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creative cartography training exercises?

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#1
David Medeiros

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I feel like I've asked this question before but can't find it my list of old topics.

 

I'm looking for suggestions on ways to create interactive or hands-on learning exercises in cartographic design for GIS without requiring the students to have any particular software to use.

 

I have a standard cartographic design lecture for GIS users that I've given a few times. I usually don't have enough time to let the students run through any labs or computer exercises, but I prefer to have the class be as interactive as possible rather than just a lecture. I typically ask a lot of questions, have students look at some sample maps, call out design issues and make suggestions for improvement.

 

One exercise I do has students take 8-10 seconds to quickly look at a sample map with no type hierarchy and count out the number of lakes they can find by label, then have them repeat this on the same map with labels symbolized by feature type to demonstrate visual hierarchy and the power of using type styles to set that hierarchy.

 

Another exercise has them look at a map with an incorrect legend for the type of data in the  map (ordered quantitative data, qualitative legend) and have them suggest a new legend - this is a little tricker than it sounds because the legend is also divergent in a sense (High, Fair, & Low suitability - Unsuitable).

 

I'm looking for other creative ideas on engaging a class in cartographic design topics without the need to have them work on editing a sample map. 

 

Any ideas you have or great exercises you've used in the last would be helpful. I'll try to post back here anything else I come up with as well. 

 

Thanks all!

 

David

 

 


GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#2
Daniel Huffman

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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!



#3
David Medeiros

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Those are excellent ideas!

 

I especially like the first one, having them sketch out a complex map to see what each person picks up on as the most important and expose them to VH. Exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. It involves observation and critical thinking about the map itself and puts the student in direct connection with the idea of an intellectual hierarchy as part of the VH since they will in a sense have set that hierarchy up in their minds as they observed the map and prepared to re draw it's most important elements.

 

Would you leave the map up for the entire exercise or ask them to spend a couple of minutes examining it before taking it away and having the start sketching solely from memory?

 

I also really like the type and color connotation exercises.

 

Thanks for the inspiration!


GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#4
Daniel Huffman

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I think you could do it either way, but I'm inclined to leave it up the whole time. They'll only have a few minutes, so they're still going to be making choices about what to keep (consciously or otherwise). But it would be interesting to try it each way and see what works better.



#5
Dennis McClendon

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I'm a big fan of passing out tracing paper for similar exercises.  Even just giving them an every-street map of the town, and having them compile an arterial-level map that would work when reduced to 50 percent will teach cartographic concepts without getting bogged down in technique.  Tracing is much less intimidating than sketching, and much more like digitization.


Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
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#6
David Medeiros

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Tracing paper is a good idea. I wonder if that would effect the outcome of the experiment though? Would you be more systematic if tracing rather than sketching? Starting from the bottom up rather than from what you noticed first?

 

I may also suggest that willing participants bring in maps of their own they'd like to discuss. Has anyone ever done this?


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#7
Dennis McClendon

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Sounds like you are thinking more about straight observation and perception, while I was jumping straight to compilation and production as a way to deeply absorb those concepts.  It's one thing to have a participatory visual exercise, but it's another thing to suddenly realize what you don't know and what decisions you have to make.  I was just worried that sketching—almost as much as using a particular software—puts the emphasis on a particular skill (freehand drawing) that's really not what they need to learn.  Tracing focuses the exercise on judgment, selection, and representation.  (Use Post-It notes or tape to keep the tracing paper from sliding around on the maps).

 

Bringing in maps isn't a bad idea, but I worry that today's students simply have no idea where to get paper maps.  They're certainly not likely to have them lying around their dorm rooms the way I did.  I know a lot of instructors ask students to find maps online to illustrate various concepts, but I worry that's more about the students' search skills than about comparing the purposes and features of lots of maps.  Better, I think, for you to put together a box (or a Tumblr) of maps of all types for them to compare and contrast.


Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
chicagocarto.com

#8
David Medeiros

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Yeah, I'm looking at the experiment as a way to expose them to the idea of visual hierarchy, it's influence on what we perceive as important in a map, and what we might not even notice about a map unless specifically asked to look for it.

 

I should say that what I'm preparing is actually a workshop for GIS professionals, not students. So I was imagining they might have current projects they'd be interested in discussing.


GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 





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