In our first post, Matt Lavin and I talked about using Skype and social annotating to create a course exchange between our first year seminars, both of which include questions about knowing and writing in a digital age.
For our second exchange, Matt set up a map on the same shared site for my students to use on an upcoming project, using the Wordpress plug-in Leaflet Maps Marker. The map Matt created allowed students to brainstorm ideas for a proposal paper, in which they suggest an improvement to the local Monmouth community. Students could suggest new businesses, community events, public works, collaborations with the college, ways of using or advertising existing resources more effectively, or anything that they think would strengthen our community.
Their papers will take the form of letters addressed to the City of Monmouth’s Community and Economic Development Coordinator, who visited our class for a guest lecture last week and will receive their final proposals. We hope that some of the students’ ideas might be compelling and feasible enough to actually implement, including suggestions to host a local arts festival, pave trails in an area nature preserve, or renovate a downtown building for a combination book, music, and coffee shop.
Each idea is marked as a pin on the map, identifying the location of their proposed change. Students walked around downtown to find buildings for sale, sites for events, or open spaces so they could pinpoint a particular building or location for their proposal. Using Maps Marker, students could also include a brief description of their idea, illustrating it with icons and images.
After each student posted three ideas on the map, Matt Skyped in to give a mini-lecture on data visualization, looking at our collaboratively-authored map as an example. Matt talked about ways that data visualization help us to communicate complex ideas efficiently and effectively with our audience, and give that audience more agency as an active interpreter of that information. We watched excerpts from PBS's The Art of Data Visualization and a TED talk by David McCandless on The Beauty of Data Visualization. Then, we talked with Matt about why pins clustered in certain areas, who might be the audience for the map, and how that audience might interpret the map.
Our map helped us uncover a story about the relationship of downtown Monmouth to Monmouth College, as well as a story about foot traffic from one location to the other. Somewhat surprisingly, it also initiated a conversation about the decline of the traditional American town center and the rise of shopping centers and strip malls.
During this class period, we also introduced our next project, “Getting To Know You,” which we’ll post about soon!