Introducing a 3D Google Earth Model of UWFox
ObjectivesGeographic Information Science is taught in the UW Colleges as GEO 106, a course designed to introduce students to various forms of geographic information. Goals of the course includes exposure to many skills, such as map reading and interpretation, map analysis, cartographic methods, remotely sensing data, and an understanding of technical applications of geographic remote systems.
At UWFox this spring, GEO 106 encountered a number of technical problems largely related to software and hardware obsolescence. So old were these machines that even our resident Helpdesk miracle workers found the challenges daunting. Despite mounting frustrations, the students kept an overwhelmingly positive attitude and pushed forward.
Just after midterm, an important GIS lesson was again aborted by the software company’s failure to support its older products still in use. At that time, the class discussed alternate project lessons that could provide a laboratory and application for all necessary skills while creating a product useful beyond the limits of this particular course section or semester.
With this, the first three-dimensional model of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley campus was born.
Setting Up the ProjectBecause of the very circumstances that prompted the creation of this assignment it was, in fact, very much designed on-the-fly. As an experiment, the students were allowed to set parameters for the assignment.
With student input, it was decided the project would:
- Include only exterior surfaces of UWFox buildings
- Exclude plants, sculptures, signage, pavement
- Divide the campus into portions to model
- Create teams assigned to model each portion
- Be collaborative, not competitive between groups
To prepare for the project, students completed a number of labs focusing on the practice of field measuring techniques including compass bearings, orienteering, personal measurements such as pacing and eye height, and the application of trigonometry to calculating building and object heights.
Geographic Information Science Skills Applied
- Interpretation of existing scaled floor plan
- Compilation of incomplete floor plan sources
- Creation of scaled footprint of campus buildings
- Field measuring of length and width
- Field calculations of object height
- Trigonometry (use of sine, cosine, tangent)
- Creation of remotely sensed imagery
- Use of remotely sensed imagery for detail additions
- Organization of significant numbers of data points.
- Construction of scaled geovisualized model of campus
- Application of data points to visualized model
- Georeferenced model to larger coordinate system
Students then joined self-selected working groups. Each of the groups was assigned a portion of the campus based roughly on their preference. Every possible caution was taken to ensure that the modeling difficulty of sections assigned were roughly equal.
The basic campus map below, adapted from the UWFox website shows the divisions of campus and to which section students were assigned:
Science Wing(Students: Fanessa Bowe, Kathryn Hirte, Kelly Kearn, Stephanie Littlejohn)
This is the second newest portion of the UWFox campus, being constructed in the mid-1990s. Though it was the smallest section assigned in terms of floor space covered, it had a few interesting little challenges that kept this group busy.
Library, Union, Children's Center(Students: Amanda Appleton, Marcus Driessen, Chelse Godfrey, Evan Van Stralen)
The Library section of the building includes some of the oldest existing portions of the campus, as well as a student union and children's center which were added later. This was the only portion of the campus modeling that included an outbuilding, and this section included two.
1300 Wing(Students: Matt Giesbers, David Kington, Aaron Kufner, Drew Lamers, Zach Zacharias)
The 1300 Wing of the UWFox Campus is another hodgepodge of the campus that's been added and connected together over time. Some parts of the building here are original to the Midway Road campus, while other portions were installed within the past decade or so. The variety of architecture in the section really played to the strength of this group, who submitted a model with many nuances and subtleties.
1800 Wing & Second Floor(Students: Eric Fitizgerald, Matt Frank, Aaron Hughes, Hunter Jagla, Adam Ladwig)
The 1800 Wing & Second Floor is another later edition, sometime in the early 1990s This portion holds the engineering labs, art studios, media and IT departments, and Continuing Education. It is one of only a couple of portions to have a second floor. It also has the most complicated of exterior patterns.
Communication Arts Center and Fieldhouse(Students: Andrew Mohl, Shawn Kargus)
The CAC & Fieldhouse section holds building portions from two vintages: the fieldhouse, which was installed in the early 1990s, and the CAC, which was completed sometime in 2009. The Fieldhouse is where physical education courses are held and where UWFox's basketball and volleyball teams compete. The CAC contains a performance hall, black-box theater, art galleries, and other creative spaces.
I know I'm not supposed to play favorites, and I was incredibly impressed with all of my students' submissions.... but this one, to me, took the cake. It was probably the most challenging of the sections (just ahead of the science wing) but the modeling displayed here is beyond anything that I thought I'd see from this project. And this was a group of two students, one of which was injured and out of commission a good portion of the project.
Overall ResultsThe students responded very well to the project. Though this was the first geography course many of them had taken, they readily learned and applied the many advanced skills necessary to see the project to its completion. The entire project was slated for a very ambitious six week timeline, and all groups except for one were able to submit a finalized model without any extension of the deadline.
Each groups model was combined with those of the other groups to complete the campus model. Some of the sections were more generalized, reflecting the limited time frame for the project. Though not perfect, the completed model was crafted to a high quality, enough to warrant submission to Google for inclusion in the Google Earth data stream, which is accessible to anyone who downloads Google Earth. Below are some previews of the campus model.
When approved, the UWFox campus will join 3D modeled buildings from all over the world submitted by both amateur and professional designers. UWFox will take its place alongside the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, El Cristo Redentor, Lambeau Field and other landmarks included as part of this widely used geographic information modeling environment.
The students were also required to present their finished models to the school, which we did in the form of a poster presentation in the main hallway. When assigned, several of the students complained that this was an unnecessary component of the project that would just be wasting their time. After the models were complete and after they saw the quality of their own work, they were definitely more interested in showing off their product. UWFox posted some photographs of this presentation in a Facebook gallery of some very proud students showing of their work. Afterwards, a couple of students who had complained earlier about the presentation were gracious for the opportunity to show of their work in a public forum.
To bring the groups together and to show the final product of all of their work, I also created and printed a poster, which I presented alongside them. Any instructor who requires this kind of academic work of students should be willing to do the same, and provide a very tangible demonstration of how it's supposed to be done. The poster, which replicates a lot of what is seen elsewhere in this post, is also available to view here.
Pedagogical Lessons LearnedThe project proved invaluable to students because it provided an interesting and applicable way to learn the many varied skills required to successfully complete GEO 106. The project was successful enough in both providing a valuable learning experience and generating excitement that it will certainly be used in another form in coming semesters.
When a similar project is assigned in the future, the next class of students will benefit from better planning and more efficient coordination of the project owed to this first experience. When this project is assigned again, it will be the culmination of a semester specifically designed to develop skills leading to this project. Future students will benefit from the instructor’s significantly improved skills with Google SketchUp, the primary software program used to model the school.
One major weakness of the project in this iteration is that collaboration remained limited between groups. This is noticeable in the multiple roof colors visible in the final model of the campus. With an extended timeline for completion of the project, students will be able to coordinate better between groups without focusing so intently on simply finishing the group’s responsibility.
Future ApplicationsFuture attempts at using a Google Earth modeling project for GEO 106 could focus on a number of different avenues. Likely, the next iteration of the course will focus on improving upon the existing model with more intricacy, including the addition of land cover, plants and landscaping, signage and other details.
In addition, this particular project could be used in developing town/gown relationships with various community partners. A similar task to modeling the campus would be modeling the main strips of downtown Neenah or Menasha, in coordination with downtown development boards or the chambers of commerce. A possible opportunity is also under development with the NEW Zoo in Green Bay.