In recent years, new mapping tools such as Google Earth and Google Maps have made it much easier for students to relate points on a map to topics in any discipline. Subjects such as music, history, literature, and biology can be mapped as easily as geography, architecture, and geology. For example, locations of historical events, along with details about the event, time, images, and other information, can easily be plotted on a map; students can then look for relationships and trends from the mapped data.
Files with the filetype of kml can be downloaded to use as layers on Google Earth and Google Maps; many of these files are freely available online. A great source of historical map data is Rumsey Historical Overlays; the New York DEC has a pageful of overlays such as bird conservation areas, hiking trails, lake contour maps, ecological zons, and more on their site.
For students and instructors who are out in the field: various devices including iPhones and Android devices can be used to geotag pictures with their associated latitude and longitude; the data can then be pulled up on Google Maps and Google Earth for study.
GIS software such as ArcGIS is useful for high-end mapping applications.
Here are some mapping tools that are available online. Most are free or very inexpensive:
- ArcGIS http://www.arcgis.com: A source for creating your own map or accessing ready-made maps.
- Google Maps (web application): http://maps.google.com
- Google Earth (desktop application): http://earth.google.com
- ScribbleMaps (web) http://scribblemaps.com: Mark up and save a Google Map
- Simply Map http://simplymap.com: A Web application that creates thematic maps and reports using demographic, business and marketing data provided by the vendor. SimplyMap requires a subscription, but is available at no charge with login from computers on the Cornell campus or through VPN.
- BatchGeo http://batchgeo.com: Upload a CSV data set to create a map. Very easy to use!
- GPS4Cam http://gps4cam.com/: iPhone and Android app that geotags pictures taken with your smartphone
- GeoCommons http://geocommons.com/home: Upload your own dataset or use one that has already been added. Features include temporal animation (animate your data over time).
- GpicSync (desktop application for geotagging): http://code.google.com/p/gpicsync/
- GeoSetter (desktop application for geotagging): http://www.geosetter.de/en/
And some resources with teaching ideas to get you started:
- Carnegie Mellon “Information Visualization Tools” (http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/technology/tools/informationvisualization/index.html)
Addresses questions such as “How do I know if a particular tool is appropriate for my course?”, “What are some possible pitfalls – and strategies to mitigate them?”, and “How can I assess student learning and performance?”.
- Carleton College “Why Teach with Google Earth?”
In addition to answering the question in the title, this article also addresses the question “Google Earth or GIS?”. Also see “How to Teach with Google Earth”: http://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/google_earth/how.html which provides several examples of mapping in math, geography, food science, and geoscience.