Creating maps via the web is now wonderfully simple either by web maps or virtual globes (Google Earth, OSM, Google Maps, GeoCommons) when compared with traditional GIS. This opens all sorts of opportunities for educational development that haven't previously existed. However, I think GEarth is still the best tool for education because it has features that web maps lack:
- Tours: Google Earth Tours allow educators to pre record flights around the globe either to be used as a replacement for powerpoint or for use in a class activity where students see a tour then practise a skill. Tours functionality is only available in ESRI's virtual globe apart from Google Earth.
- Offline: You can cache imagery, load maps and create maps all offline with Google Earth. That has considerable advantages for many uses in education.
- 3D: When looking at cities (3D buildings) and landscapes where terrain is important the 3D aspect of Google Earth becomes important.
- Others: Other advantages include the transect tool, great usability, a wealth of KML files on the web that can be customized for educational use and the fact that many students are used to the basic GEarth controls.
GIS for Schools: I've always said that in schools visualization is the important feature of a computer mapping system, the analysis that comes with GIS is just too complex to teach at school level, its more than enough to get students used to concepts such as symbolisation, choropleths, layers, rasters, vectors, zooming and panning. So the fact that GEarth can be used to teach all these concepts is more than enough, spending money buying anything extra is not worth it IMHO.
I'll be continuing to discuss GEarth in education here.