A very timely topic, at least for me! This semester, I'm trying to introduce more of this sort of stuff to my intro cartography course. I've always had a few interactive bits, but I really want to push this year to do a lot more. All of my students have bought composition books ("carto-journals"), and we're going to do 1–2 in-class exercises per week. I haven't actually come up with all of them yet, but I've planned a few. The first two we did were simple writing exercises. On day 1, I asked them to think about what characterizes something as a map. I used to just ask them aloud and wait to see who answered, but having them write for 5 minutes gives them space to think and come up with more (both in quantity of answers and thoughtfulness of answers). On day 2, before we began to delve too deep into projections, I first asked them to look over some various maps and comment on the kinds of things they see being distorted, so that they become used to paying attention to those things.
Other exercises I've been planning (or have done some variation of in the past, though without the journals) include:
• Showing them a fairly complex, multi-layered map, and asking them to quickly reproduce it as a sketch in their books. In the short time, different people are probably going to pick out different layers of the map as important, and we can talk about this in terms of visual hierarchy...what things popped out to you, what things seemed less important and weren't sketched? Etc. My teaching assistant, Chelsea Nestel, came up with this. She said that she'd had an art class in which they had to sketch a famous work, and it was a valuable exercise that forced people to break down what it's made from.
• As it sounds like you do, we have a map critique in my lectures. I show a map on the screen and we often get a good discussion going about what we like and what we don't and how it could be fixed. I also make them once per semester go and pull something out of the map library and write a bit about it.
• Tanya & Bill Buckingham have each done some interesting exercises with students, where they send people out to do things like "map the unseen" — people will go around and map a part of campus, but in a non-traditional non-straightforward way. They might map it from a bee's perspective, showing where flowers are, or from the perspective of someone with limited mobility, showing the places they can and can't go. I'm hoping to do something similar, though weather may confine us to wandering around a single floor of our building instead. We can also use it as a basis probably for talking about generalizations—which things did they include, how did they simplify things? Do they wish they'd thought of the idea of simplifying this or that? In what ways is the map unrealistic? My lecture room has a document camera, so we can actually show their maps when discussing.
• I've done some typography exercises in the past that have been pretty fun and the students have liked. We spend a lot of time in my class talking about the choice of typeface and how each carries an aesthetic, a mood, a message that can go with your map or clash with it. I gave them a couple of sentences and pointed them to some font sites and asked them to find typefaces that seemed suited to those sentences. And then I did the reverse and gave them a typeface and asked them to find some words that seemed to pair with it. They had a lot of fun discussing their choices and critiquing them.
• We've also done a similar thing with color palettes. Marty Elmer came in last year and showed them some color selections and we spent a few minutes writing the associations we had with each color scheme. Tunes people in to the consequences of the choices they make, and also highlights the subjectivity of it all.
I'll be coming up with more as the weeks roll on. Check back with me in the summer!