How I Use It
Google Tour builder integrates storytelling with Google Earth. At first glance Tour Builder appears to have much in common with Google My Maps. While each service has uses that overlap, it is worth looking at what Tour Builder can specifically provide teachers and students. It is important to note now that Google Earth is available on Chromebooks, Google Tour Builder can reach any student that has access to the Chrome browser.
I have used Tour Builder to create a story of a wagon train traveling west. Along the way, I created placemarks, each with a combination of text, pictures, videos, or links. Part of the appeal of Tour Builder is what made Google Earth so amazing years ago, zipping along the map and zooming in and out of 3D landmarks is an engaging student experience. The ability for students to move at their own pace through this learning experience, as well as links to videos and other web content, helped support learners of all types.
It is this granular level of control that is main draw of Google Tour Builder over Google My Maps. The audience will get the story in the way that the creator intended it, simply clicking a button to move to the next location and to view the content. For me, it has sometimes been amazing to realize how so much content can be and is inextricably linked to geography.
Of course, having students create their own Google Tour is a powerful learning experience. I’ve had students create their own journey’s west, but I have found that this tool can be used in many subjects. During a recycling unit, I’ve had students pick a piece of recycling and document exactly what it goes through from the date of manufacture onward. Each placemark was filled with information on the process with various forms of media that the student thought most appropriate. It is very possible to create a finely tuned and cohesive presentation with Google Tour Builder. Some or all of the videos, podcasts, images, and writing were created by the students. It can be very rewarding for a student to look back over their map and present the story of their learning and original work.
Other ideas for Google Tour Builder in the classroom:
--Students can create a tour through a biome they are studying,
--Create an autobiography or biography: Students document a person’s (famous or otherwise) life experiences through the places they have been. Everyone has a story to tell.
--New students (particularly ELLs) can create maps of the local community that support what they are learning.
--Some novels may lend themselves to creating a tour that follows a character’s journey, which deepens understanding of the text.
--Students could write a story and create a tour to tell it.
--Create a tour of each school in a district for new employees and families (this is a great way for admin to get involved).
The ability to control the sequence that the viewer sees the content is what can make Google Tour Builder great. However, there is currently no way of working collaboratively on a Google Tour. Completed Tours are able to be viewed by anyone, but can only be edited by the person who made it. This makes it less than ideal for group work beyond pairs, where two students are using the same computer. For larger groups or the entire class working on the same map, Google My Maps would most likely be a better choice.
Tour Builder will feel familiar to anyone with experience with Google products like My Maps. A group of savvy 3rd or 4th graders could figure it out, but a class with little experience would obviously need more guidance for their first project, increasing the amount of time it takes to get started.
Google Tour Builder is also missing some helpful tools found in Google My Maps, such as the ability to draw lines and geometric shapes to calculate distances and area - a feature that many science and math teachers have used with their students.
Finally, it isn’t readily apparent how much more development Google is going to devote to Tour Builder. The addition of My Maps to the Google Suite suggests that it is here to stay. Google Tour Builder, still in beta, seems to have gone unchanged for years - though it is still a powerful and worthwhile tool. Ideally, Google My Maps would one day absorb Tour builder’s useful ability to create a tour and take advantage of Google Earth’s visual appeal. Then our students would have the best of both products in one spot.