Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ten new Google Geo tools for the Classroom

Googler John Bailey (Program Manger for Geo Edu) recently did a talk for Google Education on Air on Google's Geo tools:

Being able to tilt the view over a crater in the Moon bought to mind a teacher quote in one of my sessions last year
"you just made me fall in love with Geography again"
I had to tear myself away...  Anyway, I thought I'd point you at my favorite ten new* examples of tools/content that John showcased:

1] 7:10m Distance: measure distance tool in Google Maps

2] 7:40m Area: that it also measures area in Google Maps

3] 8:27m Carousel: geolocated photos in Google Maps taken by users uploaded to google by users

4] 9:20m Tilt: how to tilt to see 3D Google Earth like pictures using tilt button bottom left Pisa location used: 10:05 Globe View: zoom out to globe view which will rotate which click and dragged

6] 11:08m Mars and Moon View: zoom out to full extent and now you rotate around the globe when clicking and dragging and can access mars and the moon.

7] 11:19m Two Map system: compare and contrast maps using 

8] 38:25m Streetview historical imagery: see street view before and after the Japanese tsunami on Google Maps (location near the site with historic street view available).

9] 43:42m Tour Builder

10] 47:28m Time Lapse using Google Earth Engine. 48:25 Great moment showing Peruvian river meander dynamically.

*Actually some of them are new-ish rather than new

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Creating static images in Google maps

Getting images into Google docs and then into Google My Maps

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cloud Mapping Compared

So after coming back from the NACIS conference I've been looking at cloud mapping again.  At the conference Mapbox, CartoDB and Leaflet and ArcGIS online were getting a lot of mentions.  Compare that to searches from Google trends:

My interpretation is that:

  • The non-experts are using/interested in ArcGIS online or Google Maps Engine
  • The experts are interested in the others.
  • Cloud mapping is on the up (as far as search terms go anyhow)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NACIS (carto) Conference thoughts

So I'm just back from NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) in Pittsburg, USA.  I was a newbie NACISer, I'd travelled over there as I'd heard that it was a good combination of educators, academics, techies, open source enthusiasts and working cartographers.

My everyday tools are adobe firefox and Google Earth (you probably gathered that from the blog title) as I'm primarily concerned with educating 'sub-GIS' audiences like school students*, so it was interesting to find out what everyone else was using and finding which new tools were getting attention.  Of the new tools:
- Mapbox Studio
- cartoDB
were what I noticed everyone discussing, both are cloud services based on cartoCSS - a development of CSS, the code that controls look of web pages.  The difference between then (I was told) was that Mapbox Studio is better suited to finely tuning the look of a base map whereas cartoDB is better at styling data layers.  I did a Mapbox workshop whilst at the conference, it isn't that intuitive but then I don't think either of the tools are good 'first map' starters, they are more tools for those with mapping expertise.

Other tools that are well used are ArcGIS, adobe photoshop and adobe illustrator.  People's workflows generally consisted of processing in Arc then transferring to photoshop/illustrator to fine tune the look.  Very little mention of any of the Google suite of tools.  

There was a really good panel on education, convened by Matt Wilson.   The format was designed to keep people talking too much, I'd term it 'meatspace twitter'.  It largely worked producing some memorable nuggets:
  • Map selfie students produce a map based on their lives as an educational exercise
  • Map global warming or perish : on the future of mapping
  • Maps and mapping is always tied up with the wielding of power
  • Beer fart maps the fashion for 'link bait maps' that get attention but have little value
  • Candy machine gun teaching teaching what students want, in a way they want rather than teaching with academic value
These are what I scribbled down in my notes, more detailed notes 

The discussion also ranged onto the 'future of maps', with discussion moving to privacy concerns about the data being gathered from mobile devices for maps and critical comments about the use of big data.  This paralelled discussions going on in educational technology that I've been following mostly to do with Learning Analytics, interesting that its affecting the two parts of my career in similar ways.

My paper (notes to come) was on the use of map tours (Google Earth tours but for any platform) as an assignment in my undergraduate course fitting in with a session on the use of narrative cartography.   The highlight of the session  for me was Robert Pietrusko's paper on a similar assignment:  

He has design students already skilled at layout and the use of design tools so they produce some fantastic looking tours compared to my students.  I'll be using his student's work to show just what is possible with map tours.

These three are the big companies with serious interests and investments in maps and mapping so it was interesting to see what presence they had.  ESRI had at least 4 delegates at the conference and I heard praise for them from others for integrating with the NACIS community and reacting well to criticism of their products both now and in the past.  Google, lead players in maps as they are, had no presence at the conference, given the effort they've put into producing tools I think it would be sensible for them to be there to promote their stuff and get informed feedback.  I think Apple were there but I didn't come across them, they certainly weren't as visible as ESRI.

Notable People
I was pleased I got to network with Alan McConchie from Stamen, I've been using their maps to illustrate points of good design to my students so it was very useful to hear where he thought things were going in cartography. I also hung out with Anthony Robinson from Penn State who teaches a terrific MOOC on GIS, he has a lot of expertise in education, maps and distance learning so I picked up a lot from him.

Thanks to all the organizers, there's a lot of work done behind the scenes and it made for a great conference.   I never did get to chat to him but Lou Cross clearly has been a great influence on the conference, he has a great sense of humour and is keen to make everyone feel included so last word should go to him:

*as in, not so advanced that they need to use desktop GIS such as Arc desktop.

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.