Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Footprints in the Sky: Tracking Students on Virtual Fieldtrips

Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) can be used to go to places that are impossible to visit (mid Atlantic Ridge), or act as a replacement for students unable to physically attend a field trip.  An example of one produced by colleagues at the Open University is previewed in the video below (source):

VFTs have been produced using 3D platforms such as Google Earth but it is only recently that developments in software and hardware have meant that the technology is robust enough to use in everyday teaching.  

Tracking Students:  One idea we had in our Google research project was to see if tracking students flying around VFTs can be used to inform tutors and students about student's learning.  This topic isn't well covered in the literature so worth investigating.  A paper Muki, Paolo Viterbo and I have just submitted to a journal describes our work in this area.  We collected 4D data (3D with time) using the Google Earth API of students navigating around to complete an educational search task.  In some VFTs students are limited to walking but in ours they had access to zoom and pan.

Two Visualisations:  In the paper we describes two visualisations which help users’ (either tutors or students) make sense of the complex 4D tracking data.  One is a static graphic (not covered today), the other is an animation:

The animation links an altitude vs distance graph with a 3D view of the track in space using Google Earth’s cross section functionality.  We think that these visualisations are quick and effective ways to evaluate student's search activities.

Experiment Summary:  In the experiment students:
1.     Viewed a Google Earth tour which explained how to identify paleo-geographical features (lake banks surrounding a lake long since dried up). 
2.     They were then set a task searching for their own example in a defined study area.  An important feature of the task was that students could not complete their search without zooming in to check characteristics in more detail.  Their route through 3D space was tracked and saved to a server.
3.     They marked their answer on the map.

Visualised data: The simple 3D path in space looks like spaghetti thrown into the air (top section above diagram), it’s difficult to interpret.  However, by plotting altitude against distance along path in a linked graph (bottom part) the actions of the student zooming in and out on targets can be clearly seen.   In the main view (top of image) the red arrow shows camera location and the hair line on the graph (bottom) shows the relevant point on the graph.  You can control the hair line to explore the path, this page links to a sample KML file and the youtube clip explains how to set it up and what it shows in more detail. 

What Does it Show? From interacting with this visualization several aspects of the students’ performance can be easily gauged:
·      Did the student zoom in on sensible targets (i.e. the ‘answer’ area and other areas that needed checking out)?
·      Did the student get disorientated (stray outside the yellow study area box or spend an overly long time in one area)?
·      Were they thorough in their search or just do the bare minimum (did they zoom in on a number of sensible locations, just a few or did they fail to zoom in at all)?

Possible Uses:  This technique could be applied to a number of virtual field trip situations.  The case study we’ve already looked at represents a physical geography/earth science application.  It also could be used for:

human geography: e.g. if students are taught that poorer neighborhoods are likely to be further from the centre of a city you could then ask students to identify poor neighborhoods in a sample city.  Tracking a successful search would show students navigating to sample sites around the edge of the city and then zooming into streetview to check their if they were right or not.

Student created maps:  Students are first tasked with identifying volcanoes in a country.  They mark three answers on a class shared map in the first stage.  In the second stage, they assess their peers' work and are tracked zooming in on each other's placemarks.   You could see how good their performance was in the second stage from the tracking animation e.g. did they check out suggestions in enough detail.  IMHO This last example has the advantage of representing deeper learning, it challenges students to think critically about each other’s work.

Ethics:  Learning Analytics is a powerful new tool for teaching, used carefully it has huge potential to assist students and tutors.  However, it also raises real teaching issues such as will students react well to the extra kind of feedback they can now receive?  Will institutions use it to measure tutors performance in a confrontational manner?  IMHO we need to approach this new tool with an open, student focused, frame of mind.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

'Death to Powerpoint' workshop 18/12/13

For anyone in UK HE, I am running a workshop on this topic sponsored by the HEA.  It's not on their website yet, this is for your diaries.

