Mapping Our Worlds


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Maps have long been used to visually represent our interpretation of place and history and in so doing, reveal the cultural lens through which we see our world. With the advent of web-based mapping environments like Worldmapper, Google Earth and Google Maps, we can more easily conceptualize relationships between objects and data sets and more readily understand how geography influences culture. We can also tap into as well as contribute to the ever expanding repository of user-generated, geotagged media frequently associated with online map environments.

So 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? We’ll use this week’s session to consider these questions and to explore some classroom examples. We’ll also spend time working in our course wiki and I’d like to give you the opportunity to get feedback from a colleague about your classroom project idea.

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13 Responses to “Mapping Our Worlds”

  1. edadedebas Says:

    Hypercities is a web-based online archive that allows time travel through different cities. The current director is Todd Presner, a professor of Germanic Languages and Judaic Studies at UCLA. He is also the director of Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA and has recently given a talk at LCL’s colloquium “Image, Media, Text” in September 2011. It is a collaborative work funded by MacArthur foundation and the project is carried on by various universities such as UCLA, University of Southern California, and CUNY and by volunteers and interns. Hypercities currently offers 20 different cities and their historical views from past. It is an online tool that is dependent on Google Earth and allows the viewers to see and compare how Berlin looks now and how it looked in 1850s. For instance, in the earlier maps of Berlin, you can still see the Berlin Wall. It is initially launched as an educational and instructional tool for high-school and college students. In a European History class, the instructor has the chance to show the real Berlin Wall to the students. Hypercities collects data from individuals and institutions, digitalize them, and create an archive of historical city spaces. It is possible to view historical layers of cities and it allows its users to travel back in time. Currently, the most popular cities are Cairo, Alexandria, Berlin, and Rome. They are the ones that instructors most refer to in their classes. The website also gives the list of courses, which have used Hypercities applications in class.

    I was very impressed by Presner’s talk at the LCL colloquim in September. It is a very important online learning tool. As Presner himself also suggested, it allows us to use it in our research fields as well (not only in teaching only). Any research that focuses on trauma cities, memory studies and that requires a historical and cultural background could benefit from the project. Besides, it is a very effective tool in language teaching as well. It is possible to talk about Berlin’s history in an upper-level German class. There is one major downside. Currently there are only 20 cities that are available to view. But, Presner was optimistic about adding new cities to the websites in his talk at Storrs.

  2. rosariopollicino Says:

    Hi Eda,

    Thanks for this summary it definitely looks very interesting. I believe these kind of tools are definitely interesting for teaching and learning in a wide aspect of different subjects beyond languages and history. This is an effective way to directly involve students in whatever they are studying as long as it refers to some other place. I beleive we should include in our teaching (generally speaking) a direct involvment which goes together with the learning material this can motivate our student more can give them some curiosity they do not have and improve their learning experience.

  3. rosariopollicino Says:

    This article is extremely interesting because made me reflect how important maps are and what do they mean. I have to be honest as I grew up with maps (like all of us) in school, at home, with atlas etc. I just gave them a geographical importance I mean the mere importance of knowing the location of a country its shape and the major cities. But after reading this article In Africa, citizens cartographers tell their stories through their maps I understood that being in a map means to be represented in a world where people can have access to that place thanks to a map.

    Having access to a big continent, such as Africa, is of crucial importance because thanks to the map people can move and business can be set. Not being represented in a map means in a nutshell not existing, being excluded and this is exactly what Africa is trying to fight.

    The article talks about a project which invited all the majors google map users( who are also mappers) from all corners of Africa encouraging them to tell their story to learn from each other by sharing their experience. Sharing is always the secret to learn more to improve oneself. The story of Noé, told in this article, is just an example of what people feel when they see represented their city, neighbourhood, street, in a map which thanks to internet can be accessed by everyone. This drive of existing of joining the world and being represented is the power which made all Noe’s family, friends and acquaintances cooperate and create the first map Mbandaka.

    Did you ever thought of all this relation of importance with a map? Of the fact of being represented for the entire world and then being accessed also from business, tourism and all other commercial activities? Mapping is not only that but in this context of Africa I believe is the most important aspect to highlight.

