Interactive geospatial technologies

Introduction

Interactive geospatial technologies are widely used privately, by governments, not-for-profit organisations and commercial operators to display and, in some cases, capture spatial data. They offer a simple user interface and an ability to display data that is referenced to places on the earth.

Interactive geospatial technologies allow users to view data as well as add their own information to maps. The data that can be added is usually limited to text, hyperlinks, images and embedded videos. The user's ability to manipulate and analyse that data is limited in interactive geospatial technologies but still allows for interactive tours, virtual field trips and a spatial means of reporting on data collected in the field. 

Classroom application

Interactive geospatial technologies can:

  • display and create human and physical data
  • monitor the distribution of natural flora and fauna resources
  • inform about important places 
  • demonstrate geographical processes through data collection and display.

Interactive geospatial technologies give students opportunities to achieve goals at all levels of Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. In order for students to achieve higher-order thinking, data will have to be manipulated or displayed as part of their analysis. 

Examples of activities that could be undertaken in the classroom at each level are presented in Contour Education's Interactive geospatial technologies website. There are two ways you might engage students in interactive geospatial technology activities in the classroom: 

  1. You can create maps and provide them to students. You can then support students to insert text, links, images and embedded video into their maps and turn them into interactive resources or virtual field trips. Google's geospatial tools (Google Maps and Google Earth) could also be used via a data projector to observe patterns and initiate discussion within the class, such as the relationships between Australia's population distribution, time of year and the incidence of various natural hazards.
  2. Alternatively, students can use the tools listed above to create appealing, informative and purposeful maps for formal or informal assessment. They can collaboratively report on fieldwork using the information pop-up balloons linked to their map. Students can record observations, data or survey results that are linked to a place on the earth. GPS data can often be opened to view saved locations or tracks.

For additional information refer to the classroom application section of the Interactive geospatial technologies website. It provides a list of activities that can be undertaken (linked to the various levels of Bloom's Digital Taxonomy).

Simple interactive geospatial technologies

There are plenty of tools that extend online geospatial technologies, allowing users to add:

  • simple annotation 
  • custom symbols
  • text and hyperlinks
  • images
  • embedded content such as videos.

Most tools that have this limited range of features do not require users to register and sign in, but some do. 

Primary students especially will benefit from these tools as they allow students to annotate and personalise information using an intuitive interface. Where students can observe simple information related to a place, that information may be displayed on a map to examine broad and obvious patterns.

The GeogSpace Interactive geospatial technologies website provides good examples for classroom use.

Google's geospatial technologies

Information provider Google has two geospatial tools that are ideal for use in the geography classroom. 

Google Maps only requires internet access and a web browser to view data. It is a very simple GIS application. This makes it an excellent introduction to geospatial technologies for students and teachers, and 'street view' is fantastic for students to experience other parts of the world. 

Google Earth offers additional benefits in the classroom to Google Maps. However, it is a requirement that Google Earth be downloaded and installed on each computer prior to student use.

The video Geogspace: Google Maps and Google Earth (duration, 02:15) outlines some of the key features of the two tools.

Google Earth could be considered an advanced version of Google Maps where the world is presented in a beautiful 3D view that gives students a more accurate representation of the earth than the two-dimensional view presented in Google Maps. Maps created in both tools are compatible with each other.

For examples of classroom applications of Google's geospatial tools, go to the Interactive geospatial technologies website. 

YouTube has a series of videos for educators covering the main tools and features of Google geospatial technologies:

Other spatial tools

There are other interactive spatial tools that could be useful to you and your geography students. 

SketchUp allows users to create 3D models and position them accurately on the earth. The models can then be viewed in Google Earth and submitted for permanent inclusion in Trimble's 3D Warehouse. As well as accurately representing buildings and other features in our environment, models can be made to represent information. For instance, instead of creating a graph to represent the movement of sediment at various points in a catchment, you could create three-dimensional column graphs to represent to amount of sediment moving past each point in a given period of time. These columns could be turned into a tour in Google Earth to allow students to quantify data and view spatial relationships between and within the data they are viewing. 

Google also has some additional tools that can be used to create and publish custom maps. These tools are more sophisticated but they do offer the ability to better view and analyse data. Information on these tools can be found on the Interactive geospatial technologies website. 

Questions for reflection

There are three questions you can consider to begin effectively using interactive geospatial tools in the classroom. 

  1. How can you use the software regularly? Google Maps, in particular, is very accessible and can be used at home or at school. You are encouraged to practise by creating maps, knowing that they can be easily created, saved and removed at a later date.
  2. Are you gathering useful resources? Use known organisations, web searches and social media to keep abreast of resources for learning how to use the tools. There are many online videos that you can use with the various classroom resources listed in this illustration.
  3. Have you considered what others are doing? There are various online communities of educators using the tools and sharing their knowledge and resources. There are many useful Google geospatial resources meant for general use, including blogs. The Interactive geospatial technologies website contains many useful links to sites that post news, applications and ideas that can be adapted for classroom use.

Resources

Books and articles:

Churches, A. (2009). Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. Retrieved October 2012, from: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fedorigami.wikispaces.com%2Ffile%2Fview%2Fbloom%2527s%2BDigital%2Btaxonomy%2Bv3.01.pdf.

Videos:

YouTube. Google Earth for educators (duration 02:53). Retrieved October 2012, from: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLECD7BEAD12265631.

YouTube. Google Maps for educators (five videos, durations vary from 02:53 to 05:11). Retrieved October 2012, from: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLABCB6F1476A5E744.

YouTube. Geogspace: Google Maps and Google Earth video (duration, 2:15). Retrieved January 2013, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcEwzQs8AZY.

Websites:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale.

Contour Education. Interactive geospatial technologies. This website provides a blog, and information on classroom application resources, simple interactive mapping tools and geospatial tools. Retrieved October 2012, from: http://geogspaceinteractivegeospatial.blogspot.com.au/p/googles-geospatial-tools.html.

SketchUp. Retrieved October 2012, from: http://sketchup.google.com/download/.

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.