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Guest Post: Google Earth and “Tour Builder”

Posted on July 17, 2014.

This summer the HPU Tech Blog will be featuring blog posts from professors at High Point University who are actively using technology tools in the classroom.  This is the eighth in the series, written by Jennifer (Jenn) Brandt.  Jenn Brandt is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies.  Here is her post:

This summer in ENG/GBS/WGS 3298 “Women Writing Worldwide,” my students and I have been using Google Earth to enhance our understanding of globalization and its impact on the lives of women throughout the world. Google Earth is a free, web-based application that serves as a virtual globe and map. In the classroom, this can be used to create interactive lectures and assignments, either as an exploratory tool, or by faculty/students creating their own “maps” as they pertain to coursework. Specifically, I have been using Google Earth “Tour Builder” to deliver interactive online lectures, and as a class, students are using Google Earth to collectively “map” their research of contemporary issues affecting women worldwide.

“Tour Builder” is currently in beta testing for Google Earth and allows individuals to tell and share stories (or “tours”) through the Google Earth plug-in. At the start of the semester, students familiarized themselves with the course and tools we would be using by creating a tour that introduced themselves to each other, incorporating photos; map points; and information about their majors, minors, and goals for the course. Since then, I have used Tour Builder as a lecture delivery tool, creating tours for some of the authors, stories, and topics we are focusing on each week. In addition to visually moving students around the globe, Google Earth allows students to “explore” the landscape of the different areas we are reading about and discussing. Tour Builder also allows for the integration of web links, photos, and videos, as well as providing space for me to ask questions and begin guiding students toward discussion. Here is an example of one of my tours, which was designed to introduce students to the short story “The Rich People’s School,” by Motswana author Lauri Kubuitsile: http://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com/builder#play/ahJzfmd3ZWItdG91cmJ1aWxkZXJyEQsSBFRvdXIYgICAiLONswsM.

Students are also using Google Earth to create a collaborative project that maps contemporary global issues relating to women. Each student was assigned a country to research and, from their research, selected a topic to “pin” on our map. Each pin identifies a contemporary issue, individual, organization, or newsworthy event related to women writers and/or global women’s studies. Accompanying each pin is a description of the map point, a discussion relating the pin to our course and readings, a photograph, and links to additional resources about the topic. Since students have to research a topic outside of what has been covered in class, the assignment helps them make connections to what we have been learning through the development of their skills with other information literacies. The response to Google Earth and the assignment have been overwhelmingly positive, with students enjoying the visual nature of the map, its ability to make diverse topics more “real,” and to demonstrate the interconnectedness of people and information through globalization.

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