Date:  18/12/13
Title:  Death to Powerpoint:  Effective student and tutor Presentations using Prezi, Graphs and Screencasts.
Outline:  Tools such as Prezi, and software for creating tutorial videos (such as maths tutorials by have great potential to enhance tutors’ presentations and student assignments. This workshop will teach delegates the basics of using free software tools and the design skills necessary to use them effectively.

More details and sign up details to follow

Friday, October 25, 2013

Google Earth Tour Builder Review

Previously I couldn't get GETB working*, I've worked out a work around* so now I have so a fuller review for you:

The tool is at

Firstly, a little shout for joy is in order:  YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!  It looks good.

Some History:  A week before I saw it I was trying to get a funding bid accepted to build pretty much what this is, and I've been banging on about the need for it for years.  Other's have had a go at this (see previous post) but nothing has come close to filling the need IMHO so well done whoever '' is.

Educational Uses:  I get students to produce Google Earth tours on two courses, I think as an assignment it really works, I've showcased an example of a student's work previously and I think its such a neat teaching tool that I gathered some thoughts from colleagues on the idea (under 'Space stories') at a conference this summer.

What GETB does:  Previously you could record a Google Earth tour in Google Earth but if you wanted to edit it, you had to get into the KML code.  Also, fiddling around with lots of elements in the places column was tedious and you ran out of space quickly.  With this tool you can define a series of locations and then upload images, compose text or link to videos related to each location.  You do it 'in the cloud' as your tour is saved in a location related to your Google account so to edit, you must be online but you have the advantage that you can access your tours from any online machine.

Once you've created a tour, you can edit the sequence of location by simple drag and drop.  The interface is very clean (inheriting look and style from Google's standard interface design) and its very intuitive.

Nice Touches:  

  • Rocket path: When flying from low location to a distant far location the path loops high following the rocket path rather than staying close to the ground surface (crow path).  More detail under best practice 13 here.  Nice to think someone reads this blog :)  
  • Hidden Titles:  I also liked the way the control column hides the location's title unless rolled over with the mouse.  
  • Streetview:  drop a location in streetview and the tour will use streetview when played.  
  • Slide Metaphor:  Google Earth tours in Google Earth play via a VCR controller.  GETB uses a slide metaphor which is easier to understand and navigate when playing a tour IMHO.  It also makes editing easier.
  • Import KML:  This feature allows more advanced features to be associated with a location (e.g. polygon annotation) but the complexity that goes with this is hidden from most users.  One of the problems with the earlier attempt at a tour editor Google Earth Studio was that the complexity was visible to all and was overwhelming for users who just wanted to do something simple.

Missing Features:

  • Audio: With so much going on visually in a tour, its best to deliver the narration via audio, which you can do with Google Earth tours.  More details.  I'd suggest this is an important feature to add.
  • Overlays:  A powerful feature of tours is to be able to incorporate ground overlays in the main screen.  At the moment you can add polygons and lines by importing KML but it won't import KMZ's which would allow overlay imports.  E.g. a screenshot of OpenStreetMap which would be far less visually complex as a base map than the standard satellite view of Google Earth.
  • Tutorials and support?  It's nice and straightforward but help files would really open up its use to a wider audience and GETB is definitely suitable for non-techies.  

Overall, brilliant.  I will be using with my students ASAP

*doesn't work: chrome in Lion.  On Snow leopard with chrome it works

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Google Earth Tour Builder: Quick thoughts

I get students to build Google Earth tours for classes (see spatial stories in this post), my site Google Earth for Teachers describes how to create them using Google Earth.  However, the editing tools are basic to say the least.  People have built tools for making tours before (Snoovel, Google Earth Studio) but they've both sunk without trace.  So I was excited to find out someone else has had a go:  Google Earth Tour Builder.

