Mapping in a Participatory Culture

"Map" is both a noun and verb. Traditional notions of cartographic authority are challenged when maps drawn, revised, or overlaid with collective intelligence, subjective experience, or negotiated information. Although maps have been traditionally thought to provide definition to the real world, which is often contested, in today's media environment, it becomes more and more obvious that all maps make an argument. In a participatory culture, we both use (and critique) maps other people have made and make, collaborate, and share maps we have made. As new media facilitates broader participation in cartography, maps become a media requiring new media literacies. This Teachers' Strategy provides resources for integrating NMLs into a formal learning environment.

A Teachers' Strategy Guide

There are many forms that a "Teachers' Strategy Guide" to mapping and the new media literacies could have taken. To understand how and why this took on the form it did, it might be best to look at the history of the project.

Reading in a Participatory Culture, NML's first Teachers' Strategy Guide, took the form of a fairly thorough high school English curriculum. We had a shorter timeframe and a smaller group for this guide, so we knew we wanted to scale accordingly. Plus, we wanted to experiment with new forms and see what more we could learn.

In researching and brainstorming what form this could take, we had a couple of important realizations.

First off, we noticed that there are thousand of projects-- some commercial, some artistic, some academic, and some educational-- that either already are or could be more explicitly tied to new media literacies and mapping. Some of these projects were being used by teachers and some weren't. How could we identify gaps in the coverage of these projects when they were disaggregated? Moreover, we are not geographers or mapping experts. Could creating another project be the best use of efforts?

Even more importantly, by talking to teachers, we realized that we most certainly are not teachers. Even those of us who have been in the classroom have been out of it for a while. We do not know what the on-the-ground needs of teachers are now, nor would we dream of presuming to tell them what they should be doing.

Clearly, Our real area of expertise is in new media literacies, in the cultural skills and competencies of the emerging media landscape. We decided that it was our job to make connections: to connect educators, geographers, and new media professionals to each other and to the resources each group had to offer and to connect these resources to the new media literacies.

Once we realized what our position would be, we decided to host an unconference bringing together teachers, mapping and geography professionals, students, and our NML team. The unconference was structured by the new media literacy of collective intelligence, "the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal," so it in itself was being tested as a participatory structure. The goal, in this case, was to determine emergent themes and to identify resources.

After coding and analyzing the "debris," both digital and physical, from the unconference, we developed a structuring framework. From there, we began to populate that framework. We expect that though the framework may come under revision with time, it will remain static, while the resources that illustrate it will change more quickly.

This guide is not intended to be a comprehensive curriculum. It is exactly what is claims to be: a guide for teachers to strategies related to mapping in a participatory culture. The Framework provides the guidance and the strategies are illustrated through the resources, projects, ideas, and people profiled. It is not meant to be complete. It is meant to keep growing as technology and the needs of educators evolve. It is meant to be more aggregative than perscriptive.

Thus, the main results of our work on this project are:

  • a model for using unconferences for generating ideas and for professional development
  • a tumblog of resources, notes, and ideas contributed by unconference participants
  • photographic and video documentation of the unconference
  • a theoretical framework for organizing resources and ideas related to mapping and new media literacies
  • two thematic modules of resources based on this framework 

How you can Contribute

The activities and resources profiled here are meant as seeds for the kind of things educators might find interesting and useful. Going forward, we welcome contributions of:

  • Suggestion and comments on the framework
  • Reports from those who have used our unconference model in education
  • Reports from those who have used any of  the resources we've presented
  • Learning Library challenges
  • Full lesson plans
  • Partial lesson ideas
  • Interviews with educators
  • Profiles of projects
  • Links to resources
As of February 2010: Only the Boundaries and Layers modules have been developed. Links and ideas are listed on the other two modules.