Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tracking students in Google Earth

Our paper 'Footprints in the sky: using student track logs from a 'bird's eye view' virtual field trip to enhance learning' has been published.  It describes how students were tracked zooming and panning around Google Earth on a virtual field trip.  Their movements were recorded and their visual attention inferred as a paint spray map: high attention = hot colors, track = blue line.

A paint spray map of 7 students (1-7) performing a search task in Google Earth.
Background imagery has been removed to aid clarity.
Click to expand.

How it works
The idea is to track students performing a search task, in our experiment they looked for evidence of an ancient lake that has now dried up in a study area.  Their 3D track as they zoom and pan around in Google Earth is recorded, their visual attention is mapped as if it is a can of paint spraying:  if they zoom in to check an area in close up, Visual Attention (VA) builds up, if they zoom out VA still builds up but is spread over a much larger area.

Mapping the accumulation of VA  along with their track projected onto the ground (blue line) shows where the students have searched and in what detail at a glance.  The small multiples above show data from 7 students who were given 3 set areas to investigate in further detail (target/guide polygons).  This was done in Google Earth but to aid visability, the Google Earth base map has been removed.  From the maps we can predict what the students were doing, e.g. student g5 didn't appear to visit the top right guide polygon at all and students g1, g3 and g6 only gave it a cursory look.  By comparison, students g2 and g4 explored it much more thoroughly.

How it could be used
The idea would be to give the maps to students to help them assess how they did on the exercise.  In addition the VA from all students can be collated which can be used by the tutor to see if his/her activity worked well or not (bottom right of the multiples above).  In this case the summed VA shows that students examined the areas they were supposed, that is, within the target/guide polygons.

The system only works with a zoom and pan navigation system where the zoom function is needed to explore properly.  If the exercise can be solved just by panning, a paint spray map won't show much variation in VA and interpretation would be difficult to impossible.

Other Related Work
Learning Analytics is a growing area of investigation, there's lots of work tracking student's logs using VLEs (LMS in US) to understand their learning.  There has also been use of tracking to see where avatars have moved in virtual environments, visualizing it as a 'residence time' map similar to the VA maps above.  However, this is the first attempt we've come across where movement in 3D virtual environment via zoom and pan has been tracked and visualized.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Three Types of Google Earth Tour

I happen to have been thinking about the different types of Google Earth tour recently.  I've come up with three main types:

3D Flyover:
This type uses just camera motion and is through an area of significant topography (think mountain range) or other 3D structure (think buildings or Geology).  Its immersive in the sense that it is close to flying through the actual landscape presented.  Here's an example:

I think this type is a bit old, people were very excited by them when they were first possible but now we've all grown used to Google Earth they don't impress that much anymore.

Map Tour:
In this type the viewer is flown from location to location with other media being used e.g. photos or overlays on the topography.  It may use other map animations such as time animations but these are more minor.  It doesn't really try to be immersive, the power of the camera movement is to explain the relative locations of things or to illustrate maps over two or more scales.  A couple of examples:

Time tour:
This final type is more an animated map than a tour, it is mainly time animation with camera motion being a less significant animation type.  Like the map tour, it doesn't aim for an immersive experience but instead uses Google Earth as a base map on which to present thematic data over time.  A good example is this sea ice animation from NSIDC:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Microsoft Mix - first look

Warning:  nothing about maps, just of interest to educators.

So I've come across office mix this week, its an add on for MS Powerpoint with a linked cloud hosting service.  I've had a play and I think its a definite force to be reckoned with.  It does the clever trick of combining:

  • Easy audio and slides creation
  • Easy written materials with links and video embed creation
  • Self assessment quizzes 
  • Polling 
  • Easy cloud management (no ed tech help needed!)
  • good tutorials 
  • AND you get learner analytics 

The analytics is a big plus, you can see if a certain student has accessed your mix or gone only half way through. You can also see if most students skipped a slide and see if it was good or not.

The only downsides are: -

  • Functionality for students on mobile devices (tested on iPad/iPhone) is reduced a lot - you have to convert to a movie and you lose interactivity
  • I’ve found it a bit ropey in places e.g. fails to upload once in a while, analytics behaving oddly at times.
Some ideas for what you could use it for:
  • Recording skype tutorials for those who can't make it
  • Create some screencasts of Powerpoint content and then have a quick feedback survey at the end to gauge how your students found them
  • Give feedback on essays by screencasting you looking at their essay and adding ink onto their scripts
very much worth looking at.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ten new Google Geo tools for the Classroom

Googler John Bailey (Program Manger for Geo Edu) recently did a talk for Google Education on Air on Google's Geo tools:

Being able to tilt the view over a crater in the Moon bought to mind a teacher quote in one of my sessions last year
"you just made me fall in love with Geography again"
I had to tear myself away...  Anyway, I thought I'd point you at my favorite ten new* examples of tools/content that John showcased:

1] 7:10m Distance: measure distance tool in Google Maps

2] 7:40m Area: that it also measures area in Google Maps

3] 8:27m Carousel: geolocated photos in Google Maps taken by users uploaded to google by users

4] 9:20m Tilt: how to tilt to see 3D Google Earth like pictures using tilt button bottom left Pisa location used: 10:05 Globe View: zoom out to globe view which will rotate which click and dragged

6] 11:08m Mars and Moon View: zoom out to full extent and now you rotate around the globe when clicking and dragging and can access mars and the moon.