I had a go at creating a tour.  It seems to be following the design of a 'stepper' as in, more like a PowerPoint presentation with slides and clicks to move on than a Movie clip so the flow through the tour is structured like ArcGIS explorer (not sure if that still exists either...).  However, beyond that, I can't really explore it.  My problems:
- No help files, screencasts, tutorials to tell me how to work it
- When I create a new place I'm told to 'drop a draggable placemark to specify a location' but I can't find anything to drag. (on OS, tried in FF and Chrome).

If I can get it to work I'll review it further.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

'Back to School: Google Earth for Teachers

screen shot of new content in GEFT

Back in May I released an 'open course' devoted to helping Geography school teachers use Google Earth as a GIS in their teaching: Google Earth for Teachers (GEFT).  The 'core' content was 6 up to date videos.  Following feedback from teachers using it over the summer I've made some changes:
  • It now has its own domain '' (update 5th Nov 2013: which redirects you to a Moodle site)
  • You no longer have to register to access, just choose 'guest' middle of the way down on the left at the entry page.
  • I've added an 'Advanced' section with tools and tutorials for those who are beyond introductory level.
I'd love to hear what you think of it!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Great Student Work

One of my enjoyable tasks over the summer is running the Geography sessions for 'Access to Southampton' which is a widening participation program aimed at bringing in students to Southampton University whatever their educational or social background.  We do some teaching with 6th formers and then offer them a better A level offer to come to Southampton if they successfully complete an assignment.

Students had about an hour face to face teaching on how to use Google Earth and were asked to use some online materials I prepared to produce a "space story" an activity I've discussed before ("space stories" section here) .  The example below is from Shaheer and is a tour around Mt St Helens Volcano discussing the 1980 eruption.  Given Shaheer's age and the amount of teaching time given, I thought this was a fantastic piece of work.

Well done Shaheer!

It should be said that there was some other great work done by the other students but they didn't record their work on YouTube (they didn't have to).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Geomorphology via Google Earth

Screen shot of a glacier from the file that shows dramatic changes over the seasons

I've just read a terrific paper by Holly Dolliver on using Google Earth to teach geomorphology (abstract, most of the body).  She mainly uses the historical imagery feature of GE to show the change in landscape with time and the elevation profile tool to show the topography.  She spent a lot of time searching out some great examples to illustrate her paper but didn't provide a KML file of the places so I've captured most of her examples in this file.

HowTo Notes:
The placemarks in 'Show Elevation Profile' folder need you to right click the placemark in the places column then select 'show elevation profile' to turn it on.

The other placemarks are related to time.  Follow these steps:
1] turn on historical imagery on the top bar in Google Earth by clicking the clock with arrow icon.
2] double click the yellow pins to be flown to the place in space and 'flown back in time

With Katama Bay, this illustrates long shore drift and I've left you to play with the historical imagery time slider ([1] above) as you wish.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

X-Keyscore Map: 10 Redesign Ideas

In terms of map design, the X-Keyscore map makes school boy errors from start to finish so, inspired by Victoria Nece's redesign of the PRISM PowerPoint, I thought I'd have a go at 10 design improvements that I hope my students (Geography at Southampton University) would suggest.   I've also been meaning to give Google Maps Engine Lite (GMEL) a spin with a view to using it in teaching so I'm killing two birds with one stone:  having fun giving the spooks a cartography lesson while also testing the capabilities of GMEL.

Screenshot of part of my revamp of the X-Keyscore map.
I used GMEL, Full size, zoomable version here

Need to Digitize   I only had the map to work from so I digitized the points as well as I could.  No way of knowing if I got them all in the right places...

X-Keyscore Problems and Solutions

1] Base map too saturated: Having a saturated base map (rich colors with multiple shades showing) is bad design, it interferes with seeing the data plotted on top.  See point 2 for solution.

