STEP 1: Choosing where to map

How to choose a site

First you must identify your study area, or area of interest (AoI). Consider your local neigborhood, campus, city, or a study site abroad that you are actively interested in. If you are working with a partner, then this may have already been identified for you. If this is your first project, we highly recommend mapping an area highly familiar to you such as your neighborhood or a nearby retail district.

Scout (virtually) the proposed area using web mapping services. You can survey the area in OpenStreetMap or, you can use Google, Bing or Yahoo Maps. The satellite views from these services will give you a good idea of the density of mappable features. You should balance the density of features to the number of mappers to arrive at the size of your area of interest. At this point you should have a good idea of where the approximate boundary of your study area should be.

Next, investigate your proposed site further on OpenStreetMap. Navigate to your study area, and zoom in to see how much work has already been completed in OSM. Perhaps the area has already been mapped extensively, and little updating remains. Toggling over and back between the regular map view and the “edit” view in OSM will give the best appreciation for the amount complete vs. amount left to do.

If you are new to OpenStreetMap, please visit LearnOSM. This site will guide you through creating an account, and navigating the platform. It is also a wonderful resource to direct your students to.

The default ‘bing’ satellite imagery helps estimate the level of difficulty associated with the tracing of map features. Looking at building density and both the clarity and quality of the imagery available for the area will inform this. Images with poor resolution or with extensive cloud or haze will greatly reduce the number of features that can be clearly identified and traced. Without a clear idea of the level of work needed to complete the area of interest, it will be difficult to allocate equitable work to students.

Working with a community partner

Open source mapping modules and assignments are a unique way to integrate service-learning strategies in your course curriculum, while exposing students to new and exciting technological platforms. Working with collaborative partners lends gravitas to the work the students perform. The experience teaches civic responsibility and the value of collaborative efforts in the global community.

The case studies on this site feature projects where instructors and students worked with a partner. The partner determined the geographic focus of the project, and the type of geographic elements and attribute information that was collected.

Visit Case Studies to see how these collaborations worked.