Geolocation Storytelling Revisited

We’ve observed an uptick in interest in Geolocation Storytelling. We’ll revisit the subject for those who know little about this medium as well as those who either want to design a project on paper (i.e. Word) or who want to go all the way and use the LodeStar Authoring tool to complete a working project.

To reach all audiences at some level, this article starts from the general and ends with the specific. Hop on and off at any point.

Introduction

Every place hides its own unique, rich story. Have you visited an unfamiliar town or area and wondered about its history,  geography, and points of interest? Have you ever wanted to connect to a place on a level deeper than a quick drive-by?

A new form of storytelling—geolocation storytelling—combines technology and traditional storytelling to connect visitors at a deeper level.  With the help of an app, the place where you’ve entered or visited on a map suddenly comes alive with narrative and imagery.  You may hear about the past or be guided to an unusual rock formation or the vantage point of a famous painter.   Geolocation stories can work on-site, guiding you from point to point or they can help you discover a place from the comfort of your home.  Geolocation stories can be both informative and entertaining.  They can involve the visitor in discovering why a place got put on the map, or solving a challenge, or even solving a murder mystery.  In short, geolocation stories can be about anything that piques the visitor’s interest about a place.

The Inspiration

Places inspire people to learn more about them.

A group of history buffs, known as Lensflare Stillwater, were inspired by the many untold stories of Stillwater, a Minnesota river town.  Stillwater was a lumber town with connections to Minnesota and Wisconsin pine lands by river and connections to Saint Paul by stage road and later by rail. 

Stillwater inspired a number of geolocation stories. The first stories were guided  tours of Stillwater’s historical downtown.   A subsequent story helped cyclists learn about the rich history from the vantage point of a bicycle trail.  Even later, another story recovered the lost memory of Stillwater’s streetcars.   

Thousands of miles from Stillwater, a geolocation project told the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s year in Arles, France, and what went horribly wrong for him.   Its authors first visited Arles to learn more about Van Gogh but were disappointed in the local tour booklets, which didn’t sufficiently tell the story. 

If your town or place has points of interest, a rich history, or geographical features, you will want to consider creating a geolocation story to help others see the place from a new point of view.  Visitors can walk to the specific places of interest and hear audio, see imagery, read text, scroll through time lines and learn more about this special place.

How it works

Typically the visitor launches a geolocation story (a web-based application) from a web address on a smartphone. The first page of the story provides instructions and a starting point. When the visitor reaches that point, she crosses an invisible geofence. Geofence is a just a metaphor. Actually, the visitor’s location is calculated from the signals of three or more satellites . Most modern smartphones are equipped with the hardware to detect these signals. Global positioning satellites constantly emit signals. The GPS receiver in the visitor’s phone listens for these signals. Once the receiver calculates its location from these satellites, it provides that information to the application. The logic of the application is constantly checking to see if the location matches a place of interest. If yes, then content in the form of audio, text and imagery is called up and presented.

Getting more specific: Best practices

If you already understand the power of the geolocation story and wish to get started, you’ll want to consider a few things.  These are not hard and fast guidelines.  As we gain more and more experience, we’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t.

  1. First, geolocation storytelling works best when the audience is on foot and out of doors.  Smartphones can’t receive satellite GPS signals from inside of buildings.  The technology works best outside with clear line-of-sight to the sky.
  2. Geolocation projects must be housed on a website that supports HTTPS.   Smartphones don’t reveal their locations to applications that run from websites that begin with http:// The web address must be https:// The ‘s’ means secure.  Information that is transported by HTTPS is encrypted in order to increase security of data transfer.  
  3. There is a limit to the distance that people will walk on a tour or the length of a tour in time.  Limit yourself to two miles completed within one hour.  Of course, this is a very loose rule of thumb.  Consider your audience when setting the limits.  Young adults will have no difficulty with 3 – 5 mile hikes.  Time and attention span, however, will remain a factor.  Senior citizens with mobility issues will find two miles too long.  The steepness of the terrain will be a factor. Use your discretion but keep it as short as possible.
  4. Some people’s interest may wane quickly.  A two mile tour should have at least a dozen points of interest.  Limit the distance and length of time between geolocation points.
  5. Present narrations in audio and text formats.  People like to hear a recorded narration but, without headphones, the narration could easily be drowned out by traffic or a rushing river. On the flipside, audio narration often works in situations (e.g. bright sun) where the screen is difficult to see. You’ll need to use your judgement.
  6. Consider the format of the tour.  Will you guide your audience from point to point or will you cluster points so that the audience will simply wander about and come upon points of interest? 
  7. Audio should be cleanly recorded.  The audience should not hear background noise or a muffled narration.
  8. Text must be spelled correctly, grammatically correct and short. 
  9. Favor more points of interest and shorter narration/text rather than fewer points of interest and narration that drones on.
  10. Have fun creating this story. You’ll learn a lot!