2] Base map showing too much data: Also, no need to show vegetation type and hydrographic depths, it doesn't add anything and just clutters up the map.  Using GMEL I chose a more muted base map, e.g. it doesn't have hydrographic data anymore.  I'd have liked to have just had one color for the land too but this isn't possible.  In fact, my perfect base map for this task would have just three gray tones:  one for sea, one for land and one for borders.

3] Icons too large:  Having the icons large causes overcrowding, icons merge into one another and its difficult to differentiate them (more detail).  The simple solution is to make them smaller.  Using GMEL you can't control icon size which is annoying so they stayed about the same 'default' size.

4] No border to icons:  Linked to the overcrowding, if you add a border the icons 'pop out' from the background more and also its possible to have a go at differentiating them when they crowd together.  In GMEL its easy to customize icons and they come with a black border as standard.

5] Red/Green color blindness:  1 in 20 men cannot easily differentiate red from green so its best not to have red symbols on a green background.  I've used purple to get around this.  Changing color in GMEL for icons is easy.

6] Red Dot Fever:  Intense red stands out well but is overkill on a simple map like this.  Also your map looks like it has measles.  You can have paler dots that still stand out and this reduces visual complexity.  With only one data type this isn't crucial but when you start adding more layers (such as the countries in point 10), visual complexity becomes an issue and its good design to keep things as unsaturated as possible.

Another example of red dot fever also produced in 2008

7] What's with the dots by Antarctica?  Have they ringed the continent with floating stations to keep those penguins in check?  I assume its stations they didn't want to mark on the map in which case, they should have been pushed to a column off the map marked 'Stations with no Location', this would be less confusing for the users as there would be no way that they could think the markers had a location at all.

8] Title too big:  It takes up too much space and is too visually busy, although you could argue that's an issue with the PowerPoint, not the map.  In GMEL I can't control the title design.

9] Extra Information:  I think the total number of stations and the total number of countries covered is a key part of this map and it hasn't been mentioned.  I added it onto the map in GMEL by creating another layer, marking two points in the Pacific and letting labels be visible.

10] Mapping which countries are covered:  relevant to the above, I think adding the countries covered would add weight to the argument that the coverage is very wide.  I wanted to be able to map countries using a drop down list, i.e. map Ecuador from a drop down list using GMEL but there doesn't seem to be an option to do that so I hand digitized the countries covered in South America as an example.

More on GMEL:  I think this task has been a bit unfair on GMEL as it's not really there to produce static maps, its really about creating zoomable dynamic maps.  In addition, its best selling point (IMHO) hasn't been used:  The ability to easily edit the data producing a map as a table e.g. add columns as necessary, and to apply palettes of colors depending on the values in the table.  This is a very powerful tool for data exploration.

Overall, GMEL is very straightforward to use and I think it has potential as a teaching tool.  However, some features I'd like to see:
- Symbols' size editable
- Political map option for base map (see above)
- A way of easily importing in countries, states of the US, counties in UK etc so data can be added to them or they can be customised as needs be.
- Ability to add labels.

If you want to have a play with GMEL there's a tutorial here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Google Maps Engine Lite as a tool for Education

Where I've been:  I'm now a proud Dad so I've been busy of late.  A friend asked if I'd produced a map of where my son was born, sort of Angela Jolie tattoo style.  The answer is no, to quote Steven, 'not all data should be mapped' :)

Simple Mapping (applying palettes to points):  One of the things I learnt at the recent Cloud Mapping event I helped run was that Google have been working on tools to make creating simple maps from spreadsheets.  As an example of web based, simple GIS I run a practical for undergrad students which uses Google fusion tables to apply palette files to data.  I'm planning to rewrite it to use the more elegant Google Maps Engine Lite (GMEL).  You can get an idea what GMEL is about from this video:

It is from Google's recent MOOC Mapping with Google, (course materials are still available).  I think a number of people used the MOOC just to learn about this tool.

