Visualizing Data with Google Maps

A picture of a map of an unidentified space with a large red pin marker stuck in the center of the map's area.

Visualization: Sierra Mendez. Text: Amy Tuttle.

It’s hard to believe that at one time, map ownership was a privilege reserved for the wealthiest members of a society. But thanks to modern surveying techniques and satellite systems, highly precise maps are widely available on the internet. As a result of this ubiquity, maps have become absolutely critical in many fields of human endeavor.

With a few clicks of a mouse, Google Maps will allow you to explore the earth, the moon, and Mars. In fact, Google Maps might be an ideal tool to help students understand geography concepts, map reading, location, and distance measurement.

Here’s what Google Maps has to say on their educational website about using their maps in classrooms…

You can use Google Maps with your students to:

  • Create collaborative maps
  • Create a campus or school district map
  • Create a family heritage map
  • Get walking directions
  • Plan a trip using public transportation
  • Get biking directions
  • Add or edit places on maps for your community
  • Compare neighborhoods and communities across the world
  • Understand traffic patterns
  • Use maps as writing inspiration

In other words, by incorporating activities involving Google Maps into a classroom, it’s possible that you may inspire students to investigate the world and to think spatially about it.

Above, you’ll see a screenshot that links to collaborative map that we created as part of one of our Friday workshops. The same map is embedded below, but we created a more stable link due to browser incompatibility issues. (As a side note about Google Maps, Google is rather proprietary about the ways in which their tools work–or don’t–with tools that have been developed by other companies.) Each of the markers on the map of our campus represents a geographic location visited by one or more of the DWRL’s staff members during a data gathering exercise. What’s more is that each of these map markers is a clickable link that directs the user to photographs taken by our staff members on the day of our excursion in the precise geographic locations represented by the markers.

While its tone is more whimsical in nature than scholarly, we hope that our efforts demonstrate the possibility for some of the kinds of academic work that can be accessed through a tool like Google Maps.

Want to know how to add images and video to Google Maps? This handy tutorial video will get you started.

Want to know how to use Google Maps in the classroom? This video outlines five different project ideas.

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