Mapping Our Worlds

“Maps matter” Lalitesch Katragadda tells us as he describes how Google’s Map Maker can aid in global disaster relief and in creating economic opportunities. Indeed, when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in the evening of January 12, 2010, Google quickly not only made its existing Map Maker data on Haiti available for relief efforts, they allowed anyone to go in and expand on that data. But Katragadda’s statement could have referred just as easily to the two other videos posted here as well.

What are the possibilities in using online mapping tools like Google Maps and Google Earth in language, culture and civilization courses? And what role might these tools play in developing our students’ intercultural competencies, global awareness, communication, collaboration and literacy skills? For some ideas, you can look at the interdisciplinary examples listed here.

I’m looking forward to the first four of our classroom presentations this week. And during class on Monday, Catherine Ross of the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Teaching and Learning will show us the resources and opportunities available to our faculty through the Faculty Development Programs. As you interview for your first post-graduate position, you may want to include faculty development opportunities on your list of questions to ask.

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8 Responses to “Mapping Our Worlds”

  1. Blanca Says:

    I am afraid but I see no intrinsic value in these tools for language and culture courses. I think they are a great support to illustrate some cultural aspects; however, is it not what we have been doing with photos and videos? In both cases, students need to get further information from somewhere/someone else. The main advantage I can find is interactivity: students can explore “on the spot”, choose whether they “are going” this or that way (always with the limitations of the information available at the moment in the maps or street-views), what cannot be done with videos or photos, obviously. Another advantage is immediacy: if I am talking about the different climates in Spain, I can show students how it affects architecture immediately, and getting all the information from only one source (not spending lots and lots of time copy-pasting photos). I guess the last great advantage I can find is that it fits better the interests and way of thinking of our students than photos and videos: it is not linear or structured in a fixed way and they may feel more comfortable using this than a series of snapshots. In addition, it may arouse students’ curiosity: for example, showing them the street-view of Gran Vía street in Madrid (we are celebrating the centenary of its creation), they may ask about Spanish customs out of curiosity for the things that catch their attention there. However, I still think that these same questions can also come to their minds using photos in a book or a video, although these means may seem less “tech-appealing” than GoogleMaps/Earth.

    • chenwenh Says:

      I totally agree with Blanca’s comments on these mapping tools having several advantages. Indeed, “interactivity” and “immediacy” definitely stand out to be wonderful strengths these mapping tools provide, and I believe both are critical elements of teaching and learning we need to take into consideration when presenting our course materials. The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives already pointed out the significance of using Google Earth in teaching history. Because of the mapping function, teachers bring life to the subject matter, which students usually see as “dead” or “irrelevant.” If we use these mapping tools, what we deliver in class is no longer static information; instead, the materials are connected with real geographical locations and certain visual cues. These connections are positively helpful for students to build cognitive maps within their minds. Furthermore, they enable students to realize that what they learn exists in real world and is relevant to their life. Of course, photos and videos also supplement our teaching well, but mapping tools surpass both photos and videos because they integrate all possible functions of different tools. Photos and videos visualize our course content, but mapping tools link the visualization to real life. What is good about these mapping applications is that they don’t compete with other tools; rather, they incorporate other media we might use and then add one more function: navigating the world and “tangibly” seeing it in 3D representations.

      Therefore, their strengths make me think that these mapping tools can still play a role in teaching culture or even languages, particularly foreign languages, because of the two strengths. For instance, I guess Google Earth should be a great help in teaching modern Chinese culture. While we are reading short stories set in a specific city, say Shanghai, we will discuss about how imperialist invasions influenced China in all aspects and how wars, either civil wars or wars between China and other countries, traumatizes the society as well as the culture. We have many films clips and photos to help us imagine what it might look like in Shanghai during that chaotic period. Yet, I guess if I implement Google Earth in class, students will be able to really have a map–geographical, then geopolitical and finally a cultural one–of how foreign settlements occupied Shanghai and why Chinese at that time moved in response to certain events. With photos and videos, I might be able to “explain” the history behind those stories, but Goggle Earth “fleshes out” the history I want to teach. Also, this would look like taking students to a virtual field trip where they not only can read the materials but also “see” the place in a “3D” representation. If I can assign group projects of using Google Earth to identify historical events in our readings, this will be a good way both to examine students’ knowledge of assigned readings and to assess their abilities to organize and evaluate their understanding. Perhaps one might think my attitudes sound too much celebratory. I would never say that Google Earth is a perfect tool for teaching cultural and language classes, but I believe it is a useful tool that we can employ to serve our own pedagogical purposes.

      • chenwenh Says:

        While I was navigating the maps of Shanghai and some clips connected with the maps, I found an interesting clip narrated by a girl in Chinese but subtitled in French. I think this is a wonderful example of how we can use Google Maps in foreign language teaching. They can practice the target language–either orally or in written forms– in a project that requires them to do research on the biographical facts–inevitably connected with locations–of an important figure in the target culture.

