Geo-what?

According to the 2009 Horizon Report, “Geo-Everything” will significantly impact teaching, learning, research and creative expression within the next two to three years.  (The report covers 5 other technologies, but geo-everything is my favorite.)

What is it?

Geolocation (geocoding or geotagging) means using data about location, whether it’s where you are or where a photo or other data was taken.  Every place on earth has a unique set of coordinates (longitude, latitude and altitude) that can be detected by GPS receivers.  These receivers are now being included in many devices.

Geolocation is not new; people have been tracking their movements (and the movements of animals) for years. I’ve used a GPS device to record and create tracks of where I’ve been and to tag photos to map on Google Earth for several years. What is new are small, multifunctional devices like the iPhone that have GPS built in,  so it is easier to record or use location information. For example, students could be investigating the distribution of a plant species, or investigating medical care in an underdeveloped country.  Students can take pictures, video and record notes, while the device automatically records the location and displays it on a map. The new devices eliminate the need for a separate GPS unit while simplifying the steps to create annotated, precise maps.  The devices also allow communication based on location.  For example, imagine a student waiting for the C2 bus, worried about her German class.  The device in her pocket may let her know that someone within a few feet of her is also taking German and would like to practice German as they wait for the bus.

What are these devices?  Some are pictured here.  Wired has a comparison of 5 currently available devices, including the iPhone; it’s likely more will be available soon.

People are already using geolocation here at Duke.  For example,

For a more frivolous, but more concrete view of current possibilities, see Wired‘s description of 10 applications that make the most of location.

For a short description of how geolocation works and how it can be used in teaching, see the pdf “7 things you should know about geolocation”, or read more in the Horizon Report (pdf).

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.