Essay Assignment: A Lyric Collaborative Map of Campus

I like playing with web tools for creative writing, but I’ve been slower about adopting these assignments for classes. In December 2014, I attended a three-day “Digital Humanities” workshop where faculty from the Fairfield U. English Department got to brainstorm ways to integrate digital tools into our courses. One of my colleagues, Shannon Kelley, had spoken during a meeting that fall about an effort to get students to collaborate in populating a map of London within the field of Shakespeare scholarship.I’ve also long admired Dinty W. Moore’s fantastic and playful map essay “Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge.” Check it out. I love that these familiar platforms for information can be turned into art.

An image of Dinty W. Moore's "Mr. Plimpton's Revenge"; click on picture to go to the essay.
An image of Dinty W. Moore’s “Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge”; click on picture to go to the essay.

Mapping…. Hmmmmm….After mulling over the possibilities, I assigned my students in ENW 206: Intro to Creative Nonfiction a collaborative map assignment. I decided to do a map of our campus. I created a Google Map using My Maps, which has diverged from the navigation Google Map into a very complicated and powerful web-based thing. (More on the how-to of the map-making below).

The Assignment

Here’s the  Google Map essay assignment with the directions I gave my students.

This flash nonfiction assignment will be to create a polished description of a location on campus.

1) First, choose a location on campus. Go to that location and spend at least 20 minutes there with a notebook. Write about what you see, feel, and think, then craft a lyric description of this location. Take one or more photos.

2) Post the essay on your blog with one or more photos.

3) Find the location you chose on our Google Map. Make a location, then insert a hyperlink of your published post and embed it into the Google Map along with your description. If this is too complicated, don’t worry. We will spend a portion of a class session linking locations for these entries on a Google Map. Each will be linked to the map.

Here’s how to do the linking:

  1. Go to this link:
  2. You have been invited to edit the map, which means you should be able to put a location in the layer titled “Class Project.”
  3. To add a location, first click on the little symbol that looks like an inverted droplet.
  4. Click anywhere on the map. A “new location” will appear.
  5. Title the location. Cut and paste your essay into the box.
  6. Click on the “photo” icon and paste in the link to your blog entry. (I’m not sure if that part will work but we’ll see)
  7. Click “save.”
  8. Drag the icon to mark your location. If you need to see the map in more detail, click the + sign in the lower right hand corner to zoom in.
FullSizeRender (8)
This is a photo of my office; I started the map with a “sample” essay of my entry along with one of my photos.

Setting Up the Map

To make a map for my students, I set a default view to my campus, which took some playing around with. Then I invited my students to edit via email; to do that, I clicked on the “Share” button that appears when you are creating a map in Edit mode. When students accept the invitation to edit the map, they have to then click on “edit” to be able to make changes and create their entry.

To add photos, you have to click on the camera, but then the only images the Map program accepts are those from internet links. I have my students do individual blogs for my class, so they uploaded their photos and draft essays to a blog entry first. If you upload a photo in WordPress, you can click on the photo to get a unique URL that you then paste in after you click the camera. This allows for multiple photos!

It appears that the “caption” for each entry is about 500 words, so students with longer entries then pasted a link at the bottom of their entry to their blog so a visitor could read the full essay.

The Lyric Essay Map of Fairfield University

And… here is the finished product! You can click on each of the locations to see each students’ mini-lyric essay along with photos they took of their location. I am so happy with this moody, specific portrait of campus.



6 responses to “Essay Assignment: A Lyric Collaborative Map of Campus”

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