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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Enhancing Maps101’s Field Trips

This is an assignment (Assignment 3.1: Make a Mod) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to identify an existing educational intervention, identity some weaknesses and suggest some modifications to make it better based on ideas we explored about educational theories and proven methods.

The Learning Intervention

I discussed Field Trips in my post from Week 1. It’s a tool to help knit history and geography together by integrating text, maps, images and videos. I felt that it had potential to be better than a textbook, but in its first iteration, offered a very passive experience. Students click through numbered topics and occasionally watch a video.

The product is rather new and I have found no information about its effectiveness. I did find that the product is part of a “pivot” and update to the company’s base product “Maps101,” a database of resources for social studies, history and geography. Sadly, a discussion of the rebranding and product development seemed to focus on teacher, rather than learner, needs. The other key drivers were support for standards and the development of a modern and fun user interface. I did not find any discussion of learning theories or user engagement from the designer who shared these insights.

I think Field Trips could be enhanced with some active learning!

The Weak Points

I will focus on just one part of one Field Trip: the second element (Pin 2) called Geography of the Nile in the Field Trip titled Gift of the Nile (it’s a sample Field Trip, open to all). Here are the concerns I shared about this content in Week 1.
It [Pin 2] discusses how the river is formed by the merging of the White and Blue Niles. It goes on to mention some rapids [caused by cataracts] that are treacherous for boats at a location called The Giant Bend. I zoomed in and out on the map but could not find the two tributaries. Perhaps they were there, just not labeled? I could not find where the rivers merge or the location of The Great Bend. There is no search tool for the map. Even worse, the location “pin” for Item 2 on the map is not even on the river (see below)! A motivated learner would quickly jump to a search engine to find a better map of the waterways of Egypt!
Here's a refresher on the current interface and workflow. Students click through each piece of numbered content.

Overall interface and workflow for Gift of the Nile Field Trip
Here are details of the current map interface. Note the limited zoom tools and lack of a search box.

Limited Interactive Interface for Map Exploration
Suggested Active Learning Enhancements
  1. Give the students a search tool and a more complete set of "zoom" tools on the interactive map and ask them to find where the rivers merge. Ask them to explain, in general, why locations where rivers merge, are important. Ask them to give examples nearby or ones made famous around the world. (Three Rivers Stadium ring any bells?) 
  2. Ask students to ponder why the rivers might be called the Blue and White Nile. Have them offer up a hypothesis and a made up story of the names. Then, have them research the origin of those names to see if their hypotheses held any truth.
  3. Have students, again using the search tools, find the Great Bend and some of the cataracts. Ask them to consider how the bend and the cataracts might impact choices of where Egyptians live or work. There’s a great day vs. night set of satellite imagery of the area that helps reveal where the settlements are today. 
Why These Enhancements Might Work
  1. Having students seek and explore via an interactive (or even a static) map is active learning. Asking them to look at the merging of rivers in general ties what they are learning about Egypt to their general and perhaps local knowledge of rivers. This might be part of a reflection exercise, asking how the study of Egypt relates to their region.
  2. Hypothesizing about how physical features or their names appear is a kind of modeling. Constructing a story (constructivism), even a made up one, enhances build model building prowess. Identifying the “true story” can help students update their models and knowledge.
  3. Moving beyond the idea that that there are cataracts and a Big Bend helps push students beyond memorizing facts to more generalized knowledge of how physical geography impacts human geography. This is teaching for understanding, rather than just for content.
Being new to educational technology, I’m not aware of how similar interventions have panned out. Not only is Field Trips new, the underlying technology, story maps, is also new. In fact an example of embedding quizzes into story maps just appeared in August of this year. I’ll be curious to see if enhancements like those I’ve suggested are implemented in future editions.

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