Google Maps: A Tool for the Youth Media Field

During the April bloom of 2007, Google introduced a refreshingly inventive new online social utility tool called Google My Map that, from my perspective, is a powerful addition to the youth media arsenal. The Google My Map (GMM) application allows users to add digital content (text, video, paths, shapes, photos) to a satellite-imaged map of Earth, creating a personalized and annotated mashup that can be shared online with anyone in the world. The tool is easily learned through Google’s own tutorials and beneath the surface lays an endless array of possibilities for youth media educators.
Soon after the launch of GMM, I worked with two dozen teens—one group in Chicago and one group in Barbados for a summer youth media workshop run by Open Youth Networks. OurMap of Migrations, as we named it, captivated the intellectual and creative imaginations of the youth participants who eagerly added their own photos, videos, bios, travels and research to the map, becoming equally engrossed in exploring its rich content and learning about one another.
In populating the map with a data array of migration histories, including historical information on the transatlantic slave trade routes as well as personal stories of family diasporas, 95% of participants ended up reporting in the workshop exit survey that the map “significantly altered their views on immigration and forced migration.”
The process of jointly authoring a multimedia online map transforms how youth learn, communicate and participate in civic and social spaces. It can also change the way youth and youth media organizations collaborate and communicate with each other.
Youth Media and GMM Examples
Maps can become instrumental in mobilizing action and building new communities across geographic borders; in essence, maps make a world of difference.
To see live examples, see OurMap of Environmental Justice, which documents the toxics and assets of a Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago.
OurMap of Environmental Justice

View OurMap of Environmental Justice in a larger map
Chicago Youth Voices Against Violence is a recent collaborative work-in-progress created by over a dozen youth media organizations in Chicago that are embedding youth media stories about the impact of violence in their communities. See the map below:
Chicago Voices Against Violence

View Chicago Youth Voices on Violence in a larger map
To take full advantage of GMM, it is important to understand its intrinsic properties and features. The following are suggestions for practitioners in the field to explore the vast aspects of GMM:
Invite Collaborators
Since its release, thousands have people have created GoogleMy Maps. But a quick glance at the index of user generated maps reveals that the vast majority of these are created by single individuals directing friends to their latest tour of Europe. Few take advantage of the most unique and powerful aspect of this tool—the “invite collaborators” button. This simple command feature allows multiple users from across geographical regions to collaborate on a single map, effectively allowing you to harness collective intelligence through crowd-sourcing—many voices contributing to one dataset based on their own localized knowledge and experiences.
Browse the Directory
Click this button and you will be taken to a directory of hundreds of other map data sets that you can choose to use as overlays. For example, we often add the Census Data to Ourmap of Environmental Justice. The census disaggregates population data by race and ethnicity. In a public presentation, all we have to do is click on the Latino category and the map shows that the highest concentration of Latinos in Chicago live in close proximity to some of the more toxic industries in Chicago. This usually evokes a big response among users—such visible evidence is hard to deny.
Create a Theme that is Geographically-based
It is a map after all, so the content should be meaningfully tied to location and place. What is the story of a place? Can the map reveal the past, present and future of a location? OurMap of Environmental Justice shows the close proximity of dozens of schools in the neighborhood to a coal power plant and other toxic facilities. The map brings that reality home in a way no other piece of media could.
Engage the User with Customized Icons and Creative Legends
The legend in GMM allows you to organize your data in a prioritized and readable form and it also helps the user navigate your map efficiently. Plus, you can create custom icons for this legend. For instance, we used animated images of skulls and crossbones in the Youth Voices Against Violence map to indicate sites where recent violence has occurred against youth.
Don’t Forget YouTube
Maps operate as a curated exhibition or film festival. For example, YouTube is the only video platform that actually works—but it works great and a multimedia map with photos and video is twice as engaging! Just grab the embed code, hit HTML on the menu bar, paste in the code and voilá—instant video. Check out some of the videos embedded into Chicago Youth Voices against violence produced by several different youth media groups such as BeyondMedia Education, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network on the map above.
Embed Map in Websites and Blogs
You can choose to make your map public or private. If you choose “public,” it is automatically added to Google search directory. However, your distribution strategy should not end there. Ask your allies, supporters and members to embed your map into their blogs or websites. On your own website, it is best to embed your map directly onto a sidebar of your home page. Simply, hit the word “link” on the top right menu bar to get the URL or embed code. You can even customize the size of the map itself as well as the precise snapshot of the globe that you want to feature. The beauty of this embedding feature is that you can distribute knowledge broadly without worrying about it being accessed at only one centralized location.
Export to Google Earth to Create a Movie for Presentations
Make a public presentation of your map by exporting it to Google Earth. Simply select “View in Google Earth” and a .kml file will download automatically to your Google Earth application. Once your map is selected in Google Earth, you can choose to make a movie file of your map which navigates the viewer through from one placemarker to the next.
Create a Real Walking Tour Using Your Mobile Phone
If you own a mobile web browser you can easily pull up your MyMap on an iPhone, for instance, to lead you on a walking tour of sites that you have pre-placemarked. You can use the path tool to trace the path in the exact order of landmarks, reading about the sites or watching videos as you go. If you don’t have an iPhone, Google Mobile is an application that can be downloaded to virtually any other mobile phone device. Plus, the brand new speedy smart navigation tool in Street-view actually puts you right on the same street as you walk it. So, if you wanted to have new stakeholders visiting your local city to check out all youth media organizations, they can take a tour in real space and virtual space at the same time.
The possibilities for the field are vast when using the tool Google My Maps. As a practitioner in the field, I encourage you all to share GMM with young producers to come up with their own innovative ideas and uses. Through GMM, we can engage the field to unite on various local and national youth media issues, to learn more from one another across regions, and build a virtual understanding of our communities and our work. GMM has the potential to strengthen our alliances in the field, our visibility and our mobilizing efforts within new public social media networks. Through GMM, potentially hundreds of collaborators, who may be separated by real physical space, could be brought together in virtual geographic space.
Mindy Faber is the founding director of Open Youth Networks, a program of Columbia College’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media that trains under-resourced youth to use social media, games and emergent technologies for change.
Google My Maps Tutorials
Blogs on Maps
Geotagging Tips

