Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Google Earth: Thoughts for educators

So the new Google Earth is out.  Frank is covering it in detail but I thought I'd do a quick post about what it means for educators.  For clarity Google Earth the program I refer to as 'GE classic' and the new version as 'GE Web'.

Why the web: I'm guessing there are several reasons for this move:
- You can use GE web on Chromebooks, key for educators in the Google ecosystem
- Enables integration with G drive so your maps will be on the web
- All sorts of other reasons for which you should Google 'advantages of the cloud'

Usability:  In making the leap from GE classic to web Google have had a long hard think about their usability of GE and I think they've come up with good solutions to old problems that were in classic.  For example:
- Content is now mainly in a tile based graphic 'Voyager' section which is sumptuous and intuitive.
- Other base map type layers, that used to be in the places column, are now much more hidden away in 'map style' (in the three lined section, top left of screen) which presents you with three main options about which layers to have showing in your base map.  You can choose more options by choosing 'custom' at the bottom.

Both these interface elements are cleverly designed to direct people to the cool content they're most likely to use (Voyager) and little used layers that used to just confuse users are hidden away (Map Style > custom).  The tile based Voyager is quick to access and easy to understand.

The GE web navigation tool (bottom right of screen) is a lot better than the classic version, its more intuitive and I especially liked the ability to see the main screen view projected onto the mini globe (as a red border) as you navigate around.

Content:  Google has gone all out with this tool to link their great content (primarily youtube and streetview) to place (the main screen).   You can create and import your old KML but Google is making it quite clear that they think that this content/place link is the main reason for using Google Earth and map creation is less important.  It's interesting to compare this approach to Esri's approach with ArcGIS Online, IMHO they have gone the other way, tools for creating your own map are the priority and curating content for users is secondary.  This is an important fact to bear in mind when using GE web in the classroom, its probably good as a tool at the top of a lesson to showcase some content but maybe you'll want students to switch to Esri or GE classic at the back end of the lesson when they create maps?

Tours?:  I have been convinced for ages that student created tours are a great tool to teach simple GIS to students.  Google Earth Tour Builder has been lagging behind Esri Story maps for a while now IMHO.  I would expect to see GETB brought into GE web at some point in the future, again, Google don't see this as a priority as it isn't in this release.

Conclusion:  As Frank points out, to get GE web operating at a similar frame rate (how smoothly it works) as GE classic is a huge job, this will have occupied most of the developers time in producing GE web.  As a result, and in common with all software making the jump from program to cloud, functionality is lost, and generally comes back with time.   However, Google have invested time in sorting out some of the usability issues with GE classic and trying to link their great content to place.  I think they've done a good job.  In educational terms they're leading ArcGIS online in terms of usability and wow factor (from the content), however, they're lagging in terms of creation and measurement tools which are still only in GE classic.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Three Geo-Animations for Atlas Tours (Google Earth Tours, Esri Story Maps)

Just less than a year ago I published a post about 3 types of Atlas tour (1).   I've been thinking about the topic over the last year as I've been writing papers so I thought I should develop that post with some more detail.  I discussed this in my recent Google Education talk.

Just as you can have different types of PowerPoint (fieldwork briefing, photo slide show, talk etc. etc.) you can have different types of Atlas Tour.  Esri Story Maps (ESM) have identified a number of different types which emphacise text narrative, I believe most Atlas Tours should be narrated using audio, so I'm not going to discuss those.  My sorting works on two axes:

  • 3D or 2D:  ATs can be used to discuss both landscape (3D) or map views (2D).  
  • Realistic base map vs Symbolized:  showing realistic imagery works well when illustrating landscape but symbolising is endlessly useful in paring down a map to simlyfy it to the elements needed (e.g. temperature and wind but nothing else bottom right below)  
which produces 4 groups.  These are illustrated in an image grid below (2):

I give examples of the four groups in this videod section of my Google Education talk recently.

Within an Atlas Tour, you can have different types of animation that are highly suited to the format, I've identified 3 which I think are particularly useful and to illustrate them I've prepared a story board of an Atlas tour discussing the famous Snow cholera map:

1] Map Sequence:  using annotations or revealing layers (build animation) of a map one by one in order to explain a complex map.  The sequence above illustrates the build animation with street names added and then the pump.  It becomes much more important on complex maps.

Click to expand.  The audio narrative script is found under each image.

