Thursday, September 11, 2008

Google takes geography to Alaska Bush

High school students and teachers in three Western Alaska communities will be touring the virtual globe with Google Sept. 16-19. A team from Google’s Geo Education program and the University of Alaska geography program will travel to Barrow, Kotzebue and Nome, to demonstrate technology that enables students and teachers to explore virtual worlds and even create Alaska content within Google Earth. The idea is to encourage teachers to incorporate new technology in their classrooms, said Mike Sfraga, director of the UA Geography Program and associate dean in UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

“This isn’t your grandmother’s geography class,” said Sfraga. “Students throughout Alaska can now see the earth in a dynamic format, manipulate the landscape, create maps, and take virtual tours of the globe. Our goal is to help teachers incorporate this resource into their classrooms without adding to their already busy schedule and ever-growing demands on their time.”

The students will participate in hands-on training to learn how to overlay existing information into Google Earth and create their own maps using the My Maps feature.

John Bailey with the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center introduced several students to Google Earth last spring. Students quickly figure out how to use the tools to benefit their own interests, said Bailey.

“Students love to view things in 3D,” said Bailey. “If they can fly around the slopes of Denali or tour down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon it seems so much more real than if they just view flat pictures on a screen. When you combine this landscape with features, such as placemarks, which have pop-up balloons that contain text and videos telling you about that mountain or canyon, you get a truly immersive multimedia experience. When students see this their eyes are really opened to the possibilities.”

The Google team is working on this project as part of the company’s 20-percent time program, in which employees are encouraged to use a portion of their normal work hours working on projects they are passionate about.

“At Google we’ve been very impressed by the creative ways that educators are integrating new technologies into their classrooms, and we started the Geo Education program to make it easier for teachers using Google Earth and Maps to develop lessons and share ideas,” said Anna Bishop, coordinator of the Geo Education program.

The team plans to document the trip on a Web site and post information about the educational modules and Alaska. The collaboration is partially funded through a grant from the National Geographic Society, which supports the K-12 outreach through UA’s geography program. “Technology is a critical component of education because it provides a comprehensive understanding of the world in which we live, and has become an essential skill set of the 21st century workforce,” Sfraga said.

Related links and information:
Google Earth educators' site
University of Alaska Geography
Blog for the Google Earth/UA Geography education trip to rural Alaska
"Google heads to Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome classrooms," the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Visit the Google Earth blog

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