iPhone GPS and the ideal classroom hand-held learning tool

 Google Earth, GPS, ICT, mobile, Neogeography, Photographs  Comments Off on iPhone GPS and the ideal classroom hand-held learning tool
Oct 262008
 

The aim of this review is to compare four different GPS applications for the iPhone. I selected them on the basis of generally positive reviews in the App Store, potential as an educational tool, and value for money. Over the course of preparing this piece, I had the opportunity to reflect on the perfect neo-geography iPhone application, and the ideal handheld learning device…

The applications on test are..

The applications on test

Each application was tested on a short bike ride around my block. I live in a rural part of the South West and phone reception is patchy – though actually O2 is the only carrier that works properly in my area. There’s no wifi or 3G reception and part of my route takes me through a GPS blackspot consisting of a lane with high banks and overhung with trees. I recorded a track and then uploaded it to the relevant web site. If the application permitted, I took  photographs and recorded waypoints.

The first application to be tested was My Moving Map website / iTunes

My Moving Map

This is a simple application that transmits your position to a website from which others can view your location, simply by entering your email address. It was extremely simple to set up and use. In operation, one merely taps the screen to broadcast the location of the device, which can also be seen on a Google map. The My Moving Map website not only offers a real-time map showing your location, that can be embedded in a blog (not WordPress I found) but also allows tracks to be downloaded as a csv file and KML for viewing in Google Earth. Here’s a map showing a recent walk during which My Moving Map constantly pinged my location.

Without the ability to create waypoints, the application is limited, but could be fun for certain classroom situations. You could envisage giving your phone to chosen students to go on various missions around the school while their progress is being tracked on the interactive white board. The application is is missing a software lock (necessary for all GPS applications on the iPhone) It didn’t seem to work well in my jacket pocket either. For what is does though this is a great application and well worth £1.19.

Next I tested RunKeeper. website / iTunes

RunKeeper

RunKeeper is a free application and simply records a track that is uploaded to an excellent website where it can be viewed on a Google Map and speed evaluated against altitude. The RunKeeper site also logs your trips. The track data is very accurate, but there’s no export option which is a shame as it precludes the use of sites such as Magnalox and GPS Visualiser. A software lock works well.

RunKeeper is very highly recommended and I’ll be using it frequently. I’m not convinced that there’s much value to the geographical curriculum though for a collaboration with the PE department it would be excellent. Ollie Bray has also reviewed this application and seems to be impressed. It would be my first choice for monitoring runs and bike rides.

Next up was EveryTrail website / iTunes

EveryTrail

This is a really useful application for geotagging photos. Just walk around and use the camera. At the end of the trip, upload the details to the EveryTrail website where it can be analyzed and viewed in a mumber of ways. The EveryTrail website is a popular resource among the geotagging community. See the details of my test here.

The GPS track was very accurate, the application has a software lock and is extremely easy and reliable to use.  The trail can be exported to Google Earth or as a GPX file. A great little application and definitely worth the £1.79. There is a real niche for this kind of application for fieldwork. I’d love to be able to add notes and recordings as well. The only other limitation is the notoriously poor iPhone camera!

Finally I looked at iTrail website / iTunes

iTrail

I really wanted to like iTrail, having chosen to review it ahead of the more expensive GPS Kit. Like RunKeeper, iTrail is a tracking application; it’s USP is that it also records waypoints. In practice I found it difficult to use. iTrail crashed on several occasions, and I was unable to complete a journey without experiencing a problem. I’ve had several attempts, but each have ended up in frustration. The programmer mentions on his site that iTrail is in constant development, which is encouraging news. There are two modes – Quick Trail – which you’d use if you just wished to monitor a walk or run (though RunKeeper would be a free alternative). In Trail Mode you can add waypoints (though not photos). I found the lock button worked sporadically, more often than not resulting in the selection of Quick Mode, after which it was confusing to regain Trail Mode. The application crashed several times when entering waypoint information. I’d like to see the lock button moved to a different part of the screen, and a button to toggle between the modes. When it worked, the GPS track was accurate, and the program does give you an indication of GPS strength. A strong point is the ability to export KML and GPX data formats direct to a computer (rather than a third party web site) I’m going to watch out for updates to iTrail, though at the minute I wouldn’t rely on it. I’d like to think that out of the four applications, this one has the most potential for further development.

Summary of features:

Conclusion: The best GPS applications on the iPhone are the simplest. There’s little point in pretending that the iPhone, in it’s current incarnation could possibly replace a specialized GPS device for serious navigation or field studies. Poor battery life and cost are just two of the constraints. (Hence this is a rather futile post, despite the hours spent in preparation!)  However researching the post has helped me draw up a specification for the ideal neo-geography iPhone application which would…

Record a GPS track
Display a live view in Google Maps (similar to the free Maps app)
Have a screen lock and dimmer to preserve battery life
Create waypoints
Able to annotate waypoints with short written notes
Able to annotate waypoints with audio recordings
Add photos to waypoints
Geotag photos
Export in KML format and GPX format
Offer tools for analysis of performance, speed, altitude etc

I’m looking forward to seeing which developer gets there first!