    • edadedebas Says:

      Hi Rosario,

      Thank you for the summary of the article. It looks very interesting. I have checked the website too. Hypercities, my example, seems to be less interactive than yours. There is a group of collaborators and volunteers for Hypercities and the main idea is to use it for an educational motive. However, in your case, it is more interactive. People around the world can participate. I think this week we have been discussing very interesting tools. I found all of them very useful and interesting in teaching language, culture, literature and civilization classes.

      I have created a new title called Geomapping in our course wiki. I am planning to include Google Earth and Google Maps under Geomapping. We can all be co-contributors under Geomapping. If you want, you can post it under. I think these tools will be very useful for educational purposes.

      • rosariopollicino Says:

        Hi Eda,

        Great idea of creating geomapping in our wiki list. Collaborate the all of us by sharing what we have learnt is a pragmatic example of sharing knowledge and collaborative learning. Yes my article was interactive in the sense that people can really collaborate to map parts of the world which are not known yet and obviously the first people to be involved in should be the people who live in these parts themselves.

  4. edadedebas Says:

    Hello everyone,

    I have listened to Wednesday’s online session and found the website History Pin very interesting. Since it is similar to the website I have described for this week, I want to say a few things about it. Historypin is very similar to Hypercities in that it provides historical images from different cities. In my summary of Hypercities, I gave the example of Berlin before 1989 – the image of Berlin that still includes the Wall-. Historypin can be used as a complimentary tool to Hypercities. Also, for both language and civilization courses, I have thought of an activity, We can ask students to pick a random photo from Historypin and write a short fictional story about the photo. It can be a good informal writing exercise and the students may need to depend on the historical and cultural knowledge as well.

    There are two major advantages of Historypin in comparison with Hypercities. The list of the cities available is quite comprehensive and there are more cities available in Historypin. Secondly, I think it is more interactive than Hypercities project.

  5. marineuconn Says:

    Hello everybody! Here is another original way of mapping our world: UC Berkeley asks incoming students to say more than ‘hello,’ by Larry Gordon.
    Before school begins, Berkeley’s freshmen and transfer students are asked to submit their voices and accents as part as a big “analysis of California accents, as researchers try to get beyond such stereotypes as the Surfer Dude, Valley Girl and Central Valley Farmer to study participants’ vowel sounds, along with their locations, ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds.” Their voices and accents will be anonymously attached to an interactive world map and “each student will be matched through a voice recognition program with five others who have similar pronunciations.” Another part of the survey is to check if after two or four years at UC their accents will have changed, if they will have homogenized or if distinctive speech subgroups will be found. This is also an ice-breaker that will familiarize the students with the multilingual context they are going to be living in, both at the university, where 30% of the newcomers don’t report English as their first language, and in the working world that may lead them overseas after they graduate. Participants will have to record their voice in English and in their native tongue. This survey will be less controversial than the previous one, where students had to submit their salivas for DNA tests.

    I find this study very original. It is open-minding in the way that it shows the linguistic and cultural diversity present at the university in general. It also serves scientific purposes. However, I appreciate the fact that it stays anonymous and that students may choose not to be reported on the map if they don’t wish to.

    • soledadre Says:

      Hello Marine, thanks for the summary. Yes, the survey is really interesting and the point of recording the voice and analyze the accents is, from my point of view, of great interest. As teachers of foreign languages, it could be very worthy to apply this kind of project in our classroom. We could ask our students to record their voices at the beginning and tell them that they will be recorded again at the end (and/or in the middle) of the term. It will help them in two ways: they will have a goal for better focusing on pronunciation and, second, they will have a direct source of self-assessment since the recording will be a sample of everything learnt during the course, an evidence of their improvement.
      Two questions, do they already have the results for that analysis? both of native and non-native speakers? What was the saliva test about? It seems to ring a bell but I cannot really remember… Thanks!!

