Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Geography's Importance in Schools: National Curriculum

In the UK the government has called for a consultation about Geography in the national curriculum. Here's part of my response:

Question: Why should Geography be maintained with a national curriculum (i.e. the government defines what schools teach rather than just advising them what to do):
Geography is a vital area for schools to cover in the future both for the safety of the environment we live in and also our economic future for two main reasons:
1] Climate change is the central issue that our country will be facing in the future, whether or not it is front and centre of government policy right now. We need citizens of this country to have as much of an understanding of this as possible to be able to engage in the debate, both the science and the human sides of the discussion. .
2] There is an explosion in the availabilty and visualisation of spatial data, maps and map related graphics occurring on the web at present and the UK is at the forefront of this work with economic benefits for the UK. For evidence of this you only have to view Tim Berners-Lee's recent presentation 6 minute presentation to TED on open data:

In it he uses maps as visualisation tools no less than 8 times for 9 mini case studies of open data.

In 'any other points you wish to make':
I am particularly concerned about a specialist part of the Geography curriculum which forms my research interests. The use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) at school level has appeared in the school curriculum without a proper understanding of the complexities, uses and value of this topic area. The curriculum mis-informs them how to implement GIS in their teaching. It is my opinion that at school level school students should be using ICT to visualise map data e.g. view a map showing the voting patterns across the UK and to see the general pattern that Conservatives do well in the country, Labour does well in cities. Then zooming closer in, eg. on London, to see that it isn't all labour voters. Teachers are confused thinking that they need to use more than ICT visualisation, e.g. proper GIS analysis of geographical data, e.g. to get the computer to draw zones around motorways and relate that to respiratory problems in the area. Analysis like this is too complex for school students to tackle and, as well as this teaching problem, it encourages schools to waste money on buying GIS packages that are more powerful than necessary whereas free software, such as Google Earth is perfectly satisfactory for visualising geographical data and thus teaching geography in schools.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Google Earth Presentation II

Last weeks tutorial on creating presentations was complex so I produced an XL spreadsheet to simplify things. The instructions to use this are:

How To Make Your own Presentation:
  1. You will need a Google Account so you can create Google docs and to be able to produce a Presentation in docs.
  2. In Google Docs create your presentation (relevant help).
  3. Click Share (top right) > Publish/Embed then copy the link that appears under the 'Your document is viewable at'. Paste this text (beginnin "https://..." into cell C2 of this spreadsheet. Select the big cell with lots of text below it and right click > Copy.
  4. Back in GEarth, select 'temporary places' in the places column and right click > Paste. Click on the cross to the left of 'KmlFile' to expand your list. You've just created a set of 10 placemarks with links to your presentation. If your presentation is less than 10 slides long you can delete the unnecessary placemarks.
  5. Choose your starting position, generally you want to start with a high view covering all the locations if that's possible. Select the ''Presentation" folder and create a tour flying from here to your first location (tour creation howto). Call it something sensible, e.g. "tour 1"
  6. Drag your Tour up the list until it is above the "**Click for Slide1**" text
  7. You can now test your presentation, double click the tour then when its complete, click the line "**Click for Slide1" and you should see your presentation slide in.
  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 creating lots of tours that you drag inbetween the slide placemarks.
  9. Select the KmlFile icon and Right click > save as to save the presentation.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Google Earth Presentation

Edit 16/2/11: Corrected broken link to presentation example

If you're like me you make presentations using PowerPoint and GEarth and spend your time flicking between the two. This isn't very slick and I think a combination of the two would be very powerful. It turns out it isn't difficult to do taking advantage of Google Docs Presentations and the integrated web browser in GEarth. Download this presentation example.

To run the presentation:
  1. Click the link that starts "https"; the lower of the 2 lines to the right of the slide 1 in the Places Column.*
  2. The first presentation slide opens in the browser (it may delay on the first slide). Click the right arrow that appears bottom left of the screen repeatedly to make the presentation build up . Continue until the text '<- Back' appears bottom right.
  3. Now double click the "High to London" tour in the Places column. GEarth flies to London.
  4. Repeat [1] for slide 2
  5. Repeat [2] for slide 2
  6. Repeat [3] but click "London to Shropshire" tour instead
  7. Repeat [1] for slide 3
*If you click the line 'slide 2' you will open a balloon rather than opening the browser directly. If you click the tick box icon to the right the tick will disappear but nothing else will appear to happen at all.

It's a little fiddly but better than flicking between PowerPoint and GEarth.