GMEL is definitely a tool worth a look for teaching simple map making and simple GIS.  I'll post more thoughts here when I've had a proper go with it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Folder Based Tours (workaround v7 record tours problem)

In v7 of Google Earth there currently is an issue with recording tours.  When opening balloons while recording a tour they subsequently fail to open or come up blank.  The steps below solved the problem for me:

Folder based tours HowTo:  

1] Create placemarks with appropriate views.  If you want a photo or text to show up, put it in the description box (note you can put videos in also but this technique won't get them to auto play on opening)

2] Create a folder

     right click temporary places folder > add > folder

drag all your placemarks into the folder and arrange in the order you want them to play.

3] Open
     PC:  File menu > Options (I think) > touring > When creating a tour from a folder (box) > select 'Show balloon when waiting at features' tick box.

      Mac:  Google Earth menu > Preferences > touring > When creating a tour from a folder (box) > select 'Show balloon when waiting at features' tick box.

4] While you have the dialog box open adjust 'Time between features', 'Wait at features' to figures that work for your tour.

5] Find the folder 'play tour' button.  Its a folder icon with a arrow in it far bottom right of the Places column.  Click it and your tour will play.

6] You can adjust the sequence of placemarks and the speed with which the tour flies at and how long it pauses for using steps [3] and [4].

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cloud Mapping Event: 3 Teaching Ideas

On 24th of May I was one of the organisers of a ‘Cloud Mapping’ event with Google and the HEA. Firstly, big thanks to Google for hosting the event, the venue and food were great (mmm, sushi lunch!). There was a good show of people and overall I think it went well with a lot of enthusiasm for a follow up meeting in a years time. I’ll report on the day as a whole when Helen Walkington (HEA) and I have had chance to discuss the official feedback. 

I presented 3 teaching ideas using Google Earth and I collected feedback via ‘post-it note’ voting so I thought in this post I’d outline the ideas below and collate the feedback.

Collating Spatial Data (AKA Crowd Sourced Maps) 

the grid around Mt St Helens 

 (more detail on the idea here): I reported on how I’d set up a grid in Google Earth around Mt St Helens, a volcano that erupted in 1980 and knocked down lots of trees in the vicinty. I gave students a grid square each to map and collated their edits. When I’d collated the results I presented the completed map back to students explaining what you could now see that wasn’t apparent earlier.

Delegate Votes: 23 (the winner!)
Delegate comments: I asked for ideas about how to reuse the technique, I also got back more general comments about the skills used. In terms of applications of the technique:

  • Fieldwork Prep: 3 comments about how this would be great to use as preparation for a fieldwork trip 
  • Temporal data: 2 comments that it could be used to map temporal data such as floods 
  • Qualitative data: 2 comments that it could be used to map qualitative data (e.g. mapping rock outcrops in the desert visually followed by the official geological map) 
In terms of skills development some interesting comments:

  • Mapping Criteria: Give students criteria on how to map and then review if they have achieved this as a group 
  • Acquisition is the KEY skill of GIS. 

Explaining Scale via Powers of 10 Squares

The powers of 10 squares in action, 1km and 100m square lengths shown. 

(the tool in more detail) I outlined that understanding scale was a key skill of mapping and GEES (Geog, Earth and Env Sciences) teaching. I presented my recent joint development of powers of 10 squares as a technique for getting students to understand the size of the landscape they are viewing in Google Earth. I explained that I’d been looking at a study site for months and it wasn’t until I prepared the materials for my presentation that I realised how huge it was!

Delegate Votes: 8
Delegate Comments:

  • Good for introductory teaching 
  • Important for looking at landuse change 
  • Liked the fact you could compare a landscape to a house size. 

Space Stories

A screen shot from one of my students presentations showing just how much we all use air travel

(how to record the video) I described an assessment I have just used with my undergraduate map design students where I got them to produce a 4 minute talk recorded as a video based in Google Earth. They produced materials in Google Earth and then videoed themselves giving the talk. After problems with them not really understanding what made a good map presentation last year I limited them to certain topics connected with climate change.

