Thursday, August 6, 2009

Google Maps Excitement II: The Screencast

Here's my world debut as a screencaster. In case the written description in my recent post wasn't clear enough, I try in this video to demonstrate how to use Google Maps Street View to help students and myself get a visual understanding of the natural regions of Texas and other geographical areas we want to study.

Although I practiced a number of times and did a number of takes, I managed to omit a couple of points. I should have noted that as soon as you remove Mr. Street View, aka "Pegman," from his perch, the map lights up with blue lines indicating where the Google Maps camera crews have snapped. I misspoke in saying you can alight anywhere you see the green circle.

I also want to say that I am particularly eager to see what my/our students will come up with using Google Maps and Street View. The creative possibilities are myriad. My narration seems quite a bit more "top-down" and teacher-directed than I intend for the classroom. Google Maps has been useful in several learning activities; I'll delineate these in a future post once we reach those lessons during the school year.

Screentoaster is really cool. It's free and easy to use. All I needed beside the computer was a microphone. (I used a headset with mic.) In case you want to use Screentoaster, be aware that your video will be limited to around 20 MB. For my first couple of run-throughs, this worked out to around four minutes. When I added the bit showing the PowerPoint map of the regions, it reduced the time to around three minutes. I found myself really pressed for time in trying to make the main points I wanted to make. As a highly imperfect perfectionist, I finally decided to go with Take #191. I hope it works for you.

Please do make suggestions. I purposely left the "production" a little clunky (for example, showing the starting and stopping clicks) for two reasons. First, I wanted it to be instructional, to demonstrate Screentoaster for people who might be using it for the first time (which of course included myself). Second, the instructions say you can go to the window you want to start at and then use Alt-S to start and stop your recording. That worked fairly well with my Windows-based PC (until Java crashed and froze my computer), but none of the relevant keys worked that way with my MacBook. The MacBook did, however, a flawless job of recording the presentation.

I wish I had noticed and been able to point out that I alighted in Perth, Scotland and then near Perth, Western Australia. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Google Maps Streetview here.

Anyway, I look to improve and, as I said, would appreciate suggestions and ideas you might have for anything involved here: Google Maps, studying geography, screencasting, perhaps even the making of toast.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Google Maps Excitement: Street View & "Road View"

A lot of you (yes, I'm already dreaming of hordes) probably know this one, but I found an exciting new (to me) use of Google Maps. It's amazing how far Google Maps Street View has progressed during the past year. Of course not everyone is pleased with Street View, but I've found it fascinating. With mixed feelings of joy, wonder, nostalgia, gentle melancholy, and disgust (for example when seeing my childhood neighborhood razed and "resurrected" as a commercialized surburban wasteland), I've visited past haunts, gazed and remembered antics at former schools, walked Trumpington and Trinity Streets in Cambridge, checked out my neighbors' property values, etc., etc. Mostly I've been focusing on street views, that is, on a micro level.

The other day , though, my trackballing hand slipped while dragging the little orange man ("Mr. Street View"??) across a broader swath of my home state and accidentally plunked him down in some vast deserted stretch of West Texas. Voila! A small "road view" picture of that precise location appeared on the Google Map. When I let go of the clicker the whole picture zoomed out, ready and willing to let me reclick and get a 360-degree rotational view. Mr. S begged me to take him to some place less Godforsaken (sorry, West Texas compatriots), and I complied. As we toodled across the state, new pictures kept popping up, inviting us to stop and stare and rotate. We had fun.

As I realized I could plop Mr. S anywhere that showed up in blue, classroom implications fired my imagination. Now I had the power, the force, if you will, to survey the geographical terrain all across the state, nation, world, uni-. . .well, I guess we'll have to wait for Sidereal View, but who knows, maybe someday.

I very much want my students to be able to visualize people, places, and things we are studying and will find Google Maps Street View invaluable in this regard. It will, for example, offer an alternative to the following, which my students did last year.

Regions of Texas with Pictures

Perhaps you and your students will find this useful in studying your own geographical areas of interest. Please let us know what you discover and if you have further ideas on how we might use Google Maps to educate ourselves and our students.