Thursday, September 4, 2014

Designing layout in pop up balloons

This is the last idea from the Google Teacher's institute I'm going to blog about and it comes from Ben.

When you click a point in Google Earth you'll often get a pop-up appear.  Formatting in balloons is often important, e.g. in this nice example of 'old photo compared to new photo' you need to have the photos the right size, captions and a link to the source is important.   Problem is you can't do this sort of formatting easily within Google Earth unless you're an expert in HTML.

The point shown in the screen shot was created using the technique I'm about to explain including uploading the photos to blogger.

1] Sign up to  It's OK if you have no intention of using a blog, you don't have to publish anything.

2] Create a new post.  By default a button top left will be 'Compose' rather than 'HTML' .  That's good.  Use the tools provided to upload photos and arrange your text how you want it.

3] Now click the 'HTML' button mentioned already.  You'll see a load of weird text, this is the HTML that actually made the page you were working on.  Copy it all.

4] Go over to Google Earth, create a placemark (yellow pin button top left).  A 'new placemark' dialog box will appear.

5] Paste your HTML into the description box and click OK.

6] Now clicking your placemark (Places column on the left or in the main screen) will pop up your nicely formatted balloon.

7] when you're happy, go back and turn off your blogger post, no need to publish your post for your pop-ups to work (although you might want to save it/them and reuse the structure another time)

Extra stuff:
Pop-ups for areas and Lines: While a placemark works in my example (two photos work well as a point), you may want a balloon associated with an area, e.g. a large building or a line, e.g. a railway.  You can create a pop-up for these too, just create as you did with the placemark and put your HTML in the description box as before.  Clicking the line or area will produce a pop-up in exactly the same way.

Another Advantage: The technique has the advantage that you can use blogger to host your photos, you can put photos for pop ups in the KMZ file Google Earth creates but its buggy in the current version (see earlier post) so this technique not only makes it easy to format a photo pop-up, it solves that problem too.

Disadvantage: you need to be online to write a blogger post and for someone to view any photos in the pop-ups you create, they'll also have to be online.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Explaining Map Projections with GMEL (Google Maps Engine Lite)

This is the second post in which I write up ideas I've lifted from colleagues at the Google Teacher's Institute I went to in Pittsburg earlier this year.  This time I'll work up an idea I got from Josh Williams, author of  Use the polygon (shape) function in google maps engine lite to illustrate distortions produced by projections.

Background to Projections:  A problem with all flat maps is the 'orange peel problem' - try as you might there is no way to peel an orange and get the peel to lay flat without stretching it (if it was made of rubber) or ripping it into very small pieces.  All flat map representations of our globe are therefore distorted in some way.

0] You may like to start with some demo of actually peeling an orange and trying to get the peel flat.

1] Using Google Earth show students Greenland and South America to illustrate the size difference.  You might like to use the ruler tool to actually measure the width/height.  South America is much the larger.

2] Now flip to Google Maps Engine Lite and create a new map by clicking the button (you'll need to login to Google if you aren't already)

3] Name the map 'Illustrating Projections' or something similar

4] Point out to the students the difference in apparent size now, why would Greenland appear to be the same size as the much bigger South America?  The answer is distortion.

5] Using the 'draw a line tool' (a line separated by circles in a button under the search bar) click and release four times to create a big square covering Brazil.  It will have circles at the corners to show it is the item you are editing at the moment.

6] Tell the students you're now going to drag it northwards over Greenland and that the surface area it encloses is going to stay constant.  Get them to predict what is going to happen to the square in a sketch on paper.

7]  Now click the square so it has circles (being edited) and drag it northwards.  The distortion shows up in three ways:
a] it gets bigger
b] it gets wider at the top at the bottom as the distortion increases closer to the poles
c] edges become curves, again, due to the distortion increasing as you go north.

8] Process with students, e.g. I'd ask if anyone got all three.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Auto tours and Tours Love at Google Geo Teacher's Institute

So I'm not long back from being a trainer at Google Geo Teacher's Institute (GGTI).  Google kindly paid for me to fly out and put me up in a hotel so I could take part and I was part of a team advising Google on its GeoEDU program.  I can't tell you much about the advisory meeting but the GGTI is worth discussing:  It was training as much for me as for everyone else as I got to drop in on my colleagues sessions and pick up tips.  I thought I'd do a couple of blogs on what I picked up:

Automatic Tour for Student point review: An idea of Ben’s ideas that I really liked was getting students to all contribute a Google Earth point (saved as a KMZ file) and the tutor visits each one in turn to discuss.  An example would be 'find me a sand dune' then the tutor reviews if the points really mark sand dunes.  The tech bit is to put them in a folder and running an automatic tour.  To do it:

1] Get students to send you points in answer to a question by saving them and sending them to you.