2] Time Animation:  Showing a sequence of maps to show change due to time.  This is well discussed in the cartographic literature.  Note that I've invented data, the spread was actually not recorded.
Click to expand

Avatar animation:  flying down from a symbolised map view into a 'human' view.  This is an original idea of mine and IMHO is very powerful, you can illustrate spatial relationships and then follow up with showing what they look like in real life.  In this case, on the street.

Click to expand

these aren't the only animations you can use and you can certainly usefully link out to static imagery and non-map video from within a Atlas Tour.  However, they are all very spatial and so worth highlighting above other formats in an Atlas Tour.

1] at the time I called them Google Earth Tours but to include people interested in using Esri Story Maps I now use Atlas tours as an encompassing term.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fieldscapes: A new idea for Virtual Fieldtrips

A while back I wrote a post about Google Expeditions.  Since then I've come across a couple of colleagues working on a format that has a lot of similar, interesting features.  I presented these to Geography school teachers on Wednesday night at a 'TeachMeet' run at the RGS (thanks for hospitality RGS and for Alan Parkinson for standing in to compere).  Google were there promoting their expeditions in schools.  I couldn't post my slides for copyright reasons so I thought I'd write some notes.

Basic Idea:

Much as in a third person shooter game you enter a fieldtrip 'world' and explore it.  You can find markers which can be clicked bringing up web materials (related images, videos, multiple choice questions).  The environment can be customized by the teacher allowing them to put in instructions, self assessment questions and links 'in world'.  This means you can re-use the environment for different levels of students.

The video above gives you a nice taste, I am not convinced by the 'learning fieldwork skills' functionality but the other features it shows are very interesting.

As an aside, Declan De Poar came up with a similar idea for use in Google Earth  that I remember him showing me.

Who is doing this?

Daden are a commercial company already working with the Open University on this, Fieldscapes is their project.  A colleague of mine at Hertfordshire (Phil Porter) came up with a similar idea.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Paper: How to make an Excellent Google Earth tour

We (myself and Artemis Skarlatidou) have just submitted a paper to a cartographic journal about a successful experiment we did on users' understanding of Google Earth Tours.  The work produced two rules of thumb to consider when making Google Earth tours so I thought I'd blog about it.  Note that the title of this post isn't how to make a 'cool' Google Earth tour that grabs users' attention, this is about how to use them as an effective communication tool.

Why should I care about Google Earth tours?
Before we get to the two best practices its useful to think about the media we're discussing.  Is it worth using?  My answer to that is that Google Earth tours are common on the web and the wider generic group of Google Earth like animations (Atlas tours) are everywhere!  e.g.:
- TV (e.g. weather forecasts)
- The web (e.g. National Geographic)
- Mobile satnav apps

As an example of Atlas tours in satnav apps, both Google Maps and Apple Maps in driving directions mode will zoom into tricky road junctions when you approach them but then zoom out when you are on a straight road section to show you the wider view.

So you should consider creating a Google Earth tour (or Atlas tour if you prefer) as a way to tell your spatial story.

Best practice 1: use high paths
If you are producing a tour with two or more low points, you get to choose how the camera moves between the two low views.  Users' mental map of the study area will be better when your tour following a 'Rocket' path(1) where there is a mid point where you can see the start and end of your tour. This video explains the point and tells you how to achieve it technically in Google Earth:

Best practice 2: use of speed
We haven't explicitly proved it but an animation speed of 1 second for any camera motion is a good rule of thumb(2).  If the tour is more visually complex, you may want to slow the speed down.  Reasons to take more time:
- You are flying through a complex 3D cityscape
- There are lots of elements on screen (points, lines, areas) that you want users to understand

As an example, these are some of the experimental Google Earth tours; only the 'low, fast' condition really troubled the users in the experiment.

Atlas tours are very common as they are an effective media to communicate a spatial story or data.  Google Earth is one of a suite of software that can be used to produce Atlas tours, I think the principles described here will apply whatever software is used.

I read all the studies I could find in 2011 and produced an earlier paper which discussed these and 17 other best practices for producing Google Earth tours.  This is the shorter blog version of the paper.

1] In the paper, this is called the high path.  Less memorable but more professional sounding.

2] our experiment ran at speeds slower than this and user's had little problem building up a mental map of the study area.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Embedding Google Expeditions in teaching

tl;dr summary  

  • Interface and technology:  Excellent
  • Content: Very good
  • Educational design: Could do better.
  • Worth investigating: Yes


Google launched expeditions for iOS this week (announcement of release).  This is important as previously expeditions was only available for Android devices and, being made available for both of the main platforms, removes a serious hurdle for schools in using it.  In the UK, they have also promised to produce lesson plans which goes some way to answering a criticism I raised previously, that they are passive ‘Cook’s tours’ and need to be more active.  So while my dearly beloved watched some TV last night I geeked out looking at the expeditions currently available.  I concentrated on the biology models, the natural history museums and the geography expeditions.  Here are some thoughts on those expeditions:


Just like street view before it (my post on educational ideas on how to use streetview in teaching) there is some fantastic content available for teachers to use in teaching Earth sciences.  It's totally free.  You don't even need the cardboard, you could plug a tablet into a projector to show students the content.

