!  

Dr. Patty Frontiera is the D-Lab geospatial topic area lead. As such, she develops the geospatial workshop curriculum, teaches workshops and consults on geospatial topics.  Patty has been with the D-Lab since 2014 and served as the the Academic Coordinator through Spring 2017. Patty received her Ph.D. in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley where her dissertation explored the application and effectiveness of generalized spatial representations in geographic information retrieval.