Thoughts on Google Maps changes and use in MOOCs

A few years back, I was a big fan of using custom Google maps.  I made a few, including ones for my employer at the time and to record things such as walks and day-trips:

Paris day trip map

Recently, if you made such maps in the past, you will have seen them appear in your Google Drive (obviously that is if you use Google Drive as well).  This makes sense in that the custom maps tool was one of those Google hid away a bit and it was not obvious from the standard Google Maps that they were possible.  Indeed I had probably presumed that my custom ones had died/been retired in one of Google’s purges of services, possibly when the Google Maps UI changed.

The latest MOOC I have signed up for are making use of the Google Tool to compile a map of participants.  This is a nice idea but immediately raises a number of issues with the use of Google/public tools in communities/courses:

  1. Something as important as personal address is, at best, riskily shared on a public site – I would be happy to put the town centre of where I live but probably not the exact Google Map location.  Sure, someone can probably get this information easily enough but for personal ID fraud I wouldn’t want to post my exact location.  I would be more willing to do this in a traditional online course when you get to know the majority of your cohort and faculty (as I did with my MSc).
  2. The instructions given for populating the map don’t actually appear to work for me.  It looks like they have been compiled for ‘classic’ maps and the new UI doesn’t work the same.  If I cant work out how to do it in the new model I doubt many others can (although the map is well populated).  I did try adding the classic maps suffix to the URL but that has not helped.  Potentially an example of the risks of using non institutional tools that may change out of your control and no longer be suitable.
  3. Predictably, there seems to be a certain amount of spam listings for shops and the like, although this might be participants putting up less open posts (due to concerns such as mine in point 1).

Overall, I remain a huge advocate of open and free tools over building in house or over engineering.  However, in this case it doesn’t not seem like Google Maps was the best option.

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