Assignment Spotlight: TimeMapper

Beck Wise

Assignments, Locative Media, Pedagogy, Tools

When the DWRL staff started talking about preparing digital lesson plans for new instructors teaching first year composition in our classrooms, one of the first tools we settled on was TimeMapper. This free and open-source tool allows individuals and classes to quickly and easily build timemaps: timelines with associated geodata, in which every data point is mapped to both its temporal and physical location. It’s fun and accessible, and it builds on the DWRL’s long history of research in locative media, including our past GeoEverything project. And it’s already proving a success in our classrooms.

I designed a lesson plan that has students work individually or in small groups to build a single, class-wide timemap documenting the scope of an issue, and provided reference handouts for both instructors and students that detail the process of creating a TimeMap from start to finish. While the lesson was designed with digital classrooms in mind and allied with the theme of the 2015-16 FYC class here at UT, it is readily adaptable to BYOD classrooms and classes with different foci. TimeMapper has been used in two DWRL classes so far this semester, Kirsten Meemann’s FYC and Regina Mills’ Mexican American Literature. We asked both of them to reflect on their uses of TimeMapper in the classroom.


Regina: Putting Literature in Context

TimeMapper was perfect for my Mexican American Literature class. I used this resource to fulfill my class goals of being able to “contextualize a text using knowledge of political, social, and cultural history” and to “recognize the themes and lines of conversation and debate within the Mexican-American community, particularly in Texas, and the US at large.”

My course theme is “Tejana/o Literature on the Border” and so we used a class period to create a TimeMap of Texas-Mexico border history. I came up with 46 events that seemed key to border history and assigned each student two events each. For homework the class before, I assigned them to come in with some research already done on their events so that they could get to writing in class right away. I made available to the students the handouts that the DWRL (Beck) offered to the FYC instructors. Overall, it was an engaging activity that made the students experts in two particular events. I planned to refer back to it more over the semester (which I think I can do better on the next go-around) but overall, the experience was worthwhile for my students.

There are a few things I would reconsider for my next use of TimeMapper. First, my class meets for 50 minutes, three times a week; so in the future, I’d either want to give a 75 minute class period or perhaps even two class periods (one full class period for work, one split into ½ work time, ½ class discussion about the TimeMap) to the task. Second, I would really like to use this as an opportunity to work hands-on with the UT databases early. While I didn’t give students much direction on what resources to use in their research, next time I’d like to mandate that they use some of the on-line encyclopedias through sources like Gale Virtual Reference Library to show them a good place to get the basics of historical, political, and social events.

Lastly, because I didn’t plan on doing this until a week or so before my class was assigned to do it, I felt like the events I choose were far too focused on military history and court cases. While I did try to include the publication of feminist magazines, important organizations, etc., these events were the easiest to find and research. Also, some important events (particularly those that occurred in Mexico) did not have a lot of English-language resources available. However, this did lead to a wonderful conversation about who can access what knowledge and how knowledge produced in English is privileged.

My only other caveat would be that while TimeMapper seems like an easy plug-and-chug resource, little things (like students trying to enter too many hyperlinks or trying to enter in their own latitude or longitude) can ‘break’ the TimeMap, so you’ll likely need to troubleshoot a bit. In addition, last time I checked my class’s TimeMap, the geodata wasn’t working (this seems to be an issue with the formula used to take data from MapQuest). But that’s the risk with open-source material and the experience itself was worthwhile for my students and me.


Regina Mills is a PhD student studying Ethnic and Third World Literatures in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin.

Kirsten: Mapping Police Killings

The TimeMapper activity is a great way to have students get a better understanding of any topic, experiment with a fun online tool, and engage with each other. I did the activity in Unit 1 of my Rhetoric 306 course to foster my students’ understanding of what it means to map a controversy (which is their task for essay 1), and to visualize a given topic. Also, this was a nice way to have students get to know each other better as they had to collaborate and coordinate as a group.

I selected the topic “Police killings of black men,” specifically the killings of four black men, because it fit well with the overall course topic on race and criminal justice. I divided my students into four groups and assigned each group one incident the class day before we created the time map. I asked them to do some research and collect data points/facts on a Google Doc sheet beforehand, so that we were able to start with the creation of the map right away on the next day of class.

For my next time using the TimeMapper, I would change a couple of things. First, I would take the time of two 75-minute classes for the activity. On the first day I would explain the TimeMapper website, show them an example, and explain to them how to fill in the excel sheet that has the information for the content of the actual time map. Students seem to need a thorough explanation of the concept of the TimeMapper and detailed instructions on how to fill in the sheet, so I would spend additional time on that to ensure everyone’s understanding of the activity. Then I would give them time to work in groups on selecting and finding data points for the rest of class time.

Second, I would discuss with them what type of data points and information we are looking for and how to include the geodata (which didn’t work for most of my students). Since I didn’t give my students specific instructions on what information they should search for, they seemed to struggle a bit at first which slowed down the process of collecting data points. Therefore, I would provide clear instructions and examples for my next use of the TimeMapper.

Overall, creating the TimeMapper activity was a great experience and my students enjoyed it. They liked visualizing the issue of police killings and found it easier to relate the different incidents to each other after seeing the final product with its various data points and descriptions on the screen.


Kirsten Meemann is a PhD student studying sociolinguistics in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin.


We’ve uploaded the lesson plan and handouts that Kirsten and Regina adapted to the site under a CC-BY license. Please feel free to adapt them for your own classes — and let us know how you do! You can open discussion in the comments below, or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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