Digital Maps: Use Them in Your Teaching


Digital maps have become an indispensable part of our everyday life: Quickly calculate the route for the trip to the next business meeting, display the footpath to your destination in the public transport app or just look up where exactly is Ouagadougou.

More interesting for educational settings: Map providers also offer us the possibility to interact on the maps, for example by marking sights on existing maps or by adding whole map layers. Users can take the existing map and add more layers, on which places can be marked, lines drawn or areas drawn in. For the latter use case Google My Maps is probably the best known and most common tool but there is also a counterpart from the open source world: uMap, based on OpenStreetMap, which is better to use in educational settings.

Many didactic possibilities

Own cards offer many possibilities to create or support teaching and learning settings, especially (but not only) in remote teaching.

First, you can simply provide information for your students, e. g. you can create a map of certain places of interest and include information about that places in your map.

Second, and that is even more interesting for educational settings, you can edit maps collaboratively. The joint editing of map layers is very easy to realize and it offers you several possibilities to include the map into your teaching. Once you have created an own map, you can simple share the link to your map with your students and the work can begin.

Be creative

Use a digital map for a warm-up during your videoconferences for example: Share the link to your map and ask your participants to mark their places of birth. You will activate your participants, you´ll get to know something about them and you can use the resulting map for the introduction round.

There are no limits to creativity. Use the digital map for collaborative tasks, such as

  • Collecting information within an area (e. g. in a city, a park, a forest)
  • Creating historical maps (e. g. historical monuments, human movements, wars)
  • Creating environmental maps (e.g. endangered areas and drawing individual signs)
  • Create economic maps (e. g. trade routes, global trade, travel of individual products)
  • Create a map on infection rates (e. g. COVID-19)

Especially in global contexts, a common digital map is a powerful tool for visualizing learning outcomes, but also for reflecting on the learning process. Due to its general availability, location-bound working is not mandatory and all learners can work on one object at the same time. Teachers can also monitor progress and provide feedback on the map.

Google or OpenStreetMap (uMap)?

The decision for a provider certainly depends on the application. It corresponds to my personal attitude that OpenSource is preferable, but in this case there is an important detail that speak for the use of uMap: At Google a Google account is necessary for editing. A map is shared with other people in My Maps and can also be published. For the editing of a uMap no account is required. You share the link to your students and that is it. Mind the rights options when you create your map: Either you decide that all persons with the link to the map can edit it or you decide for a variant with two links: A link to view and a “secret” link to edit. Because no account is required, the service is much more accessible. Additionally, I can choose different background maps on uMap, all of which are also available on OpenStreetMap.