    • inasayyoub Says:

      I totally agree with Blanca here about using such tools to integrate the teaching of culture within a language course. Though in my post I also kind of believe in their benefit in teaching language as well. Though , I’m not familiar with using such tools yet,the readings give an idea about the many options you have a long with viewing a place or a photo. Reaching a stage where students can read other people’s comments and respond to that as well create the communication which is what is required for learning any kind of subject. So you can find many opportunities like this , when it comes to Spanish as I believe.
      But still the great value as Blanca mentioned is the motivation it creates since it is going to be more appealing and interesting for students. The thing I like about such tools too, that they give the students the ability to search and filter information on their own to decide what to integrate in their body of knowledge when learning about such topics rather than being provided that by the teacher.

  2. sarahmelvine Says:

    I can see the interdisciplinary value in using mapping tools for language, culture and literature courses. For example, Silvia Tolisano’s activity, “writing a story using google maps” offers some useful social and historical cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching literature. I can see how “mapping out” the progress of a story would be useful especially for the 100 level world literature course which I am currently teaching where we are expected to incorporate context and historical developments in our lessons. I think that an activity that incorporates interactive map use actually is quite important for helping students to do their own historical research and place the works within a timetable and special map in relation to other pieces that we are reading. I do agree that this is an area of weakness in American education and whatever can be done to supplement the development of geographical awareness is always a good thing.
    On the other hand (because I always have another hand), teaching geography is not really the aim of language and literature courses. Visualization is always a helpful supplement, but it would still be pretty irrelevant if the students do not come to the course with previous knowledge of the political history and at least a tenuous grasp of world socio-political geography. For example, if I were to teach a course in West-African literature and give the students an interactive tour of the Ivory Coast, it would probably be meaningless to them without first explaining the long history of European and Arabic colonization in the region. It seems as though a google maps tour might be dazzling to the eye, and certainly would pique the imaginations of students, but it would not add a critical edge to the literature without supplementary historical information. Perhaps the integration of a google maps program that could demonstrate the evolution of the social-political borders as tangential to the physical geography would be a way to integrate these ideas. I am sure that overall the use of interactive maps is useful, but I am not sure that it will really “revolutionize” the way that we approach teaching these courses.

    • Lay Says:

      I mostly agree with sarahmelvine. Mapping could help our classes, wether they are focused on literature, languages or politics. However, I must disagree with this: “teaching geography is not really the aim of language and literature courses. Visualization is always a helpful supplement, but it would still be pretty irrelevant if the students do not come to the course with previous knowledge of the political history and at least a tenuous grasp of world socio-political geography.”
      If we were only to talk about language classes, one of the five C’s stated by the ACTFL is CULTURE. How can we explain culture if our students do not know where the country is. Culture is partly based on location because that means many variables that come into account. For example, in my Spanish class, to help my students better understand the varieties on culture in Chile, I must first locate show them how different is every part of Chile. Just think the differences in climates! Same thing in a literature class. Mapping is not the aim, but it is a way.
      Also, we must consider that students have a problem understanding sociopolitical issues of other countries because, the fact is, they sometimes do not even know these countries exist! I will take, for example, Eastern European countries. Most of our students have heard about Bosnia in the news, but they have no idea where it is. So, how could I expect them to care about what is going on in the country if they can not locate themselves geographically. Again, mapping is not the aim, but it is a way.
      Mapping may not revolutionize our teaching, but it definitely can help us.

  3. christopherlaine Says:

    Mapping tools could be very useful I think in teaching literature. When teaching any work in which the geography of a city and its landmarks plays an important role, these tools could help the student imagine the setting. My first thought was of 19th century Russian literature dealing with St. Petersburg, but only the map would be of value for this. Street-level points of view would only give the modern picture, and you would still have to rely on other sources. But for teaching anything relatively contemporary, it could be of use. Maybe for Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” you could juxtapose the street level view and the aerial point of view.

    Even if these are of limited value, that value is significant. Often even extremely intelligent students seem to know very little about geography, so any addition of maps would be beneficial. And if you’ve never been exposed to foreign cities, you probably wouldn’t be aware of the different ways they could be organized, and these programs would be a lot cheaper than buying glossy urban planning books.

  4. inasayyoub Says:

    Being teachers for students of the “Net Generation” makes using mapping tools a must I would say. Reading through the materials here made me feel ashamed a little bit of myself while I saw my self holding the big old map of the world stored for more than 20 years now in the resources room which the parents of my students possibly used as well, to teach vocabulary to students and too tell the positions of several countries. It is obvious that I was so behind in making maps fantastic instead of static as Google would promote it !! All I needed to do that concerning equipment is available at my school, so it is not a technology that was far beyond our reach!! Still, with me haven’t tried this at my school, I can’t judge whether the draw backs of using such tools mentioned in the EDUCAUSE article are going to be a trouble for me. I believe , that a school like mine with old computers and not the best Internet connection would enjoy these tools as much but trying something new is exciting in its own. Which leads me to focus in its benefit in creating motivation and eagerness to learn. “Playing” with a tool like this would get students full engagement in the material explained more than my 2o years old map. The power of interactive resources on the Net that help students navigate and explore the many options of dealing with maps are of great value. For example, students may get to read other people comments and stories related to pictures they provide and write comments as well. What a better language practice can a teacher ask for.
    With how much advocacy I have for mapping tools , I would still see the bias in such tools that doesn’t give as much options and high resolution images to such parts of the world, my country included. I guess, such mapping tools would direct the focus of people to some parts and marginalize other parts which ruins the idea of learning and merging with the different cultural identities since you can reveal a lot about a place and its people through using such tools.


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