Delegate Votes: 17 
Delegate Comments: Again, these split into suggested applications and skills.  Applications:

  • Landscape Change: 2 comments that it was good for showing landscapes over time i.e. archaeology, history, glacier retreat due to climate change 
  • River Module: A delegate said s/he was going to introduce it in his/her river module 
  • Weather Forecast: would be good to get students to give a weather forecast 

  • Not PowerPoint: 3 comments that it was good to get students to present using something else than powerpoint. 
  • Before Fieldwork: It would be good as preparation prior to a field trip.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Create Video of Google Earth Tour

Update 19:20 BST:  I originally referred to a person here who didn't wish to be name checked so I've removed his name.

The way to do this is to use a screen recorder, I got my students to do this for an assignment recently so I thought I'd share the instructions they got on how to do this with screencast-o-matic (Jing is another free alternative but I haven't got it to work).

Tip:  Get on the machine with the best graphics card you have, effectively the computer needs to process output from Google Earth AND record the screen at the same time.

8] Note:  Screencast-o-matic works on Uni machines but may not work on other machines depending on browser and java plugins.  

8.1] Click ‘Start Recording’ and a dotted box will appear.  For screen:

Click the size dropdown (blue arrows) > ‘small HD’.  

This is a good size for practising but you want to choose ‘Full HD’ for any true recordings as this is the largest resolution for YouTube. 

8.2] Drag the dotted box over your prezi presentation (don’t worry it isn’t big enough).  
Arrage the dotted box so its above the arrow controls in Prezi.  You don’t want to record you clicking the arrows in the presentation.

8.3]  Start the recording by clicking the red button.  Click through the prezi view points using the arrows.  

When you are finished click DONE.  Your recording should play on screen.  From here we could publish to YouTube but we shouldn’t do at the moment as we don’t have rights to the images or video we’ve used.  To find out how to find images and videos you can use see and search via

UPDATE, 17.45 BST:  I'm reminded that you need to be careful to stay within Google's terms and conditions.  See

Friday, May 24, 2013

Google Earth for Teachers: Open Course

Tutorial 1 from the course as a taster

Last year we invited a group of geography school teachers into the school of Geography and the environment at Southampton and asked what we, as local university, could do to help them.  The most popular request was 'train us to teach GIS'.  So today I am pleased to announce the launch of

an open course designed to help teachers use Google Earth to teach GIS in schools.  You need to register to get in (links on the right hand side) and it's still in Beta (i.e. I'm going to continue improving it) so feedback would be very welcome.

What do you mean by an Open Course?
  • There is no organised start date, you just access the materials as and when.  I may organise course presentations in the future.
  • Its the online equivalent of a half INSET day I've been running for several years
  • I'm not calling it a MOOC as it has nothing to do with the official FutureLearn MOOC program at Southampton University.
Been Here Before:  When Google Earth first appeared in 2005 I recognised that it had fantastic potential as a teaching tool.  I also thought that video was a powerful medium for teaching software and so in 2006 I launched Kokae which was an early kind of open course with short videos teaching how to use Google Earth to make maps.  

Turns out I was more or less right about Google Earth (it is the most common GIS in schools, but less commonly used in Universities) and really right about video as 2006 was also the year Khan Academy started.  However, unlike Khan academy Kokae didn't take off so I abandoned it for other experiments in open learning (videos in Google Earth, text based materials).  Now I'm back to a similar format to Kokae once more.

