The Rest of the NMC 1: Maps, iPhone and Games

My colleagues commented that some of the sessions were mislabelled (see below), but I was actually satisfied with what I got to see – which were some interesting examples of how new technology is playing out in the classroom

Maps & iPhone

Probably the presentation with the newest tech was Columbia’s iPhone project for mapping African American historical places in New York City. This was one which has been evolving over time for them. First that added some text, video and images (borrowing heavily from the NY Public Library archives), then they added a Google Map overlay…and then the iPhone. More interestingly, the entire site was built in Movable Type – but they did a lot of clever manipulation of the templates to make less of a blog and even more of a content managment system.

MAAP: Mapping the African American Past

Because iPhone already works well with Google Maps, they did not need to add too much to the backend, although they did create a Movable Type template which generates an iPhone friendly version for each page – if you go the Web site on an iPhone, you will go directly to the maps.

I had been seeing educational applications, especially for museums, incorporating mobile phones with GIS data, but this is the first iPhone version. It looks like the iPhone is that smart phone in the U.S. with wide enough acceptance to make it worthwhile for a U.S. academic institution. At Penn State, I know there are a few applications in agriculture and sciences as well as history. At one point, we had been thinking of using a guided tour of Penn State landscape features via a Palm Pilot, but this could be easily ported to the iPhone.

Mapping in the Humanities

As if that weren’t enough GIS, I went to the Mapping in the Humanities session lead by a panel of Princeton professors. This was a good panel if you were interested in some of the guts of GIS manipulation. For instance, we got a quick demo of ESRI.

I have to admit that for humanities, the big question is how you handle historical maps. The answer is that you use “custom tiles” from the Google Map API to build your own world. Apparently the historical maps of Venice are too difficult to align with modern Venice satellite maps even though both are fairly accurate.

The most memorable classroom application was a course in which students were able to travel to Venice over spring break and make blog entries about different historical sites. Another semester they got to go to Crete (and report on Venetian sites there). Myself, I’m thinking we can document some sites in Pine Grove Mills or Bellefonte.

Decision Making Seminar (actually Games)

The most misleading label for a session was probably the one about “Decision Making” in different courses (doesn’t that sound exciting?). Surprisingly this was a session about GAMES (I actually hit the mother lode). This presentation was done by a group out of the University of North Carolina Greensboro, who admitted that they had a lot of (ahem) budgetary support from the Provost, so everything was very WOW.

The highlight was a course in economics which was constructed as a game where students in the post-apocopolyptic Earth have to re-establish mini trading economies. Fortunately, they get rescued in the end. One module that was especially interesting was a game where students had to allocate resources to rescue a neighboring community from an incoming hurricane. Clearly, this game could have applications beyond economics, so the group said that they made it portable so that it could be adapted for other courses…good forward thinking.

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