Get your Geolocations

Even if you’re starting with Word to capture your text, find the locations. You can use Google Maps.  This is a very accurate way of finding locations.  For example, if I wanted the location of the intersection of Myrtle and Water Streets in Stillwater, I would do the following:

  1. Go https://www.google.com/maps
  2. Search for Myrtle Street, Stillwater.
  3. Move the map to the location of interest.
  4. Click on the intersection.
  5. Either write down the location coordinates or click on them.  The coordinates will now appear in the address field at the top and can be copied and pasted into your Word document or directly onto a LodeStar page (see below).
Google Maps reveals latitude and longitude

About the Location Coordinates

In the example above the coordinates were 45.056745,-92.805510.  The first coordinate (45.056745) is the latitude.  The second coordinate is (-92.805510) is longitude.  Always use a coordinate with six digits of precision (six digits to the right of the decimal point).  The six digits will ensure an accuracy within a few inches but never rely on that.  In other words, allow the technology a slop factor. Use precise coordinates but allow for imprecision in the ability of device to calculate its location. Never create a geolocation story that relies on an accuracy of a few inches.  You control this by typing in numbers in the latitude and longitude proximity fields. The numbers spell out how close one needs to be to the precise location to trigger an event. In our geolocation stories we trigger something (e.g. show content) when the user is within 25 to 50 feet of a location.  We call that crossing the geofence.   The minus sign is important.  In latitude, the minus sign denotes the southern hemisphere (south of the equator).  In longitude, the minus sign denotes west of the prime meridian (Greenwich) and east of the antemeridian (roughly where the international date line resides).

If you want to grab your location while physically on the spot, use your smartphone’s Google Maps app. 

Current Location Arrow in Google Maps
  1. In Google Maps, click on the arrow to show your current location.
  2. Scroll down until you find the marker and the location.  See screenshot below.
  3. Copy and paste the coordinate into your notes so that you can transfer the coordinate to LodeStar.

Getting a location from Google Maps while on site

Preparing a Geolocation Story in Word

Your role might be to prepare the content. When you’ve completed the preparation, you can hand off the content in the form of a Word file. In Word, each location should be on a separate page. At the top of each page, key in the title and the latitude and longitude coordinates of the location. Add your text, graphics, image and narration. If your version of Word doesn’t support audio narration, use a free tool like Audacity to generate an MP3 audio file.

Even More Specific: Authoring a Geolocation Story with LodeStar

To create a geolocation tour in LodeStar, do the following:

Launch LodeStar and select the ARMaker template.  (AR stands for augmented reality.)

LodeStar’s ARMaker template
  1. Title your project.  The project will now reside on your hard drive in a folder with the same title.  It will be found in the LodeStar/Projects/[your title]  directory.
  2. Add your title to the first page.
  3. Add a page by clicking on the + button at the bottom of the app.
  • Ensure that the new page is a Text Page Type.  Examine the screenshot below.  The page should have a place to enter a latitude and longitude.
  • Add your content.  You can insert a widget (e.g. Image Layout Widget), text, audio, and more.
  • Add a page to add more content.
  • Then Preview in Browser (find button at the top).
  • When you are ready to publish,  Export as a SCORM 1.3 package and import to a Learning Management System or simply copy the LodeStar/Projects/[your title]  directory to a web server.
LodeStar authoring tool with ARMaker template. Click on image to view.