UPDATE:  edited 24/6/13 from original form to avoid confusion with the official FutureLearn MOOC program at Southampton University.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

One on One Google Earth training offer for Teachers

Interested in learning how to use Google Earth and a Geography school teacher?  I'd like to test some materials I've produced so if you'd like some one on one tutoring and you:
  • Are prepared to meet me in Finchley, London or Highfield campus, Southampton University, Southampton in the next 2 weeks
  • Are not a whizz at GIS
  • But are capable of doing basic computer tasks (look for things with Google maps, manage files on a hard drive)
I can offer the equivalent of 90 minutes training for free.  First come, first served, email me at rwt at soton dot ac dot uk.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Powers of 10 Centered on Your House

Screen shot showing blue squares generated by the new service around Shackleton's hut in Antarctica

The Powers of 10 film has inspired a recent post here (Understanding of Scale) and an old experiment but today I can reveal I've finally achieved an idea I had 2.5 years ago.  The squares from Powers of 10 film centered wherever you want:  

Enter your Lat/Long or let it guess your location and it will generate a Google Earth file (KML) which produces the 1m, 10m, 100m...  ....100,00km blue squares from the film centered on your location.  

Warning:  we haven't got the tour working yet so you'll have to manually zoom out yourself.

It has been programmed by my friend Michael as an exercise in php and web programming.  He has done an excellent job working out the complexities of squares tangential to the earth's surface.  

What you can do with it:  Educationally I think this will be an interesting tool for a number of teaching situations:
  • Understanding Scale:  As I discussed the other week the film is excellent at getting school students to think about scale.  If they can see their own neighborhood at the lower scales I imagine it will be even more effective.
  • Curvature of the Earth:  The larger squares illustrate the curvature of the earth as you zoom out more.  This one takes some skill at navigating to use.
  • What's in my Backyard?:  Often in teaching we need students to understand what is close to a location we are discussing.  Shackleton's Hut in Antarctica (Lat:-77.552923°, Long: 166.168368°) is an example, a small hut surrounded by nothing for miles and miles and miles (choose 3D buildings from the layers panel to show).  To illustrate the space and give a sense of scale, generate the squares and comment on the emptiness as you zoom in or out.  For extra cleverness, generate squares for the hut and a student's house and have them both open in the places column at the same time.  You can then compare and contrast what is in the vicinity of the hut and a student's house in an urban area.  I've made an example tour taking you around: 

Download the file and double click the tour to play a flight between the hut and the street.  The idea is to pause the tour at various locations and explore the landscape at that scale before continuing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

HEA/Google 'Maps in the Cloud' event

I'm part of the team organizing this event:

NEW! 24 May 2013 - Maps in the Cloud workshop, Google offices, London.
£50 per delegate
A workshop on using free (or really cheap) software for mapping for those involved in GEES teaching. Come to this workshop to find out about the latest technology available to allow you to map using data from the cloud. Presentations will include the latest Google Earth Engine and Maps Engine software, Edina’s new app ‘Fieldtrip GB’, Google tools for Citizen Science, Google Earth’s Time animation, Scale and Tour features as well as the opportunity to become part of an ongoing community.
Bookings will open soon, please register your interest by emailing:
I'll be talking about Google Earth tours.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Understanding scale with Pan and Zoom

Scale has been identified by the American Association of Science (1993) as a cross cutting concept uniting many science areas.  this appears to be borne out by an investigation of experts, the authors found that experts from a huge variety of subject areas all identified understanding scale as key to their topic (eg architects, biologists, cosmologists, physicists ...).
Meanwhile an investigation was done of the educational film 'Powers of Ten'.

