Using Google My Maps For Digital Stories

Google-Maps-Drop-PinTo start off digital mapping month at #ACDigPed, we’re learning about Google My Maps and thinking about how it can be used in digital pedagogy projects. Presumably, most all of you have used the basic Google Maps service with your mobile GPS or in your browser. However, you’re probably not familiar with My Maps and how it draws on, though is distinct from, the main Maps application. My Maps allows you to build a customized map with markers for points of interest and popups/side panels to let you add text and imagery connected to each site. So if you have a project in which you want students to become familiar with a set of locations and to build a knowledge base around those locations, My Maps is a user-friendly way to accomplish that. And the maps that you build connect back to the robust capability of Google Maps itself, with access to features such as street view, earth view, 3D perspective, geo-tagged image galleries, and more.

For an example of how My Maps is being used at Austin College, let’s take a look at a project that Terry Hoops is developing in his freshman seminar (C/I) class, Restless Wanderings. Musings on Travel and the Human Condition. The class is beginning the semester by reading Bruce Chatwin’s travelogue, In Patagonia. Terry and the class have identified some two dozen locations referenced by Chatwin for further investigation. The project description states that

Our aim, for this project, is to write as a class a travel guide to the geographical Patagonia that Chatwin wandered through and to the Patagonia in Chatwin’s narrative. We will do this using the Story Map program by ArcGIS. Here’s how we will do it: each group/partnership will select some of the places Chatwin visited and use Story Map to delve into Chatwin’s descriptions and stories. Your entries should give our readers some sense of the places Chatwin visited, and then, gleaning materials from Chatwin’s descriptions and stories, provide a sense of the significance the author gave to that place.

The class is using another mapping application, Story Maps Journal (about which more in the weeks to come) for the main project platform, but the base map is being developed in Google My Maps (and will then be embedded in Story Maps Journal).

The main view of the base map looks like this (you can check out the full interactive version here).

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Each site has a pop-up that zooms the map to the appropriate location and opens the corresponding side panel. So, for example, clicking on the second site, Viedma, takes us here:

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We’re in view mode here (not editing mode); you can see that the side panel has modules to add both textual description and photos/images. The map has basic zoom/pan controls and can be dragged and recentered. But notice also the “View in Google Maps” link in the panel; that allows us to easily access the full functionality of the main Google Maps application. Clicking on that link, and then choosing satellite view and opening the image gallery gives us this:

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Now we have access to resources such as geotagged images, street view, and 3D tilting, among others. Students can tap into this trove of assets to visually explore the location and to gain a better sense of its natural and human-made topography. These resources can then complement the further materials that students will construct based on their wider research of each location. Narratives and multimedia elements for this project will be combined with the My Maps base map in the Story Maps Journal platform, as noted above. As groups of students fill out detailed background for each location of Chatwin’s journey, the full story of his travels will come more richly into view. Follow along at the main Story Map project site.

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So at this week’s workshop we’ll learn how to build a base map in My Maps and have some conversation about possible applications within our own disciplines.

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