Thursday, July 24, 2014

Google Maps Engine Lite

Just over a year ago I wrote about using my favorite application of Google Maps--"GoogleTreks." GoogleTreks, a concept from the brilliant mind of Dr. Alice Christie, uses a Google Map for presenting student driven lessons geographically.  At the time, I had only created GoogleTreks using the "classic" version of Google Maps (tutorial).  Today, I am sharing my tutorial on how to create a GoogleTrek using Google Maps Engine Lite (tutorial).

Maps Engine Lite has a modern look and feel in comparison to the "classic" Google Maps.  Here are some of the positive features that I found enhanced my GoogleTrek:
  • You have the ability to add layers to the GoogleTrek.  I see this as a great way to diversify or group the stops on your GoogleTrek.  My initial thought is that you could create a Trek with multiple collaborators, each creating a layer geared toward their classroom, subject area, grade level, or even ability level.  Individually created GoogleTreks now become a shared work experience.
  • You are able to measure distances while creating the map (these do not stay on the map).

  • You are able to add directions to places/points of interest on your map.  These directions will appear in a new layer in the map navigation window.

  • You are able to view the data you put on the map (information in your marker windows) in the form of an organized spreadsheet.  This is very helpful in adding, deleting, sorting, and finding information that is included in the "stops" on your GoogleTrek.

  • You can add labels to your markers (name or description).

  • You are able to change the style of your markers to have a variety of looks:
    • individual style
    • uniform style
    • sequence of colors and letters
    • style by column data (shades of colors by range/category)

With change, there is always some area of concern.  With Maps Engine Lite however, I could only find one drawback in its abilities to create a GoogleTrek.  I have found that the lack of Rich Text features in the application is a major hindrance in creating fully engaging "stops" on a GoogleTrek.  It's been somewhat interesting to me to see how much I was affected by not being able to see bolditalicizedunderlinedhyperlinked, or colored text.  I was forced to add web URL's as long strings of text (or shorten them with goo.gltinyurl, or bitly) when referring cool websites, Web 2.0 activities, or when making source references.  This seemed like a tedious and unnecessary step when trying to incorporate outside sources.  Was this a "deal breaker" in using Maps Engine Lite to create my GoogleTrek?  No way!

Overall, I think the transition from the "classic" version of Google Maps to Maps Engine Lite when creating GoogleTreks will be positive.  Creating some new options for organizing your GoogleTrek may assist in diversifying the activity for students.  It's one more exciting "layer" to this already awesome concept for using Google Maps.


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