Below is what this page looks like in Preview.  Notice the audio control at top left and the Show Map at the top left.   Notice the navigation buttons top right (depending on layout).  Notice the how the image slider appears, created by the PWG Image Slider Widget.

Previewing a Geolocation story

If your audience clicks on the ‘Show Map’ button, a Google Map appears with all of the locations marked with red markers.  Again, each location represents a separate page in LodeStar. 

Each location (marked by red marker) matches a LodeStar page

Controlling the User Experience

If you allow users both to show map and navigate to content by clicking on a marker, then you need not adjust project settings.    If you want to restrict users’ access to the map and/or their ability to access pages of content from the map, select Tools > Project Settings.  Change the settings according to your needs.  (The important settings are marked with arrows. See screenshot below.)

Project settings in LodeStar allow control of application

Publishing your project

As a SCORM object

If you use a Learning Management System (LMS) and want to control access to your geolocation story, then, with your project opened in LodeStar, click on Export and export to SCORM 1.3.    Go to your LMS and import the story as a SCORM object.

As a website

If you have access to a web server, copy the project folder to the web server and use the index.htm file in your URL.  Once again, location services will only work on web servers that support https://

If you don’t have access to a web server, then read the following article that explains how you can use GitHub as a web server.

https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/seven-steps-that-will-change-how-you-share-elearning/embed/#?secret=5b4inntyGg

Alternatively, you can use Site44 to convert your Dropbox folder to a published website:

See https://www.site44.com/

(We are not endorsing Site44 but LodeStar Learning has successfully used it on a number of projects.)

As an Open Education Resource (OER)

Publish the geolocation story as a web site, then register the URL (address) of that site with OER Commons, Merlot, or whatever OER repository you prefer.

 

Additional Details

If you are new to Geolocation Story-telling to learn more detail, visit:

Geolocation Storytelling: Van Gogh In Arles | LodeStar Web Journal (wordpress.com)

To see an example of a finished product as OER, visit:

https://www.oercommons.org/courses/vincent-van-gogh-s-arles/view

Or view the app at:

‎Van Gogh In Arles on the App Store (apple.com)

Conclusion

Geolocation stories are a great way to help visitors uncover the hidden wonders of place. Google Maps and the LodeStar Authoring tool are indispensable ways of authoring stories and publishing them either to Learning Management Systems or to the web.

If you complete a project, share your project. Drop a comment or drop a line to supportteam@lodestarlearning.com.

Technology and Great Learning Experiences

Introduction:

As instructional designers, we understand that technology (even cool technology) can never substitute for the elemental motivations and emotions of a student engaged in a meaningful eLearning interaction.  Curiosity, exploration, challenge, suspense, resolution and revelation are all examples of experiences one strives to conjure when designing interactions.  Technology alone, once the novelty has worn off, doesn’t cut it.  Technology is just a means to an end – what researchers like to call an affordance.  Technology affords us the opportunity to create experiences that stimulate curiosity, present challenges and encourage learning.  Technology might take the form of videos, animations, audio, elaborate layouts, interactive maps, virtual worlds, and on and on.  But if it doesn’t motivate or result in an emotional experience or elicit the triumph of winning a challenge, or an ‘aha’ moment, the technology will soon leave learners cold. 

I learned that lesson from a computer game I played in the 80s.  It was called Space Quest and it was tremendously fun.  The first versions of the game were in black and white with simple graphics.  You had to solve a series of challenges to stay alive.  Those were addictive.  A group of our friends tried to solve the challenges together.  When it became too late to play any longer, our friends went home–only to return the next day.

Later versions of Space Quest began using a 256-color palette.  The graphics and animation became more colorful but often left you in this passive mode, more like watching a movie than playing an interactive game.  The first exposure to new technology was kind of exciting – but then the ‘movies’ lost their appeal. 

