For the Teacher

Preview of Main Ideas

In addition to consuming the information available from the web, people are actively producing, sharing and volunteering geographic information onto the Internet as well. Examples of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) include geotagged photographs, tweets with precise location in real-time, observed gas price at specific gas stations, etc. While there are valuable spatial data produced by citizen mapping for various applications, there are concerns about possible misuse of location tracking of the mapping citizens as well. This module will introduce the students to two key aspects of VGI: 1) its value as a tool for the rapid dissemination of information and 2) its potential risks in terms of personal privacy and safety.

Connection with the Curriculum   

  • These activities can be used in geography, social studies, and technology application classes.
  • These lessons are designed for upper-level high school, community college, and first and second-year undergraduate students.

Time Required

One to two sixty minute class periods for each Geographic Investigation lesson.

Materials

  • Computer with Internet access

Note: The computers will need the Silverlight plugin to complete Lesson 2

Preparation

These lessons use select web sources to explore examples of the use and potential risks of volunteered Geographic Information. The lessons are intended to illustrate how the geographer’s unique perspective - the “geographic advantage” can be applied to the understanding and analysis of VGI. Before leading students through the Geographic Investigation lessons, teachers should visit each website to 1) ensure that they are permitted (not blocked) by the school and 2) familiarize yourself with the information on each site.

Lesson 1: Mapping the World

Objectives

By the end of the lesson students will be able to:

1. Define VGI and give examples of its use for disaster relief.
2. Analyze temporal patterns and the role of social media during events such as the 2011 Egyptian protests and the Haiti earthquake during the same year.

Opening the Lesson

With students, brainstorm a list of recent serious natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake, Japan tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, U.S. tornados, etc. Challenge them to identify common issues faced by victims and relief workers in the aftermath of such disasters (getting food and other necessities to victims, getting medical help for victims, locating survivors, survivors cut off from relief by damaged infrastructure such as roads, etc.). Explain that this lesson will explore the growing role that social networking or “crowdsourcing” is playing in the implementation of disaster relief.

Activity 1: Mobile technology helps disaster victims worldwide

Opening the Lesson

This activity is based on watching and interpreting a PBS video about crisis mapping. Depending on class size and computer configuration, this can be done in a number of ways: the video might be projected on a classroom screen so that the entire class watches the video at one time or students might watch the video in small groups sharing a single computer. If there is enough space between these group stations, there shouldn’t be any problem with overlapping sound distraction. The video could also be assigned for homework prior to class.

After watching the video, discuss the questions that appear beneath the video link on the Lesson 1 web page. The discussion should include the idea that the text messages sent in Haiti were effective because they constituted “spatial data” which could be mapped and located. Explain that in the next activity they will have an opportunity to actually explore a map of crowdsourced data such as that collected in Haiti.

Activity 2: Geospatial exploration for citizen mapping in disaster relief

Opening the Lesson

This activity introduces students to Ushahidi, a platform that coordinates people's reports on incidents as they are happening. The information are compiled, in near-real time, and then mapped to show the information and its related geographic location. Begin the lesson by demonstrating the functions and information displays of the interactive demo. There is a link to this map on the Lesson 1 web page.

Developing the Lesson

As students explore the interactive map, they should answer the map interpretation questions. In addition to going over their answers to those questions, discuss in what incident(s) students would find Ushahidi useful in their community or in their daily activities.

Concluding the Lesson

Discuss the Student Response questions at the end of the lesson. Challenge students to identify historic disasters or events which might have turned out differently if crowdsourcing had been part of the cultural landscape at that time (eg., San Francisco earthquake, Johnstown flood, Custer’s “last stand”, etc.)

Assessing Student Learning

Create a document or media presentation that explains and provides examples of the use of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) to support and direct disaster relief.

Lesson 2: Mapping Citizen

Objectives

By the end of the lesson students will be able to:

1. Identify potential personal risks associated with VGI.
2. Identify strategies for protecting personal privacy while using social networking platforms.

