Thursday, February 27, 2014

Will educators miss Google Earth?

Over at Google Earth Blog Frank Taylor nails an issue I've noticed too:  support for Google Earth and development of the product seems to have dropped off Google's todo list.  Frank interprets this as being a bad sign for the future of Google Earth and I think he's right.  Its been clear for a long while that the client (Google Earth the program as compared to Google Earth in the browser) had a limited shelf life, it simply makes more sense to have things in the cloud for Google.  What is worrying is more that when the transition comes educators are going to lose out because important functionality may not be maintained in the brave new 'cloud maps' world.

Stuff educators would miss:  Firstly, and possibly most importantly, school teachers use and know Google Earth.  They are pretty averse to change in my experience, mostly they're not over excited by the newest functionality available, GE does what they need it to and learning to get that done through a cloud mapping service is going to annoy them.  If its considerably different from Google Earth I suspect people won't bother learning it or may even go elsewhere.

Save KML: Secondly, being able to whack 'earthquake Haiti KMZ' into Google and finding some useful resources to be able to mashup something for a lesson was endlessly useful.  And while we're talking about KML, its a really useful language for the semi computer literate - you could bash some ugly spreadsheet concatenate functions together and build a simple model to make maps.  Will KML make it through the 'cloudification'?

All under one roof:  Finally, part of its strength lies in the range of functionalities available.  Being able to bang an overlay map in, mix in some streetview visits, pull up a cross section and also explore all the great things in the Layers column in one software package is very powerful.  I've just set our first years a locate a task about locating a hospital, they were straight in there going beyond my instructions exploring hospitals in the area concerned by pulling data in from the layers column.  Will all that be maintained?

And:  I'll have to get myself a new blog name of course.... :)


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Google Presenter/Google Earth Tour Builder mash up

About three years ago I wrote a post about the value of mashing up Google Earth with Google Presentations.  With the appearance of Google Earth Tour Builder I thought I'd look at the idea again.

Idea:  If you use a GET for a presentation its really useful to mashup presentation slides with maps and virtual flights in Google Earth.  What I tend to do is flick between the two while I present which isn't ideal and takes a bit of skill.  Much better if you could combine the two.

Old Solution:  My previous experiment involved putting Google Presentation slides into the client.  It was kind of useful but clunky to put together.

New Solution:  Links are possible in GE tour builder.  They've changed Google Presentations so that its less easy to link to an individual slide in a presentation but its still possible.

Example using Google Earth Tour Builder
HowTo:

1] Create a Google Earth tour with the builder tool

2] Create a presentation using Google Presenter.

3] Within your presentation, in edit mode, go to the slide you wish to use

4] Within your tour, choose the place slide you wish to link from.  In the 'TELL THE STORY' box, create a link to your presentation slide.

5] repeat 3 and 4 as many times as you wish

6] Click done editing

MUCH easier than my first experiment to put together!  You can now navigate to different places and click the links to get to the slide.  If you right click > "open in new tab" on the link the presentation will open and you can just close that tab when done and go back to the tour.  However, it takes some time for the slide to load up as you are actually loading all the slides at once.  If you just open the link, you'll lose your place in the tour when you come back as you will get bumped back to the start of the tour.

Also you don't have the ability to have the bullets appear one by one, you just get a static slide.

In conclusion, easy to put together but GETB needs be developed so it play's nicely with Google Presenter to make it a really powerful tool.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Google Geo Family

Summary of a long post:  For an average Geography school teacher, Google Earth Engine time lapse and Google Maps Engine Lite (video tutorials) are useful tools to look at but don't replace Google Earth as the educators favourite yet. 

So I was at the AGU conference in San Francisco just before Christmas.  I went to a Google Event where they showcased their new stuff and hung around with the Googlers on the Google stand a lot.  As a result, I've finally got my head around their new set of tools.  I thought I'd lay it out in this post, thinking primarly of school teachers as an audience.  Lets start by meeting the ancestors:


Geo Ancestors:  

Google Maps were road maps which developers soon started 'mashing up' i.e. putting their own data on top of using code (wikipedia on mashups).   Google My Maps was a service where users could build there own simple map, share with others or group create a map.  Google Maps got a major revamp this year, but as a tool for navigating and searching for places I'm guessing it isn't much interest to educators.  Google Earth used the same satellite data set as Google Maps but overlaid it on topography meaning we got 3D maps.  wooo!  We all got very excited about this when it came out in 2005....

....and had mostly got over ourselves by 2007.  Google Earth Client is a stand alone program but there is also the Google Earth plugin - this allows Google Earth to be accessed in a browser either as a separate web page or embedded within a web page.

Google Earth in Education:  Up to now, Google Earth client has been more commonly used by school educators in the UK than any other mapping or GIS tool (survey).  There are a few reasons for this (opinion only now):
  1. Free
  2. Simple and Usable to use
  3. Fantastic imagery available
  4. Streetview
  5. Allowed students and teachers to create maps to show to each other.
with 1 and 2 being the killer reasons.  On a wobbly version 7, the Google Earth client seems destined to disappear at some point in the future as it isn't a cloud based tool.  Whether all the advantages I've listed above for Google Earth will be maintained in the Google Earth plugin remains to be seen.  