Listening Across Borders: Creating Virtual Spaces for Youth Global Exchange

Photo by YouthLAB
As we transition into an increasingly global and technology dependant society, new participatory media networks have the potential to affect an international youth-led social justice movement. Because youth media programs are consistently at the forefront of technological innovation as well as the development of youth-centered educational practices, as a field, we are in a unique and exciting position to facilitate and incubate new youth-centered forms of global exchange.
However, there are few spaces where young people of different backgrounds and global perspectives can interact under conditions not mediated and controlled by adults—even in youth media. Innovative models that provide instruction on how such interactions can take place must be thoughtfully discussed, tried out, and shared among educators, which requires learning new pedagogical approaches.
As youth media educators, how can we create a different kind of pedagogical space where young people from around the globe can use the tools of participatory media (blogs, wikis, social networks, digital sharing sites, etc.) to connect politically and socially? How do we learn to “listen across borders”—the first step in creating a youth platform for global social justice?
These sets of questions inspired me to create YouthLAB, a program where youth are in charge, conceptualizing how to use participatory media as a springboard for youth leadership, activism and organizing.
About YouthLAB
YouthLAB, (Youth Listening Across Borders), an intensive two-week program, took place in summer 2007. Twenty young people from Barbados and Chicago came together in a virtual space to create global exchange using peer-to-peer networks and other tools of participatory media.
Each day during these two weeks, youth from Barbados and Chicago would meet physically in each of their respective locations but would also come together in a variety of wired worlds as well (such as online video chats, blog posts and comments, video letters, GoogleMaps, and Facebook).
Before the official start of the two-week exchange, a 16-year-old Chicago-based member of YouthLAB traveled with me to Barbados to provide computers, cameras, high-speed Internet service and skill training for eight young people at Mela Berger’s Caribbean Institute for Cultural and Healing Arts (CICHA). During that time, we shared knowledge on how to produce journalistic videos using iMovie and Final Cut Pro, shoot digital photographs, use social networking sites, and upload content to blogs and Google MyMaps.
Despite the high incidence of poverty on the island, the Bajan youth were digitally literate. Most youth access technology such as YouTube and satellite television regularly, although few had ever worked on Macintosh computers or software. While all the Bajan participants were black (as is 98% of the population), they were diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, schooling opportunities and the parish in which they each lived. In Chicago, the participants were comprised of 12 youth, 16-18 years of age (African-American, white, Latino, Muslim, and from a range of income levels).
Physical and Virtual Contact Zones
The diversity among the youth participants, within and across sites, is a critically important component of the YouthLAB model. As the work of Michelle Fine, Maria Elena Torres and others in the Participatory Action Research Collective have shown, “contact zones”—in which different cultures meet, clash and negotiate meaning—are not always neat and conflict-free. In fact, these messy spheres are necessary in order to create the kind of conversations that kindle democratic dialogue and richer forms of cross-cultural understanding.
Bringing youth into conversation about oppression and injustice both in physical and virtual spaces fosters critical consciousness. In such “zones,” new relationships form across previously uncomfortable differences. This is an area that is essential for educators to support if we are to “listen across borders” and help build global social justice movements by and for youth.
Pedagogical Approach
Part of YouthLAB’s mission is to provide a space where young creators and activists in Barbados and Chicago could engage in meaningful talk and listen and learn on their own terms, using their own tools and cultural forms of communication. The intrinsic properties of open source and Web 2.0 technologies are perfectly suited for this form of global learning.
While far from being naïve about the problematic aspects of social networking sites, most youth still perceive YouTube, social networks and other “affinity zones” (Henry Jenkins, MIT Comparative Media Studies) as having ample “street cred” precisely because of the way they exist outside the control of adult authorities and institutional gatekeepers.
In creating new spaces for young people to conceptualize their creative media & dialogue, I drew inspiration from the work of Harvard law professor, Yochai Benkler and his book, The Wealth of Networks, where he expands on the theory of “socially-motivated commons-based peer production.” Benkler describes a new public sphere, in which the creative flow of many people is galvanized into large-scale, participatory projects, but without the baggage of traditional hierarchies and profit motives. In other words, commons-based peer production supports many voices coming together to shape an idea or product.
Benkler identifies several defining features to commons-based, peer-to-peer production; however, in designing YouthLAB, we focused on the following:
Make the work “granular.” Everyone should contribute something of value that advances the overall cause.
