Whether your institution is a large research university, a small liberal arts college, or somewhere in between, producing global citizens is at the core of your academic mission. As we all strive to better prepare students for the future, Google Maps and Google Earth provide us opportunities to improve pedagogy and promote outcomes with 21st-century tools.

These tools allow us to blend together academic principles with real-time data and simple simulations. They also expand pedagogy by bringing a visual component into classes for students who are spatial learners.

Google Maps and Google Earth provide dynamic environments for students to engage in active learning. Below is a review of five creative and unique ways to use Google Maps and Google Earth that can expand the boundaries of your campus:

1. Improving communication skills. Google Maps can assist students with organizing their thoughts in preparation for writing assignments and class presentations.

Using the My Maps feature, students can create a visual representation of data and concepts that they wish to write about and/or present. For example, a student writing a biography of a famous individual can use Google Maps to “placemark” important locations (e.g., where she was born, where she went to high school, etc.) in the person’s life.

For example, Agnes Scott College has biographies of women mathematicians that makes use of Google Maps. See www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/geographic.htm.

2. Increasing students’ ability to synthesize research data. Google Earth enables students to think more critically and creatively regarding research data. Using Google Maps allows students to see research data in various forms.

In essence, it allows students to combine academic rigor and creativity. For example, a student conducting research related to disease outbreaks could overlay data using Google Earth to present a visual depiction of outbreaks in a given region.

Additionally, NASA, in conjunction with the University of Michigan, does a wonderful job of displaying research data using Google Earth. See www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/co2_google.html.

3. Blending academic principles and real-time data. Google Earth is a great tool for demonstrating academic principles using real-time data. Students with their computers tuned to Google Earth can observe academic principles as they come to life.

This visual learning technique can increase student engagement in class and spark an interest in academic principles that students would normally not pursue. Also, Google Earth gives faculty the ability to increase the scope and scale of digital tools with minimal financial resources.

Penn State University’s e-Education Institute (with reference to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Puff-Volcanic Ash Tracking Model) illustrates how Google Earth can be used to blend academic principles with real-time data. See www.e-education.psu.edu/geog588/l4_p3.html.

4. Connecting students to service learning. Google Maps can provide an interactive map of service-learning opportunities located near your campus. This will help students decide which type of service to choose and how close the service-learning opportunity is to their residence hall or apartment.

In addition, faculty who incorporate service learning into their courses can explore the locations of community partners. Google Maps can also provide the characteristics of the surrounding environment in which these community partners serve.

A great example of this is located on Moravian College’s community service website. See http://home.moravian.edu/public/stusvc/community/map/mapframe.html.

5. Promoting workforce development. Google Earth is an excellent way to display where students have completed internships/co-ops and where alumni are working. For those schools that require co-ops and/or internships as part of the curriculum, Google Earth provides an opportunity to showcase the institution’s contribution to workforce development.

An excellent example exists on the Drexel University School of Public Health’s website. See
www.publichealth.drexel.edu/outcomesmap

Clearly, academic leaders at various institutions across the country have recognized the utility of Google Maps and Google Earth. They have acknowledged how these tools offer unique ways to engage students in active learning.

Senior academic officers need to set the overarching tone that will bring together administrative and academic units for the applications of these tools. Additionally, using Google Maps and Google Earth familiarizes students with the very tools that they can use in the future. These tools allow students to provide value-added research and services in graduate school, in their careers and in their communities.

As the purpose of higher education is to educate students and produce well-rounded citizens, Google Maps and Google Earth are contemporary tools that can help us achieve our mission in a more effective way.   ¦

About the authors

Raymond Lum is an assistant professor in the Health Management and Policy Department at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. He is also the director of e-learning for the School of Public Health. His research interests include innovation integration, health disparities, and management of health care organizations. He can be reached at rl127@drexel.edu.

Warren Hilton is the assistant dean for student affairs at Drexel University’s School of Public Health, where he oversees enrollment management and student life. His research interests include leadership development, technology use, and workforce dynamics. He can be reached at whilton@drexel.edu.   ¦