How To Make Your own Presentation:

**NB: For simpler process via a spreadsheet see this later post
  1. You will need a Google Account so you can create Google docs and to be able to produce a Presentation in docs.
  2. I used incremental reveal to make the slide develop step by step but you don't have to. You may want to make the last increment of each slide read 'next tour' as I did so that you know when the end of the slide is reached, otherwise you may keep clicking and go onto the next slide at the wrong time.
  3. In Google Docs Produce your presentation (relevant help).
  4. In GEarth Produce a project folder (click 'temporary places' in the places column so it gets a blue background then right click > Add > Folder).
  5. Choose your starting position, generally you want to start with a high view covering all the locations if that's possible. Create a tour flying from here to your first location (tour creation howto). Call it something sensible, e.g. "tour 1"
  6. Now create a placemark, in the dialogue box that opens, click the icon button in the top right corner. In the new dialogue that opens choose 'no icon' at the bottom. This means no icon appears in the main screen, this placemark will just carry the link to the presentation. Click 'OK' once to get back to the main 'Edit Placemark' dialogue but don't close it yet.
  7. Open your Google Docs presentation in a browser. Click Share (top right) > Publish/Embed then copy the link that appears under the 'Your document is viewable at'. Paste this text into the big description box of the placemark dialogue in Google Earth.
  8. At the end of the text add the string "&skipauth=true&start=0". There must be no spaces and it should end up looking like this: "" (i.e. everything will be the same except the text between 'id=' and '&skipauth=...' and it should all be on one line in GEarth).
  9. The string of text you added tells the browser to open the presentation at slide zero. Confusingly, to the browser slides are numbered "0,1,2..." rather than "1,2,3..." hence we start at slide 0.
  10. Name your placemark "Slide 1" Click OK in the dialogue box and you should see a placemark appear in the places column. clicking the link should open the first slide in the browser window.
  11. Record a tour from the current location to your next location.
  12. Select Slide 1 placemark in places column, Right Click > Copy then Right Click > Paste. Drag the new placemark down the places column to the correct location. Right click > properties and change the '0' on the end of the string in the description box to a '1'. Click OK. If you now select the link in this new placemark you should see the next slide of your presentation.
  13. Repeat steps [11] and [12] as many times as necessary. I would advise you to put in an intermediate high point between 2 locations if they are both low as I did between London and Shropshire as this allows users to see where they've been and where they're going.
  14. Now make sure all placemarks and tours are in the folder you created in step [4], drag them in if necessary. Select that folder and Right click > save as to save the presentation.
  • No Offline: This technique can't be used offline as the presentation tool only works when you're online. If you won't get wifi where you're going the only slick alternative is to pre-record movie clips of tours in Google Earth and embed those in your PowerPoint. Its trustworthy but takes a lot of time.
  • Videos: You can embed youtube clips and similar multimedia in the presentation which would be useful.
  • Markers: If you wish to mark locations on the ground you can add a 'markers' sub folder as I have and put in placemarks, polygons as you wish.
I don't know how much development work it would be but this would obviously be much slicker and easier if you could record the opening of the browser and the URL it calls in tours and control it with a universal 'Next/Previous' pair of buttons that worked both GEarth and the presentation.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dreamweaver for Google Earth

I noticed that Declan wrote up an idea we kicked around in September (see 'September' on the DigitalPlanet pages), so I thought it deserved a post. I referred to it then as 'Dreamweaver for KML.

Image courtesy of favbrowser. A bit out of date but still interesting.

Browser History: In 1997 Netscape adds a feature to its Netscape communicator browser that allowed for WYSIWYG simple production of html web pages. To put that in context you have to recall that this was the late days of the browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape. Then in March 1998 Macromedia release dreamweaver 1, this allowed web pages to be created in WYSIWYG or code views and produced short cuts that produced elegant html. It was also extensible so you could write a 'macro' to produce custom HTML. Developers loved it.

Geo-Browser History: My point is that if you regard GEarth as a geo-browser then the history is similar. Today in GEarth you can create simple maps and tours just like in Netscape communicator you could create simple web pages. However, a lot of sophisticated features such as time, region control, pauses in tours need to be hand coded into the KML. There are a few tools out there that allow you to produce KML without hand coding such as the spreadsheet mapper, my spreadsheet for adding loops and a tool for adding screen overlays but these are all limited in scope.

Tool Description: An obvious improvement would be 'Dreamweaver for Google Earth', where all this functionality was combined into one specialist KML producing program just as dreamweaver was a specialist HTML producing program. It would need to be:
  • WYSIWYG, ie be able to write code directly or using wizards and then see the result in an instance of the GE API
  • Extensible allowing you to write an extension that produced your favourite snippet of KML structure.
  • Elegant, highly usable and producing well formed KML code
So what should its wizards allow you to produce? My list would be:
  • Time control
  • Screen Overlays
  • Functionality producing usable maps e.g. color palettes that avoid color blindness issues
  • Simple sketchup models such as a photo billboard
  • Region controls
as well as enhancements to editing tools that are already available in GEarth such as better polygon digitising controls.

Flash Editor for Google Earth? So why haven't I mentioned tours yet? Well, I think the analogy here is with FutureSplash Animator (later 'Flash') released by Macromedia in 1996 which was a timeline based tool for producing animations on the web. It pre-dated Macromedia Dreamweaver and was kept separate. To me, it makes sense that a Google Earth tour is an animation so it needs a separate animation editing tool that is timeline based, I explain in more detail here (although I discuss it by comparison Captivate, another timeline based tool).

So Why aren't you Building these programs then? because if I did, and it was a sucess, a certain company ending with 'Oogle' and beginning with 'G' would bring out a rival and completely blow me out of the water. Instead this is a lazy web request.