Make the work modular. Divide the tasks into self-selected individual projects so that the work is divvyed up equitably and progress is clear.
Make the work capable of integration. Individual contributions can be assimilated efficiently into a meaningful and publicly shared final product.
YouthLAB put this theory of socially motivated, commons-based, peer production into pedagogical practice. All 20 participating youth joined together to create media and dialogue about racism, segregation, inequality, migration, and social justice through the collective authoring of a central multimedia blog.
For example, this cadre of teens co-created an interactive multimedia GoogleMap on migrations, which contained both personal and historical travel and migration routes, embedded geo-tagged photos, stories, and videos and placemarkers indicating past, present and future landmarks. In addition, teens raised and answered questions in the form of videos, online chats and blog posts for a global exchange.
YouthLAB developed a networked system that allowed youth to see themselves as contributors to a shared political discourse. Integrating collective intelligence into the participatory framework, youth became actors in a public global arena rather than passive recipients of mediated information.
Emerging Practices for Youth-Centered Global Exchange
1. Start with a leading, genuine question. For example, in YouthLAB our exchange was launched through a joint inquiry: “Does evidence of the legacy of slavery, injustice or inequality exist within in your everyday lives and communities today?” This leading question spurred research and dialogue and led to a new set of questions posed and pursued by youth participants.
2. Enter into “interpretive discussions” about youth-made videos. Several videos and clips were posted on the YouthLAB blog and youth participants engaged in “interpretive discussions,” analyzing the meaning of videotexts. For example, a fascinating exchange centered on the video, A Girl Like Me, where the teen filmmaker raises the question, “Why do so many of the Black children in the social experiment choose the white doll to play with?” The videotext can operate as a fulcrum for a shared discussion in which everyone contributes. In this way discussions can move beyond limited and non-interactive comments towards real exchange and communication.
3. Pose cross-cultural questions and responses through video. For example, the youth in Barbados produced a video asking a series of questions of their U.S. counterparts in Chicago and vice versa. Each YouthLAB team then created videos responding to these questions. The questions ranged from lighthearted, to social, political and educational. Some of the more complex topics incorporated research and street interviews, which teens posted onto YouTube or on the YouthLAB blog.
4. Use “skyping” and online chats to build intimacy. The immediacy and realness of these interactions through live video chats provide personalized exchanges and visceral experiences across borders.
5. Use online mixing and mashup tools for collective authorship. In YouthLAB, we created a split-screen video with images of Bridgetown Barbados on one side and Chicago on the other. We also began experimenting with a video online mixer tool housed on the video-sharing site, Motionbox. The possibilities for new forms of creative collaboration through digital content-sharing applications are endless.
6. Step back and give young people the lead. In YouthLAB, peer-to-peer teach-ins, collective intelligence-sharing, and co-construction of “tag clouds” through social bookmarking were important ways that youth participants not only created media products but shaped their own curriculum and instruction as well.
Key to this work is that youth media educators become “invisible” in the learning process—which is different from most of the training we received as educators. As youth interpret the meanings and questions their peers bring up, they bring their own perspectives, informed by a complex set of experiences, seen through the lens of race, class, privilege, gender, and nation. Young people in global exchanges hear challenging and different perspectives, which lead to new questions and understandings that can strengthen the social justice field.
The YouthLAB participants needed no persuasion to merge social activism with cultural production using digital networks. They did not need to be coaxed to talk about the issues affecting their lives with peers from a different country or prodded to sit down and watch media made by other youth. On the contrary, they couldn’t get enough of it. Clearly, youth with access to the tools of participatory culture experience new international and media-based sites as powerful and vibrant, fostering imagination, youth activism, and international exchange.
As an educator I was schooled in the methods of backwards-design; however, in a learning environment built around youth-led, commons-based, peer production, adult facilitators need to relinquish predictable outcomes in favor of a more elastic approach. We need a different type of pedagogical space—one where youth are in charge at the outset to use media as a springboard for leadership, activism and organizing. Using tools like commons-based peer production, interpretive discussion, and virtual contact zones, we can provide the types of environments for online global youth media to develop.
By creating these pedagogical spaces where hierarchies are flattened out but differences are not erased, youth media makers can provide a global example of dialogue by listening across borders.
Mindy Faber is an educator, curator, consultant and award-winning media artist. She is the Founding Director of Open Youth Networks and the designer of YouthLAB (Listening Across Borders). Faber lives in the Chicago area with her husband and 16-year-old son.