Activity 1: How safe are your online public data?

Opening the Lesson

Begin the lesson by showing the video Staying Safe (Episode 3 of Geospatial Revolution).

Developing the Lesson

After watching the video, challenge students to identify the benefits and risks of location-enabled personal devices such as cell phones. One speaker in the video describes the 21st century as a “surveillance society.” Ask students what they think this means. As in the first instance, challenge them to identify the benefits and risks of the constant surveillance taking place in our world (satellites, drones, surveillance camera systems, airport screening, etc.).

Activity 2: Publicly available VGI and personal information

Opening the Lesson

The first part of this activity introduces students to GeoCommons, a mapping platform that can compile, query, visualize, overlay and analyze public VGI data with existing geospatial information. Begin the lesson by demonstrating the functions and information displays of the interactive GeoCommons map of “Tweets About Egypt demonstrations and Protests in January 2011.” There is a link to this map on the Lesson 2 web page.

Developing the Lesson

As students explore the interactive map, they should answer the map interpretation questions. In addition to going over their answers to those questions, discuss whether the Twitter map supports or challenges the concept of the Digital Divide. Also discuss how public awareness of current events is influenced by VGI such as Twitter.

In the second part of this activity, students will explore an interactive map of Twitter posts about the television program, Glee. Give students several minutes to explore the map, read some of the Tweets, and zoom in to see the location of the Tweets. Discuss student answers to the “Questions to Consider” beneath the Glee map.

Concluding the Lesson

Discuss the two Student Response questions about whether the benefits of VGI outweigh the potential risks. Poll students to find out if they will re-evaluate their own use of social media based on this lesson.

Assessing Student Learning

Create a document or media presentation that identifies ways in which personal information may be compromised through the use of social media such as SMS and Twitter.

Credits and References

  • Au, Vanessa (2009). Twitter Revolution. Flow, http://flowtv.org/2010/01/twitter-revolution-vanessa-au-university-of-washington/, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Blumberg AJ, Eckersley P (2009) On locational privacy, and how to avoid losing it forever. Electronic Frontier Foundation, http://www.eff.org/wp/locational-privacy, Accessed July 26, 2011

    Elmwood S, Leszczynski A (2011) Privacy, reconsidered: New representations, data practices, and the geoweb. Geoforum 42(1): 6-15

    Fletcher D (2010) Please rob me: the risks of online oversharing. Time Magazine, http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1964873,00.html, Accessed July 26, 2011

    GeoCommons (2011) Tweets mentioning #Egpyt #Jan25 #Tahrir http://geocommons.com/maps/74388, Accessed August 7, 2011

    GeoCommons (2011) Tweets That Mention Glee Oct 8-10 2010 http://geocommons.com/maps/89448, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Google (2009) Google Flu Trend: How does this work? http://www.google.org/flutrends/about/how.html, Accessed July 26, 2011

    Heussner, Ki Mae (2010) Celebrities' Photos, Videos May Reveal Location. ABC News/ Technology, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/celebrity-stalking-online-photos-give-location/story?id=11162352, Accessed July 26, 2011

    Lawton, Tait (2010) China's Digital Divide - Differences in Urban and Rural Chinese Internet Users. East-West-Connect, http://www.east-west-connect.com/urban-vs-rural-chinese-internet-users-2010, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Lohr, Steve (2011) Online Mapping Shows Potential to Transform Relief Efforts. New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/business/28map.html?_r=4 Accessed August 7, 2011

    MobiThinking (2011) Global Mobile Statistics 2011. http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Noula (2011) Cartographie De La Situation. http://www.noula.ht, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Open Signal Maps (2011) OpenSignalMaps http://opensignalmaps.com/, Accessed August 7, 2011

    Twitter (2011) About the Tweet Location Feature. https://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics/topics/111-features/articles/78525-about-the-tweet-location-feature, Accessed July 26, 2011

    Ushahidi (2011) The 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. http://haiti.ushahidi.com/, Accessed August 7, 2011

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