Blog Post

Mapping Home

The CWRL, the Lab I work and teach in, is collecting new media assignments from instructors in an effort to share all the innovative stuff happening in our classrooms.  I thought I'd share my assignment: "Mapping Home."  It uses Google Maps (a tool that is easy to access and easy to use) to get students thinking about borders, landmarks, and cartography.

There are infinite ways that mapping tools can be used in writing classrooms.  This assignment was originally created for a class that was focused on Luis Alberto Urrea book The Devil?s Highway.  Given this text?s discussion of immigration, I thought Google Maps was one way students could consider the borders that they cross on a daily basis.  I also used this assignment in my ?Writing in Digital Environments? class.  In that class, we read Greg Ulmer?s Internet Invention, a text that asks students to document the various cultural forces that have shaped them as writers, thinkers, and subjects.  In one exercise, Ulmer asks students to ?map home? by marking various important landmarks: home, church, school, etc.  This allows students to understand cultural forces spatially (and not just conceptually).  Bodies are shaped by geography, and ?mapping home? can bring this idea to light.

This assignment works well with Google Maps.  Google's "My Maps" is really easy to use. All you need is a Google Account, and you can point and click your way to a pretty detailed map.  The tool allows you to draw lines and shapes, and it gives you the ability to insert markers.  Markers include text boxes in which students can embed images, text, and video.   As an example, I worked up an example map that explores a border in my own life (that border is I-35, the highway that divides ?East Austin? from Austin).  You can see my map here.

If you want to see how Google's mapping tool works, their user guide is a great place to start.


As with any assignment (new media or otherwise), instructors have to decide for themselves how they?ll evaluate.  With this assignment, make sure you are clear about what you expect.  What kind of detail do you want?  Do you want students to write up a reflection on their map?  

This second question is important, but I would want to point out something important (to instructors and students): these maps are writing.  They are not just some ?cool? thing that will then require a ?real? writing assignment.  This assignment should open up important discussions about how cartography is a form of writing and about how ?the map is not the territory.?  Students are creating something here, not merely reflecting an existing reality.


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