I'm five lessons into the Google Maps MOOC (Mapping with Google), which I am taking more to learn about how Google is teaching the course than for improving my aptitude with Maps or Earth. With the boom in massive open online courses (MOOC), I find it instructive to understand how geospatial technology is presented to the masses. Note, both Penn State (See 1, 2) and Pace University are planning GIS MOOCs with the intent to reach beyond just geography majors and introduce geospatial technology to a broader community that may have little access to current geospatial technology
But Google undoubtedly has reach. And it has an opportunity to indeed teach more people with their mostly free mapping tools than any geospatial software company.
While running through each lesson, I was struck by how much I would have benefited from this type of course in fifth grade. I hope K-12 teachers use this course either as a teaching tool or to introduce it as part of their lessons to examine history and current events. The recently released version of Google Maps has purposely integrated the exploration of satellite, map, photographic (Think Panoramio) and ground-based (think StreetView) imagery much easier and with additional annotation.
The basic curriculum of each unit of Mapping with Google is:
Watch a video or read the text version
Do the homework
Take a quiz
Each unit probably takes about 20 minutes on average for the student to progress diligently. The tasks go from the very basics of searching for information to creating a video tour of Placemarks that are saved by the user.
Four Things That Struck Me
The integration of information is stunningly good.
I felt like I was back using MapInfo 2.0 because of how it was teaching me to import data and perform geocoding.
Collaboration and sharing map projects is easy with Google Docs
This is a wonderful advertisement for Google's tools
Google has always said that its mission was to "organize the world's data." It has gone beyond that deliver contextual and geospatial awareness to those that want to "learn the Google Way." I'm always cognizant of being in the Google environment. Maps and video tours, for example, can be shared on Google+ or KMLs directly uploaded to Google Docs quickly.
In Google Maps Engine Lite, importing data for geocoding was very straightforward but correcting for erroneous fields was downright elegant. Importing data from CSV,XLSX, other maps previously created in Maps Engine Lite (a really nice feature) or from Google Drive is standard. Google Maps Engine Lite imports only the first 100 rows from a spreadsheet, however. To correct errors where data were not geocoding correctly was easily fixed by going directly to the "Data view" that brings up a spreadsheet. Rows with errors were already highlighted. So, amending a bad postal code or address "on the fly" will immediately update the map. Gone are the days of re-editing a spreadsheet, uploading it to the mapping program and re-geocoding. This was probably the most impressive part of the course so far. Watch the 5-minute video below to see how its done.
Changing styles and colors for lines and points are pretty much standard if you've done mapping before. Styling map features (e.g. all school buildings) so that each will be automatically updated with the same icon, etc. is also easily accomplished. Again, the integration with Google Docs, other maps created with Map Engine has benefit if you are standardizing on Google's array of tools including social media.
The new Google Maps is not as "slippy" as the old slippies. I'm using a 6-month old Samsung laptop running 6Mb download speed and it hesitates sometimes in moving the map around.
During the course, even I got confused going between Google Maps, Google Maps Engine Lite and Google Earth. Not everything is integrated. If you want your map created in Maps Engine Lite to display in Google Earth, you'll still have to export it to KML.
Google Maps Engine Lite is a basic mapping tool. Simple and easy to use with some nice bonus features for importing and displaying data. However, it's not yet integrated with Google Fusion Tables which has many excellent charting and, for lack of a better word, "business intelligence" tools.
Google will be releasing its next units soon. Watch for more announcements.
Bottom Line ... so far
If you are a GIS mapping professional, take the course. Don't turn your nose up until you've given this a fair shake. Google has taken the time to understand some of your most basic tasks. If you are new to using mapping technology, it may be confusing because these basic tasks like importing data can be challenging if you never thought about doing this before. With tasks like "geocoding" take the time to understand the workflow, but I think the tutorials walk you through slow enough to get you up to speed.