Monday, January 19, 2009

What Really Is Geography These Days?

Yesterday I began planning my first semester of Year 11 Geography. I have allowed the first week to introduce and discuss the idea of 'What Geography is?' before launching into a study of natural environments. Introducing the concept of what geography actually involves is quite different to when I was at high school, or university, or even when I first started teaching.

This is due to the fact that geography and location has become such an important part of organising information on the internet. Rather than searching for a fish and chip shop in the yellow pages, you go to Google Maps, type in 'fish and chip shop' and see which are closest to you. At a recent conference, the keynote speaker quoted that 80% of all information on the internet is now organised spatially. This will only increase as more and more data is added.

An example of spatial organisation of data is a site called '80 Million Tiny Images'. This is a visual (and spatially organised) dictionary of all nouns in the English language. The nouns are arranged by semantic meaning; they are clustered according to broad categories such as plants or people, and then tighter groupings such as flowers or trees. These semantic groupings allocate their spatial location on the page. The creator even uses the word 'map'. A large number of images are then linked to each word. Simple click on the 'map' and the word with associated images will appear. You will notice that they are clustered together according to spatial location and relationships, rather than alphabetically.

Another example is a site that has been put together by marumushi. Marumushi is a design engineer who has an interest in playing with and visualizing lots of data. His site 'Newsmap' is an application that visually reflects, according to category and location, the changing landscape of world news. The map dispalys and reveals patterns in news reporting across countries and the the nature of the most popular headline at the time. This site is great to use in senior geography, to discuss events that have occured, if they have been reported on, and by which countries. You are able to look at a global view, or specific countries such as Australia, the US and the UK. The differing colours on the site represent different news categories, and the larger the writing, the more it appeared in news headlines.

Finally, a third site that organises data and information in a spatial way is 'Buzztracker: World News, Mapped'. Buzztracker is a software that visualizes frequencies and relationships between locations appearing in global news coverage. It is also great as it shows how interconnected the world is. "Big events in one area ripple to other areas across the globe. Connections between cities of thousands of miles apart become apparent at a glance". You will need to remember however, that this site only tracks English-language news sources. A link is provided to add buzztracker to your own site, something to think about putting onto your Geography blog or wiki at school.

These are only three of the many tools that allow you to search or organise information according to spatial location. Others include Tag Galaxy, Arc, Kartoo, Flickr, News Spectrum, Bigspy, Stack, Swarm, Think Map Visual Thesaurus, Google News Cloud and Searchme Visual Search. These are all great sites so take the time to check them out.

The You Tube clip below was a great example of the way in which many of the tools listed above represented the Iraq War. Have a look...

So, to introduce my class to Geography I will use my stock standard content and activities. But I will also emphasise the role of geography and location in organising information, the role geography plays in our everyday lives, and how we are becoming more and more reliant on spatial organisation of information.

That should get some minds thinking.....

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