I think about a very exciting technology, geolocation storytelling, in the same way.  The technology is becoming more and more seductive.  Interactive maps can now feature 3D buildings, customized maps, and most recently, game objects.  You can create 3D models of dinosaurs, for example, and have them suddenly appear when you reach a location – like Central Park.  Imagine it: dinosaurs in Central Park or on the Mississippi river, for that matter.  As interesting, you can move around in real space, and see your location updated on a fictional map.  But what does this all mean to the busy instructor?

The answer is, typically, very little. Certainly, instructors and students can purchase or subscribe to off-the-shelf, ready-made products that use these technologies.  The benefits, however, will only outweigh the costs if the technology satisfies a significant instructional goal.  Often, there isn’t a good fit and that’s why I  am more interested in homespun.  I am interested in the instructor as creator and what the instructor can create.  I am more interested in how instructors can use sophisticated technology simply and get students to explore, complete a challenge or experience that ‘aha’ moment in a manner that precisely matches a course objective. 

A simple but effective example

The following example illustrates how instructors can use basic geolocation technology but avoid the pitfalls of spending time without the commensurate return on investment or not getting students to think, solve problems, explore or experience a new insight or gain a new perspective. You will need to use your imagination on how the underlying principle applies to your situation.

The example will show how you can draw on a map and relate that to content that will help students solve a problem. 

The example is inspired by Blue Zones, places where people live longer.  Blue Zones was developed by Dan Buettner whose work (e.g. AfricaQuest, MayaQuest, Blue Zones, etc.)  typically fosters the experiences that I’m discussing:  curiosity, exploration, decision-making, and problem-solving.  Visit https://www.bluezones.com/ for more information on his latest project.

To make our example come alive, I’ll choose two of the original five blue zones: Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy.  In a real application, I would choose five or more locations.  Our objective is to get students to visit the sites, look around with the help of Google Street View, collect statistics, compare and contrast the information and then propose a theory of why people live longer in these zones.  Dan Buettner, of course, summarizes this information in his books, but in our hypothetical application, we want students to think for themselves

Herein lies the crux of our strategy.  We could simply present the information.  The geolocation technology would then serve as another form of page turner.  If, instead, we get students to explore, collect data and attempt to solve a problem, we have caused students to think and experience firsthand the thrill of discovery.

Please note that we’ve covered geolocation storytelling in the past.  If you’re not familiar with this technology, I encourage you to visit the links below:

Geolocation Storytelling:  Van Gogh in Arles  (an application)
https://www.oercommons.org/courses/vincent-van-gogh-s-arles/view

Geolocation Storytelling:  Van Gogh in Arles  (a mobile app)
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/van-gogh-in-arles/id1489831732?ls=1

Geolocation Storytelling:  Van Gogh in Arles  (an article) https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2019/11/07/geolocation-storytelling-van-gogh-in-arles/

Geolocation Storytelling (an article)
https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/geo-location-storytelling/

The Van Gogh in Arles applications supports students’ visiting Arles and discovering the places where Vincent Van Gogh lived and worked.  It also supports students’ visiting Arles from the comfort of their desks.  The example below is more like the latter.  Students do not need to visit the location.  From their desks, they explore a map, collect information and visit the locations virtually.

How it’s done

So, let’s use the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool to set this up step by step.  (Full disclosure: I have been the chief architect of LodeStar and president of LodeStar Learning for the past two decades. LodeStar Learning offers a free trial of this tool at https://www.lodestarlearning.com so that you can immediately start a geolocation project. )

For this application I chose the ARMaker template.  The ARMaker template is geolocation aware.  The technology is baked right into the template.

LodeStar eLearning Authoring Tool (Version 8.0) Template Viewer

Typically in geolocation applications, one would type in a latitude and longitude of a location and then organize the page with text, graphics, imagery, audio and/or video.  When the student visits the location or, optionally, clicks on its marker on the map, the student is presented with the content.

Content on Text Pages can be tied to geographic locations by latitude and longitude

In our application, we don’t want students jumping from the map into the content.  Rather, we want the content to display on the map. 

In other words, our first page features instructions, but the instructions are not associated with a latitude or longitude.  Because these instructions are on the first page, they display when the application launches.