Current Family:  

As an overview, the general thrust of the new family of tools seems to move into new areas where Google feels it can be a player with an emphasis on cloud computing.  No surprises there as that is a general move in software everywhere.  For the moment, Google Earth client and Google Earth plugin are still available.

Google Earth Engine Group:  This consist of Google Earth Engine, Google Earth Engine Lite and Google Earth Engine Pro.  NASA released Landsat data as free to download and use instead of charging for it.  Google love organizing the world's data of course so they've processed it and given everyone access.  Google Earth Engine also comes with a set of remote sensing analysis tools (remote sensing = processing satellite raster images rather than GIS which is more about vector data).  The processing tools are too specialist for to school teachers, but the ability to access time lapse images from the whole world 1984 - 2012 has some lovely uses (watch glaciers retreat, river meanders develop and the Aral sea dry up).

Google Maps Engine, Lite and Pro compared as a table.

Google Maps Engine:  Whereas GMELite and GMEPro could be used really usefully in a schools setting, this tool is quite a high powered GIS tool.  It allows people who know about GIS to bring large amounts of mapping data together and publish it using Google's infrastructure.  If you know what you're doing, this could be a useful way of bringing your data together and publishing it.  Related Tutorial.

Google Maps Engine Lite:  This is a replacement for Google My maps.  However, not only can you still create your own map, you also use attribute tables.  This is a simple but powerful part of GIS - for all cafes in a town, produce a spreadsheet with cafe vs number of seats and number of floors.  All cafes are represented on a map and you can change their icons automatically.  So all cafes with 2 floors could be red, then you decide you want to change it and with a few clicks, all cafes with 1 floor become pink.  You can even upload a spreadsheet table from elsewhere to the map as a CSV file (CSV is an export function of spreadsheets).

GMEL is really nice combination of good usability whist allowing some powerful map control.  Where it comes apart for me is the symbology, there simply aren't enough icons or blends of colors available and the default Google map icons aren't 2D (more detail on my problems with Google Map symbols).  The palette controls in Fusion tables (see below) are much better IMHO as you can customize the colors more.

Google Maps Engine Pro:  Pretty much Lite but allows you to store and visualize more data.

UPDATE 14th Jan 14:  Ron Schott pointed out I'd left out Google Fusion Tables and I take his point. Fusion Tables can be used to make maps, I've successfully used it to collect data from groups of students previously, essentially making a crowd sourced map (write up - bit out of date on specific instructions now but generalities still apply).  However, Googlers have told me that the use of Fusion Tables for maps was always a bit of a clutchy solution, it did some neat things but they got fed up with fixing it as it wasn't really structured to do maps well.  Google Maps Engine is the tool they'll be developing to do all the things that Fusion Tables used to do so it's fairly certain that fusion tables is not going to develop further as a simple GIS tool.

I also missed out Google Earth Tour Builder which I've reviewed and for which I've also produced a tutorial.  This is designed for producing a tour of places with features such as adding images and youtube clips.  Lots of educational potential getting students to produce tours but early in its development cycle and still in beta.  Note that it isn't actually hosted on Google's domain (its on 'withgoogle' instead), its not clear what that implies.


Closing Thoughts:  

There's a lot to love with

  • Google Maps Engine Lite, 
  • Google Earth Tour Builder and 
  • Google Earth Engine (timelapse) 
for educational purposes.  However, good old Google Earth still allows all the basic map stuff we've been using for years so I expect educators will still go on using it.

A few thoughts for the future:

  • Google have a serious naming issue, what a mess of confusing terms!  Six different names for the new family that I reckon could be boiled down to two.  It would make better sense if they had 'Google Maps Engine' which wrapped up all the features of GME, Lite, Pro, and Tour Builder together.  Google Earth Engine still could be separate but I'd rename it to be something like 'Satellite Engine', its not really got a whole lot in common with Google Earth, it isn't even a virtual globe.
  • There is value in maintaining the layout of Google Earth in the future, this is what educators are mostly using so they'll be annoyed if they have to relearn a new Geo interface.  I predict cross teachers if Google decide to pull Google Earth and the services available are as they are today.
  • The great thing about Google Earth is its simplicity.  To attract users (not just educators) to a 'simpler than Arc' geo service you should have the simple stuff readily available in the interface (GMEL) and the complex stuff (like Google Maps Engine) in there but hidden away on a menu bar you have to deliberately pull up.


UPDATE 15th Jan 14:  I added bits about tour builder and heavily edited for grammar and structure.  I first published this post while I had a cold and I don't think I was thinking straight!



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Google Earth Tour Builder HowTo

Following my recent review of Google Earth Tour Builder I showcased it at the AGU conference before Christmas.  Google have published some text instructions but I thought a video tutorial would be worthwhile.


Richard Byrne also has a video tutorial, he discusses using multiple photos/videos for each place (functionality which I'm a bit 'meh' about) but doesn't go into the detail about tilted or plan locations.

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 KhanAcademy.org) 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 https://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com/

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 'withgoogle.com' 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