Thoughts on our Tanzanian trainings

Posted on July 24th, 2011 in General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

Conservation Science is not a simple discipline.  Conservation Projects usually involve a great diversity of stakeholders and require multi-disciplinary collaboration if they have any chance of effectively addressing conservation targets.  A key factor in such a complex environment is the ability to communicate ideas, issues, data and solutions between these stakeholders and collaborators.  It’s lucky, then, that visualising this information needn’t be a complicated affair at all – provided you have the right tools!

Equipping conservation biologists with some of these tools was the biggest reason we were out in Arusha, Tanzania, a little over a month ago, attending the joint meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Africa section and the Association of Tropical Biology.

Our aim was to introduce these scientists and conservation practitioners to the MAPA Project, and, whilst we were at it, teach them how to use the Google Geo tools that have served us so well to highlight important issues and datasets in their own projects.

During the conference, we hosted several lunch-time demonstration sessions.  In these, we introduced participants to the different Google Geo tools on offer,  the basics of making maps with Google Earth, talked about visualising GPS, GIS and tabular data in Google Earth and Fusion Tables, and introduced them to Google Map Maker. In the afternoons, we answered questions and brain-stormed specific problems and applications with some of the participants.

Participants from the Jane Goodall Institute work through an exercise in the two-day practical workshop.

The real fun started after the conference though, as we hosted about twenty (mostly Tanzanian) conservation practitioners for two days of hands-on training at the Mount Meru hotel. We used most of the first day to get familiar with Google Earth, before delving into topics such as Google Map Maker, Narrated toursGIS &GPS data,  Fusion Tables and  Open Data Kit on a busy second day.  All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We went to Arusha to teach conservation biologists about visualising information on a map (ours, or their own, or both), but, in truth, we were probably the ones who came away with the learning experience!

We’d like to keep learning and teaching, and in the spirit of making African conservation more visible and accessible, will be writing up a few posts with real-world examples of how you can use Google mapping technology in your day-to-day work – and how you can add this into your MAPA Project bubble, of course (where appropriate).

We’re planning to run a post every fortnight, and have a few planned based on some of the feedback we received from this and previous workshops.  However, we’d like to make sure that we write about the topics that you’re interested in – so we’ll need you to tell us what you would like to hear about! You can let us know by submitting your topic using this short form. We’ll choose a selection of suggestions for the series.

In the meantime, here are the posts that we already have on the cards (one has already been posted):

  1. Tanzanian tracks & tours. In this blog post we looked very briefly at how you can use narrated Google Earth tours to guide the way your audience engage with your story. Read it here.
  2. Google Earth unplugged:  using material you’ve created in Google Earth offline and in presentations.
  3. GPS collar data and GPS tracks: mapping and animating tabular collar data and GPS tracks in Google Earth.
  4. Using Fusion Tables to host your data online and how to share this with colleagues and collaborators.
  5. Mapping it forward: Teaching your colleagues and students how to use Google mapping tools.

If you’re a bit nervous of diving into mapping and visualising your information using the Google Geo tools, we suggest that you start out by reading these two blog posts (part 1, part 2) by Google Earth Outreach.  We’ll keep you updated about training opportunities on this blog, and on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but if you’re keen to get started, there is great material to guide you step by step along the way on the Google Earth Outreach tutorial page. There is no need to wait for us!

As for Arusha – we were absolutely overwhelmed by the friendly reception we received – thank you to everyone who made us feel so welcome. We’re also hugely indebted, as always, to Google – a big, big thank you to Google Earth Outreach for making this outing possible by co-sponsoring the workshops and to Jacqueline Rajuai from the Google Kenya office who hopped across the border to help run the sessions.  Asante Sana!

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