Mapping the Provenance of Museum Objects
Staff Commentary by Reid Sczerba
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Sczerba worked closely with the course instructors, Elizabeth Rodini and Ben Tilghman, to develop and refine the Google Earth tools and to train students in building tours.
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1. Describe your role in this project.
I work for a faculty support center at Johns Hopkins University called the Center for Educational Resources (CER). As the center’s multimedia developer, I aided Elizabeth Rodini and Ben Tilghman with the technical and logistical aspects of the project. This included determining a viable technology for the project tours and developing resource guides that aided students’ tour creation.
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2. What tasks did you perform at various stages of the project?
Initially we had to find a program that would be available freely (both in access and cost) for students to use with a relatively low learning curve. We selected Google Earth because it allows tour creation with rich media and text mapped to the earth, and it is free to download on PCs and Macs. I then created a template tour, set up with pre-made placemarks as a starting point for the students, and content layout templates for the appearance of the tour’s placemarks. After those two resources were set, I needed to create a well-written and comprehensible workflow. I chose to create both a visual and textual workflow to clearly express what actions needed to happen and at what stages. The final step was to present this workflow to the students in a training workshop so that they could see how it all came together and do it themselves.
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3. What sorts of interactions did you have with faculty, students, and other members of the project community over the course of the project?
I met with Elizabeth Rodini and Ben Tilghman initially to gather the project’s requirements, then later to introduce them to the proposed solution. One of my colleagues from the CER also joined these meetings to offer ideas. I was also available by e-mail to answer questions as they came up, especially during the process of approving the workflow, as it needed to be as simple as possible to follow. I also held a training workshop for the students with Professor Rodini. I continued to be available for questions by e-mail as the students worked on their projects.
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4. What particular challenges did this project present?
This project required that every placemark on a tour include images at that location. The only way to do this in Google Earth was to code it yourself. Certain aspects of using Google Earth were easy to master, but customizing the appearance of the placemarks requires HTML programming knowledge. Despite the fact that most students nowadays have grown up with the Internet, we have found that very few know how to use HTML. Our solution utilized an online HTML editor that had a prebuilt HTML template loaded in it. When the students were ready to create the content for their placemarks, they simply copied the content from a Word document and then pasted it in the HTML editor to generate the code. The students pasted that code into their Google Earth placemark, circumventing the need for them to learn HTML.
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5. What lessons did you learn from this project and what might you do differently in the future?
A more ideal solution may have been to create an application that would generate the tours without using Google Earth. This would have taken more time and resources to build than we had, but it could have been a useful application for other courses as well. It was disappointing to realize that Google Earth did not have an HMTL editor built in, and that there was no application that could suit our needs at the time. Perhaps when this course is offered again, there will be an ideal solution available to allow students to create tours and focus on the content rather than the technology. If not, then perhaps we will have the time to build one ourselves and share it.