      • marineuconn Says:

        Thank you guys for commenting on my post. They didn’t say much about the saliva test except that it was controversial… but I found an article online that gives some more details: UC Berkeley alters DNA testing program
        The voice and accents ‘map’ of UC Freshmen can be found here. The difference with 2010 is that the DNA samples have been deleted, where this year anyone doing research in linguistics can used this big data stock! I remember a linguistics class where we had to analyze a specific corpus of datas. The first step was to create the corpus and the process can be very complicated and slow. Free access to (such big) surveys is just an amazing thing.

    • loisramirez Says:

      Marine,
      This is a great study, as it shows our differences it also helps us see how similar we also are. I also appreciate the fact that the students can be anonymous, in a way I believe that the information, and the accents being recorded would be more accurate. It is also a great way to know your student without knowing your students, let me explain myself. You will have access to the areas and background that they come from, but due to some of them being anonymous you really do not know who they are (probably until the end of the semester, if your class size allows for it). Soledad, I believe it is an ongoing study, since there was no quantitative data. But like you said it would be great to help students with their pronunciation and see how much effect the class has on their speech. I think it will also be a great idea for voice analysis software, it may help developers have a more accurate view of voice intonation and variation across a language.

  6. soledadre Says:

    Digital Storytelling Part V-Google Maps presents the personal experience of a teacher that made use of Google Maps within the classroom. The article starts speaking about the importance of storytelling since ancient times. Stories help us to connect new knowledge to previous one, making sense of things.
    Now Google offers the possibility of linking stories and images from all around the world. Those stories can now have more details, different formats, and, above all,allow collaboration. The same story can have many different points of view.
    With this idea in mind, the article presents different options to use a map while telling a story within the classroom. Google Maps allows options such as writing a collective “Where have you been this summer” or following a biography of an important character. Then, the author starts showing the different steps that are necessary to create the map, the different tools that can be use and how we can to sport it to Google Earth –If you are interested I think is better for you to go to the article since explanations are accompany by clarifying images. Once we export the map to Google Earth we can invite people to accede to it and to collaborate: “An entire class can add their individual point of view to a story”.
    Finally, the article comments in two more example of the use of Google Maps in education. In Google Lit Trips students can check where the road trip stories they are studying take place. Find a Story-Map a Story-Tell a story shows the stories that may be linked to a particular location for an individual or for an entire community.
    In my opinion, the use of Google Maps within the classroom could be quite interesting at some points. For instance, in Spanish, each chapter speaks about a particular country, Google Maps could give them a more real picture of the country, the main cities, traffic, shops… We could also use it when teaching how to give directions or for them to have a global vision of all the countries speaking Spanish. About the storytelling, yes, I think it can be an inspiring and motivating tool for our students, they can really enjoy creating a collaborative story. Maybe we could create a map of Uconn and ask them to speak about those places that are useful or significant in their opinion.

  7. loisramirez Says:

    Have you ever been in a situation where you are reading a book and you have no idea about the place the author is talking about? I am sure that this has happened to all of us. Sometimes we wish that we had more insight to the things that we are reading. I am all for using our imagination and letting our minds travel as we read passages in books, but sometimes it is necessary to have a more accurate representation of such place in order to truly connect with the reading. Google Lit Trips is the creation of Jerome Burg, and its sole purpose is to serve as companion to books being read in class. All you need to access Google Lit Trips, is Google Earth (you do have to install this program in your computer). After you are done setting the main program, you may access all the works in Google Lit Trips for free. You can even create your own and have your students contribute to it. They can add supplementary information, such as images, external sites and commentary. The purpose is to compliment the story, not to tell the story (divulge the plot), so in case anyone is worried that Google Lit Trips may serve to cut corners when it comes to reading a book, needs not to worry. I think this is a great way to have the student and even yourself more involved in the story and even find similarities with our contemporary issues. This tool may help develop interest in students, that otherwise may not be possible by only using only a book and a discussion. The fact that the students can contribute, by posting pins on the map, and adding their own content, may serve not only as a study tool but as a discussion beyond the classroom approach. Unfortunately Google Lit Trips is mostly in English, but since you can become a contributor you may create your own Google Lit trip on your target language. It may be a bit time consuming, but it is a great idea for a class project throughout the semester, at the end the class can take a Google Lit Trip together, and have a discussion centered on what has been learned beyond the book. This is another way that maps can help us give a different perspective of the world.


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