2] Drag the points into a folder

3] Click the folder in the places column (it turns blue)

4] Click the play automatic tour button (not the normal tour button).  It's at the bottom left of the places column; a folder icon with a black triangle alongside it.

You will fly from point to point with a fixed time interval.  I wouldn't use this for a normal tour (a flight over a long distance should take longer than one between two closer points) but showing each student's point to the class and commenting on them will engage the students.

Love for Google Earth Tours:  What came out of both the GeoEDU advisory meeting (15 or so Google Geo education specialists advising Google on the future of their tools before GGTI) and the GGTI was that educators LOVE Google Earth Tours.  As someone who’s advocated them for education for a long time I'm really pleased to see people's interest.

There are now two ways to create Google Earth tours, with the Google Earth client and with Google Earth Tour builder. I thought I'd summarise the differences for you:

Characteristic     Google Earth Tours      Tour Builder
Ease of use           Pretty good                      Best
Editable               Yes but very complex     Yes and easy
Metaphor             Movie clip                       Powerpoint slides
Use offline?          Yes                                  No
Audio                    yes.                                 No
Layer control.      Sophisticated.                 Basic

In short, if you are used to google earth tours then don't bother switching but if you're just starting then tour builder is probably easier.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flipped Learning by Animated Poster

So there is a celebration going on in the School of Geography and Environment at Southampton today as we have been teaching geography for 100 years.  As part of that we prepared posters of recent research, mine was about flipped learning (good curation of relevant literature I recently found).  It took me 2 days to prepare the poster so I'd like the audience to be wider than just the visitors to the school today so I've produced a little experiment:

Poster based in Prezi (zoom and pannable)

Youtube Clip Talk zooming and panning around

Educational Value:  I did this by:
1] pasting a series of images of the poster into Prezi
2] Setting up a series of views around the poster
3] adding animated annotations to the views
4] Recording a screencast using screenflow (but the free screencast-o-matic is robust for simple use such as this)
5] uploading to Youtube

The nice thing would be to get students to do a poster then do a talk like this and attach a QR code to the poster linking to the talk so you could scan the QR code (generator page), access the youtube clip and get the author to talk you through the poster as you stood in front of it.  It has a lot in common with a Google Earth tour, instead of a tour around real space you're flying around 'information space'.

Suggested Improvements:  It works as a concept but I didn't design with a phone screen in mind enough IMHO, text needs to be bigger.  Also, it might be nice to extend out the poster to other related media rather than just talk about the poster itself.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Image in balloon pop-up work around

I had multiple students have issues with images in pop-ups not appearing in an assignment this summer.  If you've noticed the same issue on v7 then I have a work around:  upload the image to dropbox and give your image a web link.  Weirdly you can't use Google Drive for this (AFAIK).  As a work around it has the disadvantage that images will load up more slowly than if they were in the KMZ but at least it works.  Here's the specific steps that you can give students:

1] In the Layers column of the bottom left of the Google Earth screen, untick everything (except terrain if you can see it). Delete any features from the last tutorial in the Places column.

2] The image to the left is a photo at this URL Save it somewhere sensible. right click the photo > save as

3] Set up a dropbox Account if you haven’t got one, 

4] Access your Dropbox file store via the web enter the ‘public’ folder in the list. Anything put in here is available on the web. Now click the upload icon . Its at the top of the screen. Choose the Portree photo and upload it.

5] You have now uploaded the photo to the public folder on your Dropbox website and it has a URL. To get the URL: right click the photo > copy public link > Enter it into a new browser tab to see that it works.

6] Now we will access it in Google Earth. Click ‘temporary places’ folder to make it active. Create a placemark anywhere and in the dialog box :
- Name it ‘Anywhere photo’ > Click ‘Add image’ > paste the photo URL > click OK
- Back in Google Earth click the placemark you have created. You should see a pop up balloon appear with your photo in it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are men better than women at navigating in virtual 3D spaces?

I have a PhD student Craig Allison who is looking at spatial understanding in maps and related 3D spaces.   He entered and won the faculty round of three minute thesis', a public speaking competition to see who could present their work best in three minutes with one powerpoint slide.  This is his talk at the final of the event competing with other PhD students from around the University.

Navigation in 3D Spaces: He covers the importance of designing 3D spaces well to assist users navigate them and the gender differences that he has found in his experiments.  It's especially relevant to anyone designing virtual field trips using tools such as streetview and/or Sketchup.

Sad that I couldn't make the talk to support him, great work Craig!

I've marked the location of the Psychology building he discusses if anyone wants a look.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What Features should a Teaching GIS have?

Sorry for the quiet on the blog, I'm only just surfacing after a lot of marking and teaching this semester.

