Educator's Night Recap

Fall semester is coming to a close and with that thousands of incredible educators get to wrap up their courses and start planning for the next ones. We are really proud that CartoDB has been a part of many of those courses and will be a bigger part of many more next semester. That is why we thought it was time to start digging into the challenges of teaching with maps in the classroom.

To help us better understand the uses, needs, and challenges of teaching with CartoDB, we threw the first Educator’s Night here at our Brooklyn offices. The first half of the evening we spent hearing from three amazing educators from around NYC. The second half of the evening we spent in breakout groups documenting needed resources and technologies for the future of map based education. Here is a short report of what we found.

What external technologies do educators use with CartoDB

It was interesting to hear the educators exchanging use-cases and lesson ideas throughout the night. In those exchanges, we heard a lot about what technologies educators were using in addition to CartoDB. Those included GitHub for hosting pages that use CartoDB.js, PiratePad for collaborative note taking, Bootstrap for larger web development projects, and PasteBin for sharing code, SQL, and CartoCSS examples. Sounds a lot like the things we use around the office!

What data excites students

For new instructors, one question that is interesting to ask is, what data do students like to explore? We threw the question out there and heard back a variety of responses. Social media and quantified self data were two clear winners. We also heard requests for sports data and hyperlocal data. Thematic datasets like global crises data came up, too. Of the top of our head, we were able to name a few resources already: CartoDB’s own Twitter Connector, OpenPaths and Moves for students collecting their own movement histories, GDELT and our own for global crises events.

While we can’t solve all of, we are going to look into how we can contribute to solutions for each. We currently make Twitter data available to Enterprise accounts, but in the future we will be offering free student access in some cases. Quantified self is harder, but we are going to keep our eyes open for more solutions. For now, resources such as OpenPaths and Moves allow students to collect their own secure data and make maps easily on CartoDB. For crises data, we are continuously trying to improve our Common Data or GDELT project has a very comprehensive dataset of information; we’d also like to loop in some patterns with other open source services like Ushahidi’s CrisisNET, or other streaming sources of crisis information.

Above. Choropleth created by a student student in Amanda Hickman’s Journalism and Data Visualization class.

What things are missing

We are enhancing our software every day by adding new resources, features, and improved usability. At the Educator’s Night we got some really interesting feedback about features to add to our roadmap. A few that we really liked included a SQL playground, vetted data packages, and modular tutorials. We are going to work on all of these areas in the near future. Modular tutorials is something we have already begun to look into more deeply and will be spending time in the coming month to make it happen. The idea of a SQL playground we just love!

Who is using CartoDB

Tough question! There was a time at CartoDB when we knew every user on the platform. That time has long past. But at least at the Educator’s Night, it was amazing to see the diversity of courses that incorporate CartoDB, from GIS to History, Data Journalism to Design. There were conversations with librarians and with high school teachers. It was so inspiring and we are very excited that this community joined us to talk about their visions for education.

We think 2015 is going to be a serious year of mapping. Throughout the year, we are going to work hard to make mapping tools easier for students and easier for educators. If you are using CartoDB in the classroom, get in touch with us at support@cartodb.com and let us know what you are up to. We are always interested in how we can make the experience better. Also don’t forget, students and educators can always take advantage of our free upgrades.

Thanks to everyone involved!

And thanks to Andy B. for sharing a great physics-related map that would be a rich example to recreate in a classroom!

Stay tuned to our blog for the full write-up about the above map next week.

Happy mapping!

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