Google Earth is a 3D geospatial application that uses satellite imagery, aerial photography, and an extensive amount of user-contributed data to display geographic information about our planet. With its many interactive features, including the ability to create and upload content, Google Earth promotes knowledge sharing, collaboration and research development.
KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is the file format Google Earth uses to display geographical data such as placemarks, paths, and lines. Users can easily create their own kml files and share them with others to view in Google Earth and other mapping software.
Note: A KMZ file is a compressed version of a KML file. Google Earth can open KML and KMZ files if these files have the proper file name extension (.kml or .kmz) [i].
Google Earth users can fly anywhere and search through a wealth of information readily available in the Layers panel, including near real-time NASA data, geo-coded NY Times news, Street View photos, earthquake locations, and updated weather conditions. Google Earth also includes other layers with integration to sites, such as Panoramio, Wikipedia and YouTube which display photos, articles and videos geo-tagged by users around the world.
The Ocean Layer, new in version 5.0, features a number of underwater explorations.
There are also thousands of 3D buildings and models available, from the Empire State Building to the Roman Colosseum in Google Earth. Users can view real-world representations of buildings that have been created by others or create some of their own. Google SketchUp (http://sketchup.google.com/) can be used to design and build 3D models and then users can submit their design to the Google 3D Warehouse (http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/) to see if it meets eligibility for inclusion in Google Earth’s 3D Buildings Layer.
Professor Betsy Sigman has used Google Earth in a mash-up with her own data on AIDS centers in Africa. Starting with a simple Microsoft Access database, she exported her data to XML, then CNDLS helped her to write a XSL transform (an XML document that serves as a template for turning one kind of XML into another) to generate a KML document from the data that would be readable by Google Earth. Since she had no geographical data associated with the information in the Access database (locating these centers throughout Africa was part of the assignment she wanted her students to do), she wrote the transform to arbitrarily place the markers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Her students were then able to use Google Earth’s tools to quickly assign each center to its correct location. Now she has a geo-located dataset that is useful in new ways.
Google Earth has also been used in foreign language classes for students to gain real-world perspective and deepen geographical and cultural understanding. Instructor Laura Weiss in the Spanish and Portuguese department has her students re-map Che Guevara’s journey throughout South America based on the film, “Diarios de Motocicletas” to help learners better visualize his journey. To achieve this, students plot each of Che’s travel locations by creating placemarks with text descriptions and embed voice annotations, images, and/or video clips in the target language. Students save their files in .kmz format and send them via Blackboard to their instructor.
“Students find this exercise to be extremely rewarding. They’re always so amazed to find out how far Che actually traveled and really enjoy exploring all the different localities in which the [Spanish] language is spoken.” ~Laura Weiss
Google Earth is a great tool to use to promote active learning, constructivism, and project-based learning.
Check out the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s “7 Things You Should Know About Google Earth” to gain additional information on using Google Earth for educational purposes.