Friday, January 29, 2010

When to use Tours in Teaching

Google Earth Tours (GET from now on) have excellent potential to be used in education. Here I outline a couple of situations, not requiring a great level of IT skill, in which I think GETs could be very educationally effective:

1. Students Produce a GET: Students find producing GETs interesting and compelling. When used as part of a teaching session as well as being engaging it challenges them to think what camera views best help in communicating their content. For example, after producing a Google Earth map showing litter distribution around school/university buildings students could produce a GET to communicate their findings. This would take the viewer from a high view locating the buildings on a country scale down to and around the buildings concerned with placemarks showing littered areas.

Practicalities: The effectiveness of this activity relies on students not trying to do anything too complex. You may be teaching some bright students capable of producing more complex tours but this will require intensive support from you as educator as they can easily get stuck given the currently available tools. My advice is that you should be strict and allow them only to produce a simple tour as described in this simple GET tutorial.

2. Presentations: A GET is of great value when a planned presentation focuses on a series of maps at different locations. Presenting them in this way rather than a series of slides in a program such as PowerPoint allows the audience to understand location, orientation, scale and relative position. This is because the 'virtual flight' transitions between maps lessens the mental work required to work out where they are. For example, using a GET you could illustrate the location of World War 2 battles across the whole of France. Following this initial camera view you could zoom in to show details of individual battles on the sub km scale. By doing this the virtual flight down from the country scale to the sub km scale adds the locational information for the viewer.

Some map based presentations do not work well in GETs:

  • Large Scale Maps: very large scale maps where the curvature of the Earth prevents viewing of all the countries at once (e.g. on thematic maps of future global temperature you cannot see the temperature in UK and Australia at the same time).
  • Single Location/Scale: Maps where only the layer content changes but the camera position of the map remains the same. In this case, viewing in Google Earth does not add any value, its easier to just use a slideware program such as PowerPoint. E.g. weather forecast over the UK at 2 hour intervals over the next 24 hours where the viewing position never changes.

Presentation HowTos: To produce a Presentation using other maps you will need to:
  • Produce Overlays in Google Earth (probably) (Tutorial)
  • Produce GETs that define camera positions and turn layers on and off (Tutorial)
When using the tour the controls work like VCR controls, so you will have to remember to pause when you have reached the correct position. This is not as useful as 'click next' controls that can be found in program such as PowerPoint but with a little practice they can be mastered.

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