(Virtual) Field Trips

It’s summer, and I’ve got some serious get-out-of-Dodge wishes. In particular, this being summer in Texas, I’m dreaming of Alaska, Antarctica, Nunavut, etc. Time for a field trip!

In all seriousness, what about field trips with your students? Some courses really make it work, but, for most courses, the logistics and the cost are overwhelming.

Enter virtual field trips. Your students get the educational content, you get to skip the organizational stresses. Plus, students can “revisit” the destination as often as needed, rather than relying on their notes or photos. Of course, there are few exact substitutes for the real thing, but, all things considered, the resources below provide some intriguing options.

You can use a virtual field trip to help students visualize names and places from course content. You can also use the virtual field trip portals for more critical inquiry: why these works, why this perspective, and why introduce the content in this manner? A virtual field trip holds a lot of promise as an attention-grabber at the start of a unit or as a culminating exercise.

We’ve written about the Google Art Project in an earlier post, but the site has had a redesign. It’s now easier to search the ever-expanding collection and to create your own galleries from the available works.

If archaeology is more your thing, here is an online 3-D interactive view of the pyramids in Giza. Likewise, Traditions of the Sun offers views of ancient Mesoamerican observatories.

Historypin is like a crowd-sourced field trip. Rather than a slick, uniform view of a place, this site lets users upload their own photos and pin the location of the photo to a searchable map (in some cases, you’ll really need to zoom in close to get the variety of photos to display). The images have dates attached to them, so you can travel back in time, too. A glance at my hometown reveals pictures from 1922 through 2012. In addition, there are also some Historypin thematic and geographical special collections.

Of course, there’s always Google Earth, for a walk / swim / climb around some of the world’s most compelling locations and landforms. Google Earth also has a partnership with 360Cities, a site focusing on interactive panoramic images of urban areas.

Last, if you happen to be taking an in-person field trip or leading a study abroad course, here are some options for how your students can use digital tools to document their field experiences.

What destinations will your courses explore this summer?

Google Maps

Have you ever wondered how Google makes those maps? What, exactly, happens before and after all those Google Street View vehicles hit the roads or trails? This piece in The Atlantic tells all – and has some suggestions about what Google’s mapping project and data management means for the future of all our data. (Thanks to Kim Mann over at the College of William & Mary’s Academic Technology blog for the link to this article.)

On a related note, I’d love to hear about what tools courses are using to integrate geographic information. I’d be willing to bet that the menu of commonly used tools has converged upon a few readily accessible free / affordable options while the variety of courses using these tools has greatly expanded. Prove me right or wrong in the comments!

Smart Suggestions for Using Google in Teaching and Research

First, here’s a lovely graphic all about the suite of Google tools and their potential use in the classroom and beyond:

More concretely, here are some more detailed ways to use Google tools to boost productivity and student engagement:

1. You can use Google Forms to create all sort of questions (we’ve previously written about about Google forms and student self-reflection). For our purposes, though, you can also use Google forms to collect quick homework / reading check answers, poll students on their technology experience or ownership as a set-up for class activities, or ask students to briefly share their understandings of or questions about key concepts. If you create a question on your form that asks for the student’s name, there’s no need for your students to have their own Google accounts to complete the form (you can set up your form as a public or public with link form and allow anonymous submissions). This is a great primer on the benefits of using Google Forms for online surveys.

2. The way in which Google displays search results has changed recently; Google has added a Knowledge Graph panel to the right of the returned search results. This panel leverages Google’s powerful analytics about what information users are usually seeking when they search for a given term and which pages they generally end up reading. While perhaps shepherding users toward easy and common information, the Knowledge Graph is also helpful by providing ready-made contextualization of information. If one doesn’t know a particular term or personage provided in the Knowledge Graph, discovering the meaning or relationship is but a click away. This is a nice piece about Knowledge Graph and Deeper Searching.

3. Are you a Google Scholar user? Did you know that Google Scholar can integrate with the catalog of your local library, telling you whether material you’ve found is available nearby? Likewise, when paired with your work in Google Docs, Google Scholar will actually locate and then format your references in APA, Chicago, or MLA  format. this approach is a little clunkier and not as robust as one of the paid citation / reference programs, but, hey, the price is right! Last, Google scholar can tell you not only the number of citations a certain piece has, but also produce a list of them. Read all about these tricks in this post about Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Google Scholar.

4. If you’re using (or considering using) Google+ as a social networking or video conferencing option in your class, this post has some suggestions about how Google+ can help you get the most out of virtual office hours.

Also, writing about Google products is nothing new around here. Here is a list of past Google-related topics.