Although I’m really conscious of the fact that I’m in the fortunate position of owning an iPhone (though it’s on PAYG) the era of widespread adoption of handheld devices as learning tools in schools is clearly arriving. I don’t think that the web-book type devices currently popular in some schools are quite mature enough yet for really immersive geographical fieldwork. However I’m sure that altruistic Apple developers are working away to create the ideal classroom computer, in the form of a slightly enlarged iPhone/tablet device featuring the same touchscreen interface, a better camera (and video recording) and a long life battery. The device would incorporate all the functions of the iPhone and also suport Flash, Google Docs, Google Earth and optimized versions of iWork and iLife. Not much to ask for…

Sep 302008
 

“Can we do neo-geography this lesson?” asked a student today. Well no because it was supposed to be History. Nevertheless I’ve decided that I’d like my Year 7 students to be able to create an original map by the end of the term using Google Earth/Maps. The kind of map I envisage could include for example:

Hazards on way to school
Land-use in a rural area
Micro-climate study
Affective mapping of local area
Geo-located poems photos or artwork
Geo-located story
Guide for local visitors
A parkour / BMX / skate map
A “know-where” hang out map
A best dog walking route

For example:

map link

Thinking about the skill progression required to elevate younger students into fully qualified neo-geographers would go something like this: (some of the steps require just a few minutes to consolidate, others would need a lesson or two) Google Earth / Maps required!

  1. Find a place / use postcode look-up / search box
  2. Create a placemark / select appropriate icon
  3. Measure distance using ruler – e.g from home to school
  4. Create a path e.g from home to school
  5. Collaborate with others e.g. save placemarks / paths to a shared folder / collaboration tool in My Maps
  6. Organise the Places folder
  7. Use layers to add information to the map e.g roads / Wikipedia / Panoramio / 3d buildings / real-time data e.g weather / earthquakes
  8. Be able to turn terrain on and off and adjust exaggeration
  9. Take a photo with a phone / digital camera and upload to Flickr (issues in some schools – need for parent’s permission?)
  10. Add photos to a place mark (from Flickr  etc) using img tag (from Flickr)  <img src=” replace this text with the link to the photo “>  and use You Tube embed code to add video
  11. Create multimedia tours / be able to adjust tour settings
  12. Add polygons to represent land use / data etc. Be able to adjust colour and opacity
  13. Be able to import data from GPS (optional)
  14. Create simple geo-located graphs using Google Spreadsheets or even easier, Rich Chart Live (see this post)
  15. Complete a decision-making exercise using multiple data sources e.g my San Francisco lesson
  16. Understand relative advantages / disadvantages of different mapping systems for example by using Where’s The Path?
  17. Create a Google account (with parent’s permission) and be familiar with My Maps
  18. Create an original map as a final assignment. More able students could create Sketch Up models / use GE Graph / create overlays to demonstrate advanced neo-geography skills.

The core geographical concepts are based on location, scale and place. Students should be able to collect field data and create a map for a real audience. The learning sequence offers the opportunity for some highly personalised, participatory geography. The best outcomes would see students sharing their work on a blog or some other public community. Any thoughts?

Sep 182008
 

I’m exploring some ideas for a Neo-geography element to the geographical curriculum and created a new category for blog posts on the topic as I share my experiences from the classroom over the forthcoming months.

Neogeography at school

Neogeography at school

This week I deliberately used the term Neo-geography with my Year 7 class (11 years old). Over the course of two lessons we compared the merits of Google Earth/Maps and traditional Ordnance Survey paper maps.

Ed Parsons has commented on a recent BBC story highlighting the fears of the British Cartographic Society over “damage to future generations of map readers because this skill is not being taught in schools and people are simply handling geographical data” (err pardon – National Curriculum anyone?) Ed’s point that “one could argue for the need of a “new” cartography which adopts rather than ignores the capabilities of screen based maps to portray information dynamically” is a theme that is reinforced by the inspiring Richard Treves who I recently met at the Geo Education Summit at Google (and who drew my attention to Ed’s post)

Rising to the BCS’s bait, the students had little difficulty in identifying the merits of the two different approaches to mapping, indeed they showed rather more consideration of the issue than the Ordnance Survey reporting of the debate.  With no prompting at all, the students identified the principal advantages of Google Earth/Maps as:

1) Finding places quickly

2) Zooming in and out!

3) Display of geotagged photos (with GMaps Street View being a particular delight!) and 3D buildings

4) Display of real time information such as the weather

5) Free to use (though requiring a computer and the internet)

The Ordnance Survey map on the other hand offered the merits of reliability, light weight, plenty of detail, a key and cheaper running costs. The students were perfectly able to identify the user groups for the two different approaches to mapping. Ironically the Ordnance Survey advert featuring the mountain biker unintentionally reinforces the advantages of a Google Map – at least in one respect!

The students were delighted to learn that they were present on possibly the first outing of the  neo-geography word in a school classroom, and had little difficulty in appreciating the need for a term that describes the extraordinary potential of tools such as Google Earth to find out about, map and describe their world. The resolution of my school in Google Earth is sufficiently good that I can sit a student under a skylight in my room and locate them with a placemark accurate to centimeters. They gasped when they measured the distance from school to home – in centimetres, and enthusiastically collaborated on a map of their routes to school:

Routes to school

Routes to school

I’m not entirely sure that this activity was “damaging the future map readers”. Indeed they are really looking forward to recieving their Free Maps for School, thanks to the generosity of the OS. It would be great if we could have a copy of the local area as a KML overlay as well. In the meantime this site will have to do.