Map critiques with the students

We’ve found that one of most useful methods for learning and teaching cartography is through map critiques. Common in virtually all the arts, critiques give artists the chance to share their work, see their peers’ work, and receive constructive criticism. For teachers, it provides the opportunity to teach principles of design in the context of a student’s work, rather than in the abstract. Perhaps most importantly, critiques are a time for students to see what their peers are producing and have a respite from the intense focus of producing a map.

These internships we have been supervising are a sprint. They take what could be a semester-long project and pack it into 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for only a month. On day one, our students had not necessarily thought much about maps before. By day 27, they have learned how to use a GPS, conducted hours of field work, sometimes in very hot, very wet, or very precarious conditions, constructed and managed large, complex datasets, conducted geospatial analysis in ArcGIS, and produced maps to present to their partner organizations. And they’re still smiling! We have only three days to teach them how to make their maps look really good and easy to understand, rather than the default-settings maps that so often come out of GIS. So to start, we ran through the major principles of cartographic design and set them loose to see what they could do. We then bought five Trits (pronounced “treats”), which are delightful ice cream – cookie sandwiches similar to an It’s-It, if anyone is familiar with those, and found a nice grassy, quiet hill to have our critique session.

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Everyone lay out their maps (each student had 3-5) and we spent a few minutes just looking at all of them, giving the students a chance to see what others had thought of that might be useful to them, or vice versa. Each student then talked about their maps and we discussed how each could be improved. It was, overall, a very productive session, and we hope the students got a lot out of it.

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We won’t have enough time to do another critique session, so for the next couple of days the students will be hanging up successive versions of their maps and we’ll be giving feedback in the form of post-it notes — something we picked up at National Geographic.

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