New Finds: LGN Game Design Toolkit, Custom Google Maps, and Rego

A couple items of interest today:

LGN’s Game Design Toolkit

I came across some resources for learning-game design by the Learning Games Network. There’s a book and a set of cards. They are free but you need to make an account at LGN to get them.

As someone who tries to teach game design, just a little bit, it’s nice to have some tools and scaffolds to get started or to make me think in a different way as I work with groups of students or workshop participants. I’m hoping they are useful in this regard, and I’ll update as I get a chance to try them out.

Google Maps Engine Lite

I also saw Google’s announcement today about a lite version of their map engine (a tool to make custom maps) for the public to use freely. This is pretty exciting. There are some tools I know John Martin in particular wishes were in ARIS, like drawing paths. But I was also somewhat less excited after I gave it a quick spin. Here are a couple quick observations:

The different underlying map styles are a great idea

For the last six years are so, we have become accustomed to a single visual style for 95% of our map viewing. The choices have been map, satellite, or hybrid. The six options presented here by Google are a good sign of returning to the historical roots of cartography as a visually varied discipline. I’ve seen some really cool map tile designs connected to open mapping projects, but haven’t found ways to actually make use of them. Here we have a really easy to implement visual style for the maps you create. It would be even better if you could make choices about what types of information are displayed, or choose colors and styles for elements, but this is a good start.

Separating this from My Maps is a good idea

This announcement may confuse people who have already been using My Maps – a part of Google Maps – to make and share their maps already. I had always found My Maps hard to use, in terms of discovery and UI, because it was sort of sandwiched inside a tool I and other people were already using for a different purpose – getting directions and looking at satellite photography of everywhere I ever lived and strange places I’d never be able to go. It was too cluttered with other features and other information to feel like I was ever really making “My” map. Google Maps Engine Lite does just that.

The tools are minimal and you don’t get much help in learning how to use them

For example, it’s really fun to draw a path, but once you get started, you start to ask questions like, “how do a continue a path I already started?”, or “Can I link these two paths together?” and the answers don’t end up being very satisfying or easy to find: As far as I can tell, you can’t continue a path where you left off, but you can delete points from paths. You can’t merge existing paths. I wish Google introduced their robust drawing tools here.

There aren’t really very many tools

When it comes down to it, you can add paths and waypoints. Waypoints can easily incorporate an admittedly large set of pre-determined icons (I’d love to have these in ARIS), and pretty flexible text-data associated with them. But that’s really it. No tools to compare or do much with paths once they exist or draw more complicated annotations on the map, or to incorporate non-text data. It would seem that adding Panaramio streams, or Google sketch ups, even Google Docs, or photos would be pretty easy to implement. It may be possible to get more into these maps via the import feature, but I don’t have anything set to import ATM, nor do I know if anything you can get in a standard kml (or some other common format) would upload and display.

I’d really love to see if other people find out interesting ways to make this tool useful in interesting ways, either by pushing what can be done with it, or finding a use case that fits these basic tools. Maybe people who have used the pro tools can say something about what they’d be excited to see trickle down.

Rego – The anti-social way to document places

Finally, this week I also came across a new iOS app for recording locations, Rego. With it, you can quickly and easily name a location and add pictures and text. The formatting is pretty nice as you can see above, and you can group your locations by collections (these work like tags, not folders). Another main feature of this app is that you are building what is by default a personal library – there is no social network here, friends, or any of that. If you choose, each location can be shared as a webpage which can be opened on a computer or mobile device. The sharing is as easy as the creation. There are also buttons to share this link directly to Twitter or Facebook.

In positioning itself around privacy, Rego shares features with Glassboard. There might be some assignments where this would be an excellent format for students to produce and share knowledge with their teacher/class. It is really easy to set up and use. At the same time, the eye towards privacy ends up being a little too limiting for a lot of the scenarios I can imagine. It would be nice to start a collection for a group of people, but have it be about the collection and not part of the life stream of the members. Some of my other thinking on where apps like this might fit in to learning contexts is in this old post about photo sharing.

Check Rego out to see its UI and how well it works. If you fit the usage scenario, run with it. Myself, I will keep my eyes open for technical improvements to the ARIS Notebook, and keep on the lookout for something else that hits a few more of the bullet points I’m looking for.

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