Getting Discovered

getting_150.jpgIn a recent Youth Media Reporter article, Dave Yanofsky of Uth TV argued that much youth media could be more innovative and of higher quality. Yanofsky believes that organizations will have an easier time creating compelling media that “pushes the envelope” if they find high-profile outlets to distribute their work. When young producers know their programs will reach a wide audience, he reasons, they push themselves harder to create top-notch media.
As someone who has curated numerous compilations of youth-produced video, I do not share Yanofsky’s belief that there is a dearth of high-quality media in the field. I have seen an abundance. I do, however, share his desire to get more audiences exposed to youth-produced media. Having spent much of my career working to that end, I’ve learned that connecting with “high-profile media outlets” is not the best way to go. Distribution through the local and grassroots sector has often proved to be a more effective strategy for helping the field accomplish its goals and reach a wider audience. And now, in 2006, the Internet presents unprecedented opportunities for distribution that we must carefully consider.
When it comes to distribution, youth media suffers from many of the same obstacles that have prevented American independent film and video from achieving broader dissemination—namely, the commercial monopolization of the film and television industries and lack of a large-scale viable public television system, despite massive and continuous advocacy efforts by leaders in the field. Yet unlike independent media, we remain without a solid infrastructure. We don’t have a range of distributors, a broad base of foundations, exhibitors, programmers, educators, and institutions that collude to build and sustain a viable distribution system. Without this infrastructure, distributing even the highest-quality youth media is and has always been extremely difficult.
In 2001, I conducted a national survey of youth media organizations for Video Machete. These groups confirmed what we suspected—there is far more work that is distributable than their organizational and financial capacity allows. Consequently, much youth-produced media never finds a home in the world beyond the organization where it was produced.
And curators of youth media projects have few clear ways to stay abreast of work being produced in the field. As a curator myself, I cannot call up multiple distributors to order preview titles of the most compelling new works. After calling MediaRights and ListenUp!—the two main groups that solicit youth video—I must phone and email over a hundred groups, individual teachers, and high school media programs around the country.
Our survey confirmed another important fact: getting media picked up by high-profile, national distributors is not always the goal of youth media educators, nor should it be. The adults collaborating with youth producers are not compelled by a singular objective of broad distribution. They help youth produce media for many reasons, including to help young people grow as individuals, to teach them skills, to foster dialogue and create ways for both virtual and in-person communities to learn about and engage with the authentic and too often neglected perspectives of young people.
Despite these varying goals, I have found that most youth media practitioners are united by a pervasive sense of purpose—the desire to help young people create media that make audiences stand up, pay attention, witness young people’s talents, acknowledge their strengths, and listen to their views. We see that when youth become actively engaged in their communities while collaborating with peers who share their concerns, they learn to see themselves as change agents, not marginalized members of what social theorist Henry Giroux calls the “fugitive culture.”