 I posted a Google Earth version a while back.  The film has been used a great deal by science school teachers in the States to teach students about scale and the investigation tested its effectiveness in doing this.  Several important points came out of their work:
  • Students 11-14 years old when asked to think of the largest thing they could imagine came up with ideas like football pitch and street.
  • Students are good at comparing scales (which is bigger?) but poor at imaging absolute scale (wildly out when asked how many miles the United States is across).
  • Their performance at understanding scale improved after watching the film.
My thoughts about this are that one of the unsung benefits of using Google Earth in education is its ability to convey scale easily via the power of zoom.  The Powers of Ten film effectively consists of a slow zoom out from human scale to the size of intergalactic space.  This communicates scale via the use of comparative scale - you can see the 10m square disappearing into the centre the centre of the screen as we zoom past the bigger 100m.  
However using Google Earth zoom to convey scale effectively assumes that we:
  • Anchor Points: Provide 'anchor points' for users so they can compare sizes on screen e.g. A grid or set of squares (as in the Powers of 10 film) or showing the area of ice disappearing in the Antartic?  Then show an outline of the country of Wales (or similar) familiar to your users to give a sense of scale. [More on Wales as a unit area cliche]
  • Zoom Speed: If you zoom out or in too fast user's will have trouble following the scales visible.  In the Power's of 10 film they fly at a gentle 1 change of magnitude per 10 seconds, you can go faster than this without confusing user's but it depends on the complexity of what is in view.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Google maps canned Streetview

One neat trick with streetview is that you can find a view you like and record it as a URL. This can then be entered into a point pop up.  See two points on part of the walk I did last weekend as an example, it worked nicely on a smart phone too.

View Walk example in a larger map

Teaching applications:
- Field Trip: Define points to be visited on a field trip or way points (eg at this sign by the road, turn left).  These can be visited virtually pre and/or post field trip AND used during the field trip using a smart phone* (see walk example above for how this could work)
- Before and after:  link to current photos of a landscape that has changed (the 'after') and the streetview that acts as the 'before' shot.  Here's an example: people took pictures during the flooding of New York by hurricane Sandy which are compared to the streetview shots.
- Different Landscapes: mark views of different landscapes such as mountains (example around Snowdon), farmland and woodland.  Discuss with students how these are modified by man.

  1. Open Google Maps (you need to be logged into a Google Account: How to create one) and click 'My Places (top leftish) > create a map (red button).
  2. Create a placemark on this new map by clicking paddle icon (top left) and then clicking on screen somewhere on a UK road you want to capture a streetview view.
  3. Open a new browser tab with google maps in ( 
  4. In this new window, drag and drop orange man by Navigation controls (top left) to the location of your placemark .  You will enter streetview.
  5. Navigate around in streetview until you are happy with the view. Click the chain icon ( top left/centre) to create a URL, click 'short URL'.  Copy the string created.
  6. Now return to your first map and in the pop up window type 'street view at this location' or some more logical text. Click 'rich text editor' and block your typed text. Click on the link icon and paste your URL in. Click ok.
  7. Repeat steps 2 to 6 for as many placemarks as you want.  Add lines or areas too if needs be.
  8. Select privacy settings as needed, public means anyone can search for and find your map.  Unlisted means only those with the link can find it but obviously, its not properly private.
  9. When you're done save your map then click 'Done'.  You will go to the home page of the map you've just created.  Click the link button top left, this now links to your new map rather than the view. 
  10. Share the URL with anyone you want to see the map.

*this assumes a decent 3G signal or preloading of data

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Google Earth in Award Winning Course

Screen shot of the Frozen Planet interactive map (Google Earth) showing permafrost layer
On Tuesday I went to a talk by Mark Brandon of the Open University (OU) about how they produced courses linked to the BBC ‘Frozen Planet’ TV series which was a joint OU/BBC production.  He had some great stories about what it was like to be involved with fiiming with the BBC at the poles with David Attenborough.

He described two courses:

  • A free online course (think MOOC if you don’t recognise the acronym, don’t worry) on the OpenLearn site (link from here but broken at present)
  • A short course

These are courses the OU produced, both of which he was involved in.  They were very sucessful in terms of student numbers breaking OU records and Mark explained how students completed tasks in Google Earth (API) as part of their assessments and also how it was used as a content platform. I was pleased to hear that for his work on the courses he won the ‘innovative teacher of the year’ award from the Times Higher.

Talking to him afterwards we agreed that the only real barrier to use by more university teachers was that they didn’t know about its capabilities, rather than it being too complex to use.