KSC Instructional Technology

3.15.2006

Map Making in the Digital Classroom

Cartography was not Klaus Bayr’s first love. He came to Keene State College in 1969 with a PhD and an MA in geography and physical education from the University of Graz in Austria. Though he was teaching geography to students, he felt that something was missing if he didn’t also teach the students how to take geographical information and turn it into a map that someone else could read. After taking a few workshops and doing some of his own research he was ready to bring the technology of cartography into the classroom.

“Used to be that we did everything by hand,” Bayr said.

Cartographers used to draw, or scribe, the different layers of maps on emulsion coated paper using a sapphire etching tool. The scribes would be layered to create peel coats, and the peel coats would be used to make a complete proof. Creating a map meant dedicating 20 to 30 hours just to the scribing, and a single scribing mistake meant starting all over again.

Bayr was eager to use computers and dot matrix printers for cartography when they first became available. Unfortunately, maps printed in the dot matrix format weren’t fit for publishing.

In 2004 and 2005, Bayr and the geography department were awarded technology grants through Academic Affairs and the Keene State College IT Group for PCI Geomatica and a software training course. One of the grants helped to provide ten software licenses so students can use Geomatica in the classroom.

Geomatica combines geographic information systems (GIS) technology, remote sensing, digital photogrammetry and spatial analysis for cartography needs. It’s a description that perhaps only a geography and cartography person would find exciting, but it makes some darn good maps that anyone could find useful.

“It’s very important to have that basic map design concept taught first,” Bayr said.

Without the basic design concepts people will produce what he calls “junk maps”, which are maps that don’t convey any real information about the area or topic that’s been studied. Geomatica may give people the ability to create a visually intriguing map, but only a person can ensure that the map contains relevant and understandable information.

Relevant and understandable information becomes more important to cartography as maps move from the realm of “terra incognito” to scientific endeavor, according to Bayr. People already know basically what is there geographically, he said, now they want to know everything else about an area.

Bayr and his students have used cartography software to create maps of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the New Hampshire Geographic Alliance. The maps contain information on counties, landform regions, Native American populations and US Diversity 2000 statistics.

“Technology is fascinating, and it helps us make such great progress,” Bayr said.

Detailed cartography relies on technology now. The skills required for map making have come a long way from sapphire etchings, and Bayr has done what he can to ensure that his students keep up with the times.

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