When youth become actively engaged in their communities while collaborating with peers, they learn to see themselves as change agents.

When their work is received by audiences who pay attention, youth begin to understand that their views can be taken seriously. They begin to see themselves as people who belong in the public sphere.
With this goal in mind, the final media product and its public exhibition take on a heightened level of importance. But this does not mean that the best audiences are the broadest audiences–the kind achieved through high-profile media outlets. Having their media viewed by their own communities often helps youth witness the power of their ideas more effectively than if their work appears on, say, The Learning Channel. Such grassroots forms of distribution have also been some of the more successful methods of disseminating youth media.
One young person I know, Zach Webb, produced an experimental, personal video documentary about institutional racism at his high school. Initially the video, “All I See Is What I Know,” screened before dozens of members of his small rural, county in Kentucky. Although the video explored a controversial subject, it helped to generate a thoughtful community discussion. As more people began seeing and talking about the video, the governor of the state got word and requested his own copy. The governor was so affected by what he saw that he created a task force on minority school achievement with the directive to be “inclusive of youth experiences and views.”
Webb became the first teen in the history of the state to be appointed to a governor-formed educational task force. Eventually, a regional chapter of the National Center for Community Justice distributed his tape to hundreds of African–American churches, civil rights groups and multicultural education organizations. This is one of many examples of youth media that has not only altered attitudes, but impacted public policy. And in this case, it occurred on a regional, grassroots, community-based level.
Now the Internet is providing even more possibilities for distribution that won’t come from a “high-profile,” top-down approach. YouTube currently streams an astounding 30 million videos to millions of users worldwide. Admittedly, much of its content is crude, amateurish home-made movies, but a system that rates videos by how often they’re viewed lets the most popular of the bunch bubble to the surface. And it is young people who create a large portion of the media on dozens of new sites streaming video, including Google Video, America Online’s In2TV, and Clash TV.
I am not suggesting that youth media should be randomly uploaded to profit-motivated media streaming sites like these. Youth media is most powerful when it is curated, contextualized or framed according to the diverse themes and issues that it conveys. (And this has proven true in other genres of youth media, as well, including print.) It is also most effective when it resonates with specific concerns of the community where it was created, as did Zach Webb’s video.
So instead of continuing to try to partner with high-profile outlets, we should begin exploring how we can take what we already know works in terms of distributing youth media—using grassroots channels, curating the media around themes, identifying communities the media resonates with—and connect it with the power of the Internet. When we speak of distribution, the questions should involve not how to partner with commercial outlets, but rather: How do we connect the power of the Internet with the real needs of youth and their communities to see and hear their stories represented in the media? How can we harness the Internet to increase youth media’s visibility online?
It is crucial to begin exploring these questions immediately, because whatever this field has failed to create in the past, now is an unparalleled opportunity to build for the future.
Mindy Faber served as director of distribution at Chicago’s Video Machete, where she facilitated video workshops for immigrant youth and curated youth media compilations for national distribution. In addition, she taught full-time media arts at Evanston High School for three years where many of her students produced award-winning programs, several of which aired on national television. Faber currently operates Faultline Media Services, a consulting firm dedicated to improving the quality of media arts education through training in best practices, curriculum design, and participatory evaluation.
Above left: Mindy Faber at work with a youth producer.

Continue reading Getting Discovered