Part 2: Fall 2015 Labs

28 Google Maps (custom) with Colin Connors — 11.06.2015

Collin-ConnorsIn the Active Teaching Lab on November 6, 2015, Colin Connors from Scandinavian Studies shared how he used Custom Google Maps to layer a sense of place onto his content and explained how anything that has a geographical component might benefit from Google Maps integration.

Key Takeaways

  • The “My Maps” option in Google Maps ( lets you add custom markers, photographs, and descriptions to Google Maps.
  • Think of using My Maps in your teaching as “annotating a landscape” for your students. For example,
    • show travel routes of different characters in a story with lines of different colors.
      draw lines to demarcate watersheds or neighborhoods
    • map out certain phenomena (trees, geological formations, architectural examples, etc.) for students to tour — or to add to
      show boundary change of political entities, or locations of important events.
  • Create collaborative maps that your students add to, in order to crowdsource the mapping of examples of course concepts in the world (see also the free and open-source
  • Give each class group their own Google My Map to fill out, then, as the instructor, export each of the maps as a KMZ file and open them in Google Maps or Google Earth to compare what each group mapped.
  • Images or videos connected to specific locations on the map can enrich students’ understanding of a landscape and events.
  • There are lots of cool things that one could do with maps – keep in mind your goals for your students when you choose what features to use or what to do with your geo-spatial data.
  • Consider assigning students to create their own annotated maps
  • A trouble is getting to a VERY specific spot – one tree vs. another tree, when they are only 2-3 feet apart. A photo on the map of the two trees can help identify which is which.
  • ARIS ( is a cool and easy to use, open-source iOS-only solution.
  • Getting a more expensive GPS unit that will get more precise coordinates
    Google Earth provides features similar to Google Maps, such as locating points and paths of interest. It also includes built-in data layers, more tools, features for imported data and images, and the ability to develop animated tours.
  • Google Maps will export KML and KMZ (compressed) files, if you are using customized icons, use KMZ.

If you’re interested in learning more to get up and running with Google Maps, watch the videos below and try stepping through the Google Maps worksheet we created for the session!

The Active Teaching Lab, a Faculty Engagement program, provides a safe space for structured explorations of cool teaching tools and techniques that your colleagues are using to engage students and teach more effectively. During the academic year, labs are held weekly and will be listed on the Active Teaching Lab page.

Colin’s Google Maps Story


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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