Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where in the world... Geotagging and Flickr

This will probably be the last post on the educational uses of Flickr, and tools like it, before the holidays. I have a few more posts up my sleeve on this topic which I hope to pick up again at the start of the new session in August.

The missing piece
The missing piece,
originally uploaded by Esther17.

As I said in my last EduFlickr post, I had intended to talk about geotagging but got sidetracked! So this is the slightly delayed geotagging post. I will spend a good bit of this post explaining what geotagging is and giving examples of its use. However, I will try to make the educational potential clear throughout.

Firstly then, what is geotagging? A tag is simply a word, or short phrase used to identify an item. Any item can be given one or more these tags and the tags then help to categorise and identify the item. This in turn allows you to search for items using these tags. For example, I found the picture of the jigsaw piece because I searched for pictures with the tag "lost", but the picture is also tagged with "blue", "texture", "random" and "missing", among others. Normally the person creating or providing the item chooses the tags.

Ewan McIntosh at JordanhillGeotagging simply involves using an agreed way of tagging items to add geographical location information. For example, if you look at this picture of Ewan taken while he was speaking to our students, you will see it has a number of tags but in particular, it has the following three:
  • geotagged
  • geo:lat=55.884582
  • geo:lon=-4.340002
The first one, geotagged, simply indicates that the item (a picture in this instance) includes tags specifying its geographical location. The next two tags, geo:lat and geo:lon, indicate the latitude and longitude of the item. In a sense, that's all there is to it. You use a standardised set of tags to identify where a picture was taken. (Wikipedia has a longer entry on GeoTagging if you need a more extended description.) So why is this useful?

Firstly it is useful because you can tap into a number of tools that make use of this standardised way of tagging photographs. For example, since we have identified where the picture was taken, we can look at that location on a map, so in the text under Ewan's picture it says:
Click here to see where this photo was taken. By courtesy of BeeLoop SL (the Mapware & Mobility Solutions Company)
When you follow the link on the word here, you are shown that location on Google Map. Are you going on a school trip, or conducting a local area study, or having a treasure hunt, or...? How useful would it be to be able to show photographs of these activities linked to a map location?

David Stow Building, Jordanhill Campus, University of Strathclyde in GlasgowWith a bit more effort, you can give even more detail. If you have Google Earth installed, you can fly to the location specified by the geotags. With the addition of a few more tags, ge:titlt, ge:head and ge:range, you can specify a direction and angle of view to give a real sense of where the photographer was standing when the picture was taken. Go to the page for the picture of Jordanhill shown here and try the fly to this location link (assuming you have Google Earth installed). Interesting - yes?

Students could use geotagging to tell a story of their life and illustrate it with pictures that are linked to important locations. Or they could survey the land use in an area and take illustrative photographs. Or they could provide a photo itinerary for a school coming on an exchange visit. Or... you get the geotagged picture? :-)

Now, I admit that all the numbers next to these tags look a bit scary. Is it reasonable to expect younger children (or even some older students) to be able to create and add tgeotags? I think the answer is, "yes", because there are a range of tools that are designed to help people find and add this geotags to images. One solution would be to use a portable Global Positioning System (GPS). Perhaps few schools currently have access to this technology, but it is being built into an increasing range of devices (including cameras and mobile phones) and is becoming more and more affordable.

However, since I do not have a GPS system, I use some free tools that are available on the Internet instead. To find a location on Google Map and jump to it from a photograph, I use Geotagr from BeeLoop. It is stunningly useful - just scroll around the map provided and zoom in until you can accurately position yourself. The tags are created for you and you can copy and paste them into Flickr. It also provides text, complete with links, for you to copy and paste into the photograph's description.

Flying to a location and facing in the right direction on Google Earth is slightly more complex, but an excellent tool, GETrackr, does most of the hard work for you. (See also FlickrFly for an explanation and examples.)

As well as tagging their own images, students can of course tap into a wealth of images that other people have already geotagged. For example, search for the geotagged tag, or go to one of the many Flickr geotagging groups (for example FlickrFly and GETrackr).

So, what do you think of geotagging? Does anyone have any examples of classroom uses?

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Andy Watson said...

Thanks for all the stuff you've been posting on Flickr. It's one of these services that's easily dismissed as photo storage but you've shown that there's much more to it and that there is considerable potential within education.
All we need now are some practical examples from schools to show how Flickr can enhance different areas of the curriculum.

I'm looking forward to the next in the 'Flickr series'.

David said...

Hello Andy

I'm glad you are enjoying the series and learning some new stuff too.

I agree with you about the examples. I'd love it if people tried out some of this stuff and shared the results here. I know that some of the ideas I'm describing have worked with our students, but it'd be good to know if it works in schools with pupils.