Last, if you have a favorite way to use Google or a favorite Google tool that helps your research or teaching, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!

New from Google

Two Google-related news items:

1. A review of the Google Docs research tool. Basically, this is a quick way to run a search on terms within your Google Docs. Results display in a sidebar adjacent to your original text. You then have the option to preview a selected website, create a hyperlink in your document, or add the related citation to your document. As the review notes, “research” and “web search” aren’t necessarily the same thing (nor do they guarantee the same quality of results). Likewise, the embedded citations provided by the research tool are not in one of the standard scholarly formats. However, the ability to quickly verify quotes, facts, or other pieces of data all without leaving the original document does seem very convenient.

2. Using a Google search to identify images. You can use Google Image search not only to find images, but also to help you find more information about images. What happens if you find an image online, but fail to note the source? Or, with further research, you realize that you need more information about said image or need to find the original source? Google lets you enter a web address, drag and drop the image, or upload it. Search results are then returned alongside your original image, letting you find the right site to clear up any image attribution issues.

Happy searching!

Google+ Hangouts

This is an intriguing on article about online education using Google+ Hangouts. The subject matter is cooking, and students can sign up for private instruction or for a group class in which the chef teaches up to nine students. The limit is set by the number of people that can simultaneously participate in the video conversation. The benefit of learning in this manner? Unlike cooking shows or cookbooks, the instruction happens in real-time and students can ask questions. Maybe I’ll eventually have a shot at making a decent pie crust!

While charging per Google+ Hangout class is not the revenue model that makes sense for most universities, the article also has some great suggestions about how to use Google+ Hangouts for collaboration and live video interaction  – talk about a dynamic approach to virtual office hours!

Google Drive

I have to admit, the name totally reminds me of the Google Street View Car (you know, the car that drives around recording the images for the awesome street view maps. Following the link above, I learned that, apparently, they have Google Street View trikes and snowmobiles, too – who knew?).

So, Google Drive is not about a car – but I still think the name (and the product) is pretty genius. Google drive is a cloud-based synching data storage solution, much like Dropbox and SpiderOak (there’s a great comparison chart of various storage options at the bottom of this page).

With Google Drive, you are provided with secure storage space and the drag-and-drop ability to keep files straight between multiple computers. You also have all the sharing and collaboration features that you’ve come to expect from Google Docs.

How is it different from Google Docs? Well, there’s a pricing structure: you get 5GB free, and the price increases from there (at rates that are quite competitive with other cloud-based data storage sites). Google Drive viewer supports an impressive list of file types, and has  a 10GB upload limit on files or folders. Google Drive comes with Google Image Search, allowing you to search images in your Google Drive based on key words.

Google Drive is linked to Google Docs, and once you add Google Drive to your Google account, it will replace Google Docs. Your Google Docs will appear in your Drive account with icons. If you are connected to the internet, clicking on a Google Doc icon will open a web browser so you can view the document. However, if you’re not connected to the internet, all you’ll have is an icon in your Google Drive folder on your computer’s hard drive.

Right now, the Google Drive mobile options are pretty limited; there’s only an Android app, but an iOS one is reportedly on the way. Additionally, the cautious among us might want to read this article on Google Drive’s terms of service.

Here’s the video intro to Google Drive:

Google Tools

Here are a few neat things you can do using the Google toolbox.

1. Create timelines from a Google spreadsheet. We’ve mentioned other timeline tools before, but the easy editing associated with using a Goolge spreadsheet as the data container makes this option extra-nice.

2. 50 Little-Known Ways Google Docs can Help in Education. This list includes access features (like cloud storage and collaboration) in addition to functional features (graphs, drawing, videos, and templates). If you think you’d like to do more with Google Docs, but aren’t quite sure where to start, this list offers a nice overview.

3. Confirm quotations by searching Google Books. High on the list of scholarly annoyances is knowing – just knowing – that a quotation is somewhere in a given book (or stack of books), but not being able to find the right page. No more! Well, for the most part. An additional benefit is the ability to verify that source materials have been properly cited, if you are re-quoting something.

4. Google+. Google+ is certainly something to consider: it ranked as the highest new tool on the list of 100 Top Tools for Learning in 2011 (note that voting on this list is restricted to learning professionals, so results here might be more valid than an ordinary internet poll).  Additionally, we want to hear how you’re using Google+. Have you used it in a class? To network or collaborate with other scholars? Used the video chat feature in Google+ Hangouts? Have you shared your screen or tried any of the apps that accompany the video hangout?

Last, if your students turn to Google as a default search engine, this is a nice article about cultivating savvy searching skills (based on a piece in The Atlantic). I love that “understanding sources” features prominently!