From left Amy Rath, John Bailey, Sheila Dailey, and Alice Orlich take advantage of the neogeography lab.A lab in the UA Geography Program is opening new worlds to UAF students. The neogeography lab, just opened in the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP) building, makes Google Earth accessible and fun.
John Bailey, SNAP post doctoral fellow, was the inspiration behind the lab, which he envisioned as a place for students to create appealing dynamic visuals of geospatial data. “Google Earth is a virtual globe,” Bailey said. The opening of the lab, with its easy Google Earth access, was timed to coincide with a special topics course in neogeography being offered this spring.
Students in the course are using new Macbooks in the classroom, making for a more interactive experience, Bailey said. The lab hosts two large iMacs for the SNAP staff and students to use.
Marco Delgado, a junior geography student, said the new lab is useful for assignments. “It’s pretty fun,” he said. “The Macs have much more power.” He said he will likely make a habit of using the lab. “It’s a better working environment.”
In addition to boosting the geography classes, the lab is also a think-tank area for the SNAP crew. “It’s a brainstorm area,” Bailey said. “It’s a relaxing environment in which to create.” One entire wall is a whiteboard that can be filled with ideas and drawings. SNAP Director Scott Rupp based the lab on companies such as Google and Facebook that want to have creative places for people to work. “It’s a playful environment with bright colors and comfy couches,” Bailey said. “It’s low-stress.”
SNAP will eventually host brown-bag lunch sessions in the lab, opening the facility to partnering agencies so they can better understand the work that SNAP is doing.
“These tools, Google Earth and such, are not fads,” Bailey said. “These are real life tools that are going to aid people. They do things people would love to be able to do and they are user-friendly.”
Students who learn the skills gain an understanding and appreciation for how Earth looks from space. “That’s what Google Earth has brought to everyone,” Bailey said. “Ten years ago kids didn’t see their houses from space but now everyone does." That type of technology makes it easier to comprehend scientific visualizations without being a GIS specialist or a computer programmer, he said. It also empowers Alaska’s educational community to become skilled in these areas.
With Google Earth 5 people are beginning to see how they can improve their presentations. “It’s a way to present data in an innovative way,” Bailey said. When he does K-12 outreach to teachers and students his advice is that anyone can easily learn to use these tools to create engaging visualizations.
He sees a bright future for neogeography and added it is another exciting component of the geography offerings, added to human and physical geography. “This is interesting to people outside of the geography majors,” Bailey said. He predicted the lab and neogeography skill sets are going to be an important part of SNAP’s climate change work.
Visit John Bailey's website for Google Earth instruction in his Lunch on Earth series.
SNRAS offers new geography courses for spring, SNRAS Science & News, Jan. 6, 2010