Friday, October 5, 2012

Smart Educational Map Tool

I came across Gemma (Geospatial engine for mass mapping applications) by CASA at UCL.  Its a smart service well suited to educational use, it has three great functions available in order of priority:

  1. Easy to Build Mashups:  Enables the user to pull in useful thematic maps (from map tube) or other layers (from OpenStreetMap) and to create markers on top of them.  For example, you could map population density, show where tesco stores are and then tag interesting examples where tesco stores don't seem connected with high population.
  2. Greyscale Base Map:  One of my continual gripes about Google Earth/maps is that it isn't easy to avoid the visually busy satellite data/road base level data.  Gemma enables a greyscale map that allows location still to be seen but doesn't crowd out the view enabling the map producer to show more layers with clarity.
  3. Easily import in Mobile created data:  Its linked to an iPhone app so a student can collect data and easily feed it in.  I haven't checked out how this works but the idea is very promising.
The team deserves a big cheer IMHO.  I do have some grumbles:

  • Pull down options not search:  If its possible, I'd like to see the search option for OpenStreetMap replaced with a pull down menu as the default option, with a search available if you really want it.  Its a pain to have to guess what will pull up the right data, view the map, then go and delete the layer because it wasn't what you thought it was.
  • Layout:  I think the use of space could be more compact.  A lot of screen real estate is taken up by the header and the layers appearing at the bottom of the screen will also take up considerable space if you produce a number of them.  I found this old screenshot of Google Earth v4 (I think? - see below) which showed that their original design similarly lost screen real estate.  In the next version they abandoned the thick bottom panel after user comments.  

  • Simple Markers Needed:  The markers available are all complex visually with color grades and multiple colors.  This is OK for a few markers on a simple map but if you add in lots of markers then the screen will soon get busy visually.
However, overall its a great resource.  I notice that the project blog stopped in November almost a year ago, its a shame if there's no follow on funding to take it further and get it out of beta.

I usually promote Google Earth as the best tool for education, the three big pros of this project are something it would be great to see in GE in the future.