7] 11:19m Two Map system: compare and contrast maps using 

8] 38:25m Streetview historical imagery: see street view before and after the Japanese tsunami on Google Maps (location near the site with historic street view available).

9] 43:42m Tour Builder

10] 47:28m Time Lapse using Google Earth Engine. 48:25 Great moment showing Peruvian river meander dynamically.

*Actually some of them are new-ish rather than new

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Creating static images in Google maps

Getting images into Google docs and then into Google My Maps

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cloud Mapping Compared

So after coming back from the NACIS conference I've been looking at cloud mapping again.  At the conference Mapbox, CartoDB and Leaflet and ArcGIS online were getting a lot of mentions.  Compare that to searches from Google trends:

My interpretation is that:

  • The non-experts are using/interested in ArcGIS online or Google Maps Engine
  • The experts are interested in the others.
  • Cloud mapping is on the up (as far as search terms go anyhow)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NACIS (carto) Conference thoughts

So I'm just back from NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) in Pittsburg, USA.  I was a newbie NACISer, I'd travelled over there as I'd heard that it was a good combination of educators, academics, techies, open source enthusiasts and working cartographers.

My everyday tools are adobe firefox and Google Earth (you probably gathered that from the blog title) as I'm primarily concerned with educating 'sub-GIS' audiences like school students*, so it was interesting to find out what everyone else was using and finding which new tools were getting attention.  Of the new tools:
- Mapbox Studio
- cartoDB
were what I noticed everyone discussing, both are cloud services based on cartoCSS - a development of CSS, the code that controls look of web pages.  The difference between then (I was told) was that Mapbox Studio is better suited to finely tuning the look of a base map whereas cartoDB is better at styling data layers.  I did a Mapbox workshop whilst at the conference, it isn't that intuitive but then I don't think either of the tools are good 'first map' starters, they are more tools for those with mapping expertise.

Other tools that are well used are ArcGIS, adobe photoshop and adobe illustrator.  People's workflows generally consisted of processing in Arc then transferring to photoshop/illustrator to fine tune the look.  Very little mention of any of the Google suite of tools.  

There was a really good panel on education, convened by Matt Wilson.   The format was designed to keep people talking too much, I'd term it 'meatspace twitter'.  It largely worked producing some memorable nuggets:
  • Map selfie students produce a map based on their lives as an educational exercise
  • Map global warming or perish : on the future of mapping
  • Maps and mapping is always tied up with the wielding of power
  • Beer fart maps the fashion for 'link bait maps' that get attention but have little value
  • Candy machine gun teaching teaching what students want, in a way they want rather than teaching with academic value
These are what I scribbled down in my notes, more detailed notes 

The discussion also ranged onto the 'future of maps', with discussion moving to privacy concerns about the data being gathered from mobile devices for maps and critical comments about the use of big data.  This paralelled discussions going on in educational technology that I've been following mostly to do with Learning Analytics, interesting that its affecting the two parts of my career in similar ways.

My paper (notes to come) was on the use of map tours (Google Earth tours but for any platform) as an assignment in my undergraduate course fitting in with a session on the use of narrative cartography.   The highlight of the session  for me was Robert Pietrusko's paper on a similar assignment:  

He has design students already skilled at layout and the use of design tools so they produce some fantastic looking tours compared to my students.  I'll be using his student's work to show just what is possible with map tours.

These three are the big companies with serious interests and investments in maps and mapping so it was interesting to see what presence they had.  ESRI had at least 4 delegates at the conference and I heard praise for them from others for integrating with the NACIS community and reacting well to criticism of their products both now and in the past.  Google, lead players in maps as they are, had no presence at the conference, given the effort they've put into producing tools I think it would be sensible for them to be there to promote their stuff and get informed feedback.  I think Apple were there but I didn't come across them, they certainly weren't as visible as ESRI.

Notable People
I was pleased I got to network with Alan McConchie from Stamen, I've been using their maps to illustrate points of good design to my students so it was very useful to hear where he thought things were going in cartography. I also hung out with Anthony Robinson from Penn State who teaches a terrific MOOC on GIS, he has a lot of expertise in education, maps and distance learning so I picked up a lot from him.

Thanks to all the organizers, there's a lot of work done behind the scenes and it made for a great conference.   I never did get to chat to him but Lou Cross clearly has been a great influence on the conference, he has a great sense of humour and is keen to make everyone feel included so last word should go to him:

*as in, not so advanced that they need to use desktop GIS such as Arc desktop.