Slick interface and no problems combining platforms:

I experimented using two devices, one following (student), one leading (teacher).  No problems mixing iPhone, iPad and Android devices in all sorts of combinations.  The ‘show and tell’ interface worked slickly and intuitively, you can direct student's attention to where they should be looking and see where students are looking to check they're keeping up.  Nice work.

I'm told that it throws up some errors being used on schools' wifi systems.  Having your own WLAN (about £30) gets around this.


You can download the data to the teacher's device and then from there, over a WLAN (wireless local area network, think wifi not necessarily connected to internet) it streams to all the student's devices - no need to download the same data to everyone's device.  It also means if you have the technical chops you could set up a WLAN in a study centre in the middle of nowhere without access to the internet and run expeditions with students.  I'm thinking this will also be very useful in schools with dodgy internet.

Not the right media for the Biology Models

There are a number of human biology expeditions including the heart, the skeleton etc.  I'm not convinced they work because they consist of a static, 360 degree view of a the model where you can only see one side.  With this type of media you can't see the context e.g, considering the heart:

  • Where is it in relation to the lungs/ribs/diaphragm?  
  • How does the heart fit in with the circulation system?
IMHO a much better media to use in this context is what I call a 'build animation': video with audio where layers of graphic information are revealed one by one.  See Khan Academy's content and compare it with the heart expedition:

One of the photospheres in the ear model expedition is particularly poor:  it shows a model of an ear from the outside.  Much better to get students to look at the real thing, and, you know what?   There are lots of great examples attached to other students' heads all around them.

Museum Expeditions - hmmmm.

I also think the museum expeditions are pushing the format too far.  A museum is intrinsically designed around a 'skim view' and 'zoom in' viewing model* - you walk around the hall looking about you generally (skimming), you then see something that interests you so you zoom in: you walk towards it and read the information at the kiosk or exhibit.  Presenting materials formatted in this way in an expedition is preventing the zooming in part - you are 'stuck' to one point on the floor without the ability to walk up to an exhibit and access the detail.  

However, when the museum is impressing us with scale, e.g. discussing the dinosaur skeleton in the Natural History museum (see image), then an expedition becomes more effective because the museum experience is all about staying at the 'zoomed out' view.

Scale in Geography Expeditions:

If there are no familiar items in view (people, houses, etc. etc.) it's impossible to tell the scale of the view: 

Any idea how big those icebergs are?  A scale comparison needs to be provided, this could be the human drone operator as a Point of Interest (POI) or providing a POI showing a 100m line.

Geography Expeditions need maps:

I also think that the Geography expeditions really need to use maps.  Combining what I call the 'avatar view' (human scale view, as in expeditions) with the map view (views from altitude setting the place in context geographically) is a very powerful narrative tool and I haven't seen any examples of this being done in the expeditions.  I'll tackle that in a separate blog post.

Teaching tool:

Google are going to publish lesson plans about how to use expeditions in teaching.  Good, but I don't think that's enough.  IMHO expeditions need to be more customisable, in effect becoming a simple content creation tool.  Teachers need to be able to easily:
- Add polls with their own questions.
- Add their own POIs - there are many teaching reasons you may want to show students a jungle in an expedition, e.g. environmental science, biology, geography or tourism.  Having only one set of POIs available per expedition is limiting.
- Add traditional PowerPoint slides between the photospheres, e.g. maps putting the location in geographical context (see 'expeditions need maps' above) or showing a zoomed in view of a dinosaur tooth with annotations in the dinosaur example discussed earlier. 

Watch the journey into a glacier expedition, its done by Jamie Buchan-Dunlop (of Digital Explorer fame) and, as usual, he does it really well.  My favourite was the Mt Everest expedition, lovely example of taking students to a place that they will never probably go. 

