Monday, October 1, 2018

Esri Story Maps Experiment

This blog post is about me experimenting with Esri Story Maps  specifically the Cascade type, with a view to using them in educational situations both tutor authored (e.g. a case study location) and student authored (e.g. a report on a field study).  Esri Story Maps is a variant of what I call  Atlas Tours (map animations linked by a narrative).  Students find them creative and they can be linked to practising graphical literacy and also linked to fieldwork.

Screenshot of Esri Story Maps, click to open.

Background:  I'm currently writing a paper about this and the main example is using Esri Story Maps in a module run by one of the co-authors Damien Mansell (other co-author: Derek France).  The paper deliberately avoids discussing the actual tech in order to focus on educational principles so I thought I should have a crack with Esri Story Maps to explore the tech side of things.  I was thinking about various topics to tackle but then Kilauea erupted, my colleague at the Open Universtiy, Prof David Rothery, wrote a Conversation piece about it and I felt I had to have a go because it seemed a nice way to revisit a flash based resource about it whilst volunteering for the USGS in 2003.

Esri Story Maps background:  Esri Story Maps is a free platform for creating Atlas Tours, previously I've talked a lot about Google Earth Tours, which are also free to use.  The formats differ:

  • Esri Story Maps (Cascade) is 'scrollytelling', a format that started with the stunning Snow Fall by the New York Times in 2012.  The narrative is delivered by text and the scrolling drives film and animations.  For some reason users prefer scrolling to clicking 'next' buttons and that shows in web analytics - e.g. they will read further.  
  • Google Earth Tours can be audio or text narrated and usually form more of a virtual flight around a study site.

Esri Story Maps Functionality:  My comments apply to creation both by tutors or students unless noted otherwise. It's pretty easy to use (in depth tutorial by John Nelson), here are some useful things you can do with it in an educational setting:

Zoom in:  Create a map with various layers on it.  Zoom in from a high viewpoint to a detailed viewpoint to convey spatial situation.  In the Kilauea example, I zoomed in from a high view of the Pacific to show the location of Big Island Hawaii in the Hawaiian island chain.

Progressive zoom animation into part of Big Island Hawaii

Time Animation/Show different data layers sequentially:  Different layers can be shown sequentially, this can be a time animation (e.g. spread of Post Offices across USA over last two centuries) or other comparisons of layers such as land cover types in the UK e.g this by Esri education UK (full Esri Story Map  source is worth looking at)

Map Search Activity:  I think this one better suited to tutor-authored Esri Story Maps: create an Esri Story Map to introduce a concept or case study and then insert a zoom/pan-able map for them to search as an activity.  In the Kilauea example I found an eruption map (from ArcGIS Online) which I suggested students explore to find other example of vulcanism.  In a similar development, Esri education includes a more sophisticated version of a searchable map with clickable views in their example above. 

Enhance text with Video:  Esri Story Maps allows you to embed other web elements in the presentation.  In the Kilauea example I embedded a video but you could also embed other web elements such as other 'single map' story map types such as the swipe and spyglass.

I've previously discussed good practice about creating Atlas Tours, all of which are possible with Esri Story Maps

Technical gotchas:  Esri Story Maps is fairly easy to use to create a presentation, and Damien found students generally very supportive of using it to create an Atlas Tour in an assignment (which we'll discuss in the paper).  However, if you invite students to create an Esri Story Maps, some technical points to emphasise to them:
  • You have to remember to save edits.  In a lot of cloud apps, save is automatic so this can cause confusion.
  • Creating a map is done in ArcGIS Online and then bought into Esri Story Maps platform.  This is clunky IMHO and may cause confusion with students not understanding the two virtual spaces they are working in.  
Neither of the issues is major IMHO. 

Conclusion:  As with all edtech, there is a tutor investment of time necessary to explore using Esri Story Maps but it could be used to enhance Geography or other spatial teaching right now.