Monday, November 27, 2006

Photos, GPS and classroom fun

Almost every geography teacher has, at some time, displayed a map, stuck photographs around it, then used lengths of string to link the photographs to points on the map. Many students will have done the same sort of exercise when studying their local area, doing a project or presenting a fieldwork study.

Effective as these annotated displays are, they lack one key feature; the ability to be included in IT based work such as fieldwork write ups, essays and presentations.

There are some web sites that now allow you to 'tag' images with their latitude and longitude, then attach them to publicly accessible maps, coming close to the electronic version of map and string. These, such as QuakeMap and Flickr are good fun, but you don't control the content and their large databases of images can be a mine field when used by a class that tends to wander off course!

An alternative with great potential for teachers with a bit of enthusiasm is a new breed of free software, coupled with the already ubiquitous digital camera and GPS unit.

I know that some geography departments are still lacking these two essential bits of kit, but assuming you have access to them, a whole world of virtual trips, walks around town and mystery tours is waiting for you and your students.

It's now possible to combine satellite mapping, traditional maps and plans, a GPS route and your own photographs to make interactive trails that can be followed by your students. What the students do as they follow your trails is entirely up to you, but could include activities such as describing the location, working out co-ordinates and bearings, matching a view to a map, solving clues as part of a bigger task, or simply becoming acquainted with a new area.

Of course, once you have a GPS route entered in the software, it can be visited again and again, allowing studies to be undertaken over a period of time.This can be great for assessing road use, tourist numbers, changes to vegetation or alterations to a landscape as new homes or roads are built.

Take a look here to see a simple route and photographic annotation.

Two bits of free software are needed, Topofusion and GPS TrackMaker, along with a digital camera and a GPS unit.

The brief introduction to GPS Photo Linking provided by David Goldwasser is well worth reading before you get started, and a Google search for related terms will produce a host of additional resources.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you download the free software and see what you might do with it. If you come up with a good use, lave a comment here so others can share your creative genius!


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