Monday, March 16, 2009

The Crazy World of Twitter and Geography

Prior to this year, I had no idea what Twitter was, or how it worked. However, this new online digital landscape has provided another avenue for people to share their ideas. Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

It appears that most people don't really understand what twitter is. A funny overview from the Daily Show.

And why people love twitter....

And an even funnier version - The Trouble with Twitter....

So, what does Twitter have to do with Geography. As I have already discussed on a previous blog entry, 80% of all information on the internet is now stored spatially (by location). Where people 'twitter' and what they 'twitter' about, provides an excellent analysis of what is occuring in specific locations around the world. An example of this is the interactive Superbowl Twitter map put together by the New York Times. The relationships between what people were 'tweeting' about in relationship to the game, where they were 'tweeting' from, and what they 'tweeted' at each stage of the game could be discussed.

The combination of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) and locational information could prove to be a great relationship. The following article from Fortune Magazine Geography, Social Media and Breakfast highlights the movement towards representing the social media sites in a spatial way. The article discusses twittervision and its inventor, David Troy. Twittervision is a map that automatically updates with each tweet around the globe. The 3D version can be found at twittervision3D. (Along the same lines, check out Flickrvision using Flickr images and SpinvisionTv using YouTube).

As the article states, 'watching them (tweets) can quickly start giving you new thoughts about our common life with others on the planet'. Troy is working to take the concept further - to combine postings from Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other services in a single geographic interface.

So, what does this have to do with your Geography teaching? In particular, the impact that Twitter and other social networking sites have had on providing up-to-date information on natural disasters and world events has been quite remarkable. Disaster managers are beginning to see the benefits of Twitter and other Social Networking sites in saving lives.

Another example is SickCity, a new twitter mashup that uses twitter to map and track human health.

Practical examples on how to use Twitter in your Geography classroom are also available. These ideas - Twitter Alter Ego Idea - has been taking from a Geography Teachers blog - Living Geography. Another awesome example is found on, Using Twitter and Google Earth in the Classroom to Make the most of the weather. Finally, a great overview - Twenty-One Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom.

So, be it a little crazy or confusing, there are some great applications for Twitter in the Geography classroom. So, here I go.... to join Twitter..... and begin tweeting away.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Searching the Internet: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

Research is a large part of teaching humanities. However, 'Googling' a topic has now became a bad habit that I find I am often trying to wean my students away from. Google is a great search engine, and you can always find at least one or two sites, if you know how to search properly. However, finding one million hits when searching an environmental issue, is not efficient.

So, what do I do?

Firstly, I have been attempting to help my students search on Google effectively. The following Youtube clips will give you tips on how to search and research.

I have also discovered the following three search engines that provide a more visual, clustered or specific search on a topic. Used either together, or by themselves, I find these are much more effective in cutting down the search to something much more manageable for your students.

The first search engine is called Clusty. Clusty queries several top search engines, combines the results, and generates an ordered list based on comparative ranking. This "metasearch" approach helps raise the best results to the top and push search engine spam to the bottom. Clusty is unique because it groups similar results together into clusters. Clusters help you see your search results by topic so you can zero in on exactly what you’re looking for or discover unexpected relationships between items.

Visual Search: Search Me is a search engine that displays results not in the usual text-list format, but as a slick image gallery of actual Web pages you can flip through and filter results by topic. The site also allows you to narrow your search by looking at specific categories. I use this search engine myself, as a quick glance at the web page is useful. It is also a great search engine for those students who find a page full of text a little daunting. Search Me was listed as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2008, in the Time Magazine.

The Boolify Project: An Educational Boolean Search Tool is definitely one of my favourites. It is “an educational boolean search tool” that graphically depicts boolean or basic web searches. Users drag blocks depicting elements of search parameters (OR, AND or NOT) onto a display area and choose to a web (default), news or image search." The Boolify Project was established specifically for upper primary and middle school students; however, it is also a great tool for senior students. Teaching students to use 'and', 'or' and 'not' will also prepare students for many of the university data bases, if they choose to undergo further study. Boolify Yourself, an article in WorkLiteracy, provides an overview of how Boolify can be used in the classroom.

There are many more search engines available. It is a bit like choosing your favourite pair of shoes, whatever you feel like at the time... The Youtube below outlines some others that may be handy in the classroom....

So, check these out and let me know of any others by commenting below... Hopefully my students can find that research needle in the haystack.