*I'm sure there's some literature about this, do comment and let me know if there are some proper terms I should be using.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Students creating Atlas Tours (aka Story Map, Google Earth Tour)

screenshots from student produced ATs I found on the web
Screenshots from student produced ATs I've found on the web
What is an Atlas Tour? So I’ve been writing some papers over the summer about ‘Atlas Tours’ (ATs) by which I mean a series of maps that tell a narrative.  An example well known in the UK residents is the BBC TV weather forecast

which is made up of animated time maps, camera motions through virtual space and a narrative delivered by a presenter.   In UK outreach events I used to run teaching geography, this was the ‘map’ that people said they looked at most often.

ATs encourage users to watch: A great example of how useful ATs are is from National Geographic who produced this site about tracking the illegal trade in ivory across Africa .  The web logs of this resource show that atlas tours encourage people to engage more with content than other non-narrative, interactive maps (Kaitlin Yarnall Presentation at 18.40 minutes).  

Easy enough for students to do:  The cool thing is that the technology (and I'm thinking Esri Story Maps and Google Earth Tour Builder here) has made it easier for students and other non-specialists to produce ATs almost as sophisticated as the Ivory trade example.  As a result a number of assignments have been set asking students to produce ATs, a good example is the PSU and Esri MOOC which asked students to produce a map based story as a final project, many chose to produce ATs via Esri Story Maps (Anthony Robinson and Colleagues paper (2015) )

Other Examples of students’ ATs on the web include: 
One of the papers promotes ATs as a good assignment to set students, watch this space for more!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thoughts on Expeditions following CAGTI16

Expeditions as Purple Cow: Expeditions is Google’s project where you use a viewer (such as cardboard) with your smart phone.  The system gives you 360 vision with wrap around visuals so you can turn and look at things above, below, left and right.  There was a great sense of excitement around this project at CAGTI16 with teachers interested in how they could use it and I heard very positive reports from teachers who had been involved in the pilot scheme.  Google have been very active capturing imagery from polar regions, coral reefs even other planets.  I think its certainly something to grab attention, it would be excellent at a Geography University open day or outreach event to pull people in.  It reminds me of Seth Godwin’s Purple Cow concept.  Well done Google, its worth paying attention to as a project just for this.

Hardware: Currently to use expeditions you need an Android tablet for the teacher and Android smart phones and cardboards for the students.  A comment I heard a lot of was 'when will it be available for iOS?' only being on Android is obviously a limiting factor because I doubt many schools are going to shell out on buying multiple Android phones just to use expeditions.  I imagine this will come soon.

Cooks Tour:  However I think educationally it needs more development.  The expeditions I saw at CAGTI expeditions are a ‘Cooks’ tour (see this paper ) - students get a wonderful immersive experience (hear the squeals in this video)

but they are being essentially passive because the lesson is structured around the teacher guiding students' view to interesting points and talking to the students.  The students themselves are not doing very much.  A Cook's tour approach can be a good introductory exercise at the start of a field trip (again, see the above paper), but to learn properly students need to do more, things like:
  • Collecting and analyzing data, 
  • Coming up with and testing hypotheses 
  • or even making their own expeditions
Early days: But its early days in the world of Google expeditions.  I discussed all of this with Jamie of Digital Explorer at CATGI16 who has been involved in recording expeditions for Google and persuaded me there was more to it than I believed.  He pointed out that his recent abseil into a glacier 360 degree video

uses a neat little trick:  The film has been annotated with bits of text that students have to hunt for, it becomes a challenge to see if they can ‘collect’ all the text before the video ends.  This is getting the student to be more active than the Cook's tour which is good.  We both agreed that a lovely educational activity would be to get students to create their own expeditions.

History of VR in virtual field trips: Expeditions are getting attention elsewhere, Audrey Watters has an interesting post about the history of VR relevant to expeditions - she points out that people have been claiming that technology can replace the field trip since the 1920s with technology like the stereoscope.  However, Martin Weller's post about Pokamon Go  is a good counter point.  He makes the argument that just because you've seen an educational technology appear before is not an excuse to refuse to engage when it resurfaces elsewhere and gets a lot of attention.

So I look forward to seeing how expeditions develop and I'm aching to get my hands on an 'ExpeditionsBuilder': GoogleEarthTourBuilder for expeditions that I can get students to use.

Edit 11.07pm:  Noodling around some more, I find much more detailed advice from Google on how to integrate expeditions into lessons:
"To get the most of an Expedition, it should be preceded and followed with connected learning activities. The Expedition itself is one powerful piece of the instructional puzzle. So as you’re planning for the experience consider the following learning activities for before, during and after the Expedition."
so accusing them of pushing Cook's tours is a bit unfair, they're advising teachers to use expeditions mixed in with activities as but why have they hidden it away off on another 'semi Google' (edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com) website?