In this post I'm going to explore the features needed to make a simple GIS for school level education. There are a lot of new services available that are excellent opportunities for educators (e.g. ArcGIS Online and the Google family of services [review]) so I think a consideration of what features a dream edu-GIS would have is a useful thought experiment.

How would we use a Teaching GIS?

My idea would be a simple introductory GIS that would be suitable to use outside of Geography, e.g. to support a biology project looking at the spread of trees in a forest.  The tool would be simple enough that students don't really need to understand they are using GIS at all, it would just work.  To teach students about GIScience itself, rather than just using it, you'd probably want another tool.  

Working with this constraint defines the general area of functionality we want to cover, we are not thinking about GIS analysis functions (e.g. calculate how many trees are within a particular polygon), we actually need GIS just to visualise the data.  

What Features do we need in a Teaching GIS? 
So now I've defined the scope of what I'd expect my edu-GIS to achieve, we can dive in and think up some functionality lists.  I've assumed there are various features common to all GIS already inherent in my all GISs such as layer control, data importation, navigation tools.  Beyond those needs I've come up with two lists:

Must Have:
  1. Usability:  This isn't a feature but is listed as IMHO it's the prime consideration.  Whatever other features are available they must be robust, easy to understand and easy to use for students. 
  2. Collection via Mobile devices:  The GIS must allow users of mobile devices with GPS's to go out and collect data via customisable forms and upload the data seamlessly to a shared map.  E.g. users go out in the forest with smart phones and log locations of different tree species which then uploads to a central map.
  3. Photographs:  There should be a variety of ways of easily bringing photos into the map.  In Google Earth these are screen overlay, balloon pop up and ground overlay.
  4. Symbology Styling:  The major groups of symbols (points, lines, polygons) should be available and it should be possible to change the style of a symbol depending on an entered variable.  E.g. a bigger icon for trees bigger than 10m.  There should be suggested colour palettes for shading but also the ability to customise colour completely e.g. illustrate tree species with shades of green but then highlight one particular tree species using a bright orange.  
  5. Attribute Table:  Related to point [4], it should be possible to access the spatial data as a table and be able to edit it, e.g. for one tree change its height from 20 to 30m within the GIS.
  6. Base Maps:  It's important to have an option to chage base maps for different purposes e.g. with lots of data you want to plot it on top of a subtle map that doesn't visually complicate the view.  In other situations you may want to use satellite data imagery as your base map.  
  7. Map Overlays:  Images should be possible to import as map overlays, e.g. bring in an image of an old map of London and overlay it on the existing topography.  
  8. Layout Tools:  It should be possible to add titles, a legend, a scale bar and annotations to a map in a simple way to allow it to be output as a well made static map.
  9. Story or Tour Tools:  There should be tools for constructing 'video' like stories with an audio narrative.
  10. Export:  The raw data and styling data (data about how the map is styled such as title size) should be exportable and be possible to import into a non-cloud service such as ArcGIS or QGIS.  This allows students to backup versions as they go along, if something goes badly wrong with the cloud file they are working on in the edu-GIS then they can use an older version elsewhere.

Also Could Have:
  1. Streetview:  A great bonus for education is the ability to be able to snap in and out of 'real world view'
  2. 3D:  Having true 3D rendering as per Google Earth can be very powerful e.g. in looking at conditions on mount Everest but for most applications, 3D is actually not necessary.
  3. Cross Section Tool:  A very useful addition in lots of applications but not core.
  4. Group working:  This is natural advantage of all cloud applications.  Being able to collect data to make a map is a core function number [2] but beyond that, IMHO group working on a map is not really core unless you are in a distance learning situation.
  5. Models:  Having 3D rendering of buildings can be very useful but, as with the point about 3D, it's not core.  For Geologists 3D models are much more important but I wonder if it would not just be better to build a separate program for making these sorts of models, do they have to be within a GIS?
  6. Historical Imagery:  A great resource for an edu-GIS but the patchiness of good data limits its use much as the fact that streetview is mostly consigned to public roads at the moment.  
  7. Time animation Features:  Very powerful but on the edge of what is possible within a school teaching situation, its quite abstract to get students to put these together.
  8. KML:  To explain this point I'll consider the Google Earth situation:  for power users, it is endlessly useful to be able to access the code that controls the data itself (KML) and manipulate it outside of Google Earth to go beyond the core functionaility.  For example, I have spreadsheets that I can use to produce KML outside of Google Earth and import it in, for example, creating custom Google Earth tour flight paths and speeds.  This extends the power of the GIS beyond the functions that are built in.

This is a quick, from the hip, set of thoughts.  It would be interesting to hear what other's agreed/disagreed with on my lists.