A page as it appears to the instructor

So, after I chose a layout, a theme, and a background image, our application looks like this when I preview it in a browser.

A page as it appears to the student

The astute LodeStar user will immediately notice some things are different.  I used Tools > Layouts to change the layout and background image.  I used Tools > Project settings to make other changes.

In Tools > Project Settings, I hid the navigation buttons; I allowed students to see the map; and I disabled students’ clicking on a marker to jump from map to content.

Here is where a different approach comes in.  The ‘Branches’ view and screenshot below begin to reveal the strategy.  I add a page with more background detail and link to it.  In LodeStar, any text on a Text page can link to any other page.  When students click on the words ‘click here’, they are taken to an information page.

I also linked to a Long Answer page.  That is where students will input their findings and their theory and submit their work to the instructor.

Also pictured, is a Wall page and two more Text pages on Sardinia and Okinawa.  The purpose of the wall is literally to wall off content.  Walled off content can only be accessed with a link or a branch or a third method that I’ll soon reveal.

Links can take students to other pages or external URLs.

Now here comes the fun part.

The Okinawa and Sardinia pages feature pie charts created by Blue Zones that show the percentages in an Okinawan or Sardinian diet that are made up of meat, fish, and poultry; legumes; added sugar; added fats; fruits; whole grains; and dairy.   In this application, I don’t make any statements.  I simply show the percentages.  I can also supply other information such as population density, family size, pollution index, climate data, and anything else that will enable students to make educated guesses about what contributes to longevity.

In our application, I’ll mark the Blue Zones.  When students click on a blue circle, the data will pop up.

Here is how I set it up:

  1. First, I added a Geolocation widget to a text page.  (LodeStar supports a variety of widgets that can be added to Text pages.)
  2. Second, I added a circle map object and set its properties (stroke color, fill color, radius, etc.) I could also add polygons, polylines, and rectangles.
  3. Third, I assigned a latitude and longitude to the circle to locate it on the map.

The Geolocation widget allows instructors to create circles, polygons, polylines, and rectangles, and display them on a map with precise coordinates

  • Finally, I associated a click on the circle to content.  The content could be housed on any page and not only the page that houses the Geolocation widget.

Map objects can be connected to page content

As pictured below, I also added latitude and longitude coordinates to the page.  This was not absolutely necessary.  Adding the coordinates at the page level (rather than the widget level) causes the red markers to display.  In Tools > Project Settings, I disabled the markers.  Their only function is to set the bounds of the map.  In our example, the markers conveniently set the boundaries around Okinawa and Sardinia.

(In normal geolocation applications, you would create content on a page and then set the latitude and longitude to mark the location on the map.  As I’ve mentioned, when students click on the marker or walk near the location, they are transported to the page.)

Pages can be tied to red markers by latitude and longitude

Here is what it looks like when the student clicks on ‘Show Map’.

Here is what it looks like, when the student clicks on a blue circle (i.e. a Blue Zone).

Now to explore further, the student drags the icon over Sardinia, and gets this:

The student has landed into a ‘street’ view of Sardinia and can look around.  Observant students will notice the water, the fishing boat, and the uneven terrain – all of which relate to factors that contribute to long life.

Once the student has made her observations and drawn some conclusions, she can submit her information to the instructor with the help of the long answer page.

Conclusion

One could easily imagine an application that simply displays the Blue Zones on a map with information on each site.  Our hypothetical application gives students something to do.  We challenge students to solve the mystery of long life that challenged Dan Buettner and the demographers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain before him.   To present students with this challenge, we don’t need a degree in computer science or in art or in 3D modeling.  We need to boil things down to the essential elements of curiosity, exploration, challenge, suspense, resolution and revelation.  An instructor’s efforts should be focused on organizing the background information, the data, the locations and the assignment to make the most out of what this technology affords us as educators.  As importantly, we want the technology to bend to our educational objective–and not the other way around.

You can picture using maps, graphical objects and information in your own disciplines. When applications are set up in meaningful, problem-solving contexts in biology, geology, social sciences, history, or whatever, the possibilities are, dare I say,  boundless.