GEOG 486
Cartography and Visualization

Lesson Project Tasks


After having read this first lesson, you should have a good idea of the spectrum between 1) cartography for visual communication and 2) cartography for visual thinking. Maps are used in both, but when used to visually communicate, the map is used to illustrate patterns or relationships in the data, whereas when used for visual thinking, maps are a means to facilitate the thinking process.

Below is the assignment for Lesson 1, which involves two parts, one on cartography for visual communication, and the other on cartography for visual thinking. The first part is to find a map to critically review and share it with the class for discussion. The second is to use an online mapping tool to visually think (e.g. toward decision making) and respond to the questions provided.

The assignment for this lesson introduces the Map Gallery, and the process we will be using to submit images of our maps to share in the class. After the description of the assignment, is information on how to submit. If you have questions after reading through this page, please post them to the Lesson 1 Discussion Forum.

Part 1 (of 2): Critical Review and Map Discussion

For this deliverable, you will need to:

  1. Find a map to share with the class. Because we will be sharing these with each other online, the map should be an image file that you can upload. The map can be a file you (or maybe a colleague) created, or from a website, or scanned from a physical source. It can be about anything, thematically. Here are some guidelines, only the first of which is a requisite:
    • Use a static map (that is, it should not be an interactive map or mapping tool).
    • Consider choosing a kind of map you make (it could be your own) or one that is related thematically to your field of work or desired field of work.
    • Consider choosing a map that has a style you aspire to acheive, or exhibits a look you like.
    • Consider choosing a map that is complex, multivariate and/or needs improvements.
  2. Upload the map to the Map Gallery
    • Log in to this site using the LOGIN link on the top menu. An "Assignments" section will appear on the right-side menu. The Assignments and Map Gallery Help page will give you generic assistance on submitting an image, and/or using the Map Gallery, but more detailed instruction on submitting assignments will be included on each Lesson Project Tasks page.
    • Use the Create Submission link to upload your map. On the Create Assignment page:
      • Select "Lesson 1 Map" from the Assignment Type dropdown menu.

      • Type in your name for Author, and the title of the map you are reviewing for Title. A caption isn't necessary because you will write a longer review of the map in a comment.

      • Under Map Image File, use the "Choose File" button to browse to your image file, and click the Upload button. 

      • Click Save at the bottom of the page to submit the map. 
        Note: Because we will be using this process for many of our assignments in this course, assignments are not automatically made public to the class. The instructor has to edit the status of your submission (after you post it) so that the image becomes public. After you save the submission, you will see your uploaded image surrounded by a pink box. This means that the page is not public, and only the person that submitted it and the instructor can see it.

  3. On this (currently pink) submitted page, you will also see space for comments. In this space is where you write or paste your critical review of the map. In addition to citing and linking to where you acquired your map, please discuss:

    • Why you chose the map to present to the rest of the class. For example, you admire the symbolization and typography (discuss why or what you like), or the subject is something you work with or are interested in, or maybe it is a map you made in the past, or possibly it is representative of maps you hope to make. Explain.
    • The purpose and audience of the map, and what the map visually communicates to the reader.
    • What works well in the design of the map. Consider discussing the kind of representation (e.g. choropleth, proportional symbols, etc.), symbolization and/or visual variables used for the data. Also consider color schemes, classification, legends, typography and style.
    • What could be improved about the map. Something can always be improved. (Refer to list of considerations in above bullet as items to address for your critique.) 
  4. Click Save to submit your review.
    Remember: Due to the way the Map Gallery is used in the rest of the course, maps that are submitted are not published automatically. After you submit your review, you should see it in your Assignments, but not yet in the Map Gallery. The instructor will manually publish the assignments before they can be read and reviewed by others.
  5. After submitting your map and review, please look at other student map submissions for this assignment, and add an original comment to the discussion about the design and function of two or more of the maps. Map submissions, once published, are accessed in the Map Gallery. Click the image for a full-size version. Click the title/link above the image to access the review and/or to add a comment. (If there are no - or very few maps - available yet to review, check back later in the day, or the next day.)

Part 2 (of 2): Visual Thinking Exercise

For this deliverable, you will need to:

Create a scenario where you use an interactive map in a professional situation to aid in decision making, for example, as a city planner, a public health analyst, or a government official. Below are some suggested online mapping tools to use. You are welcome to use another different interactive map that you find or are familiar with. Read through the rest of this exercise, then explore the data in the interactive map(s) to get an idea of what kind of application the tool could have. Then come up with a scenario where you use the mapping tool to make a decision, or plan a course of action.

Below are some online maps that you can use. Or find your own.

  • Mapping Medicare Disparities is a tool to explore health outcomes, hospitalizations, and costs by age, race and ethnicity, and sex, by state and county across the U.S.
  • The 500 Cities Project from the Centers for Disease Control provides health outcomes, prevention measures, and unhealthy behavior variables that can be looked at across the U.S for the largest 500 cities in the U.S., (e.g. prevalence of diabetes by city) or by census tract for individual cities, (e.g. smoking prevalence by tract in Indianapolis).
  • The Geography of Government Benefits from the NY Times is an interactive map that allows you to explore various federal benefits by county in the U.S. over time.
  • The National Map from the USGS contains all kinds of topographic data, e.g. landcover, geology, weather, and hydrography. Can also connect to data from ArcGIS online.   
  • WellbeingToronto is a website that allows visual exploration of a number of different indicators in Toronto by neighborhood (e.g. from categories such as demographics, economics, education, environment, housing, and more).
  • The Social Explorer provides a wide selection of data at the state, county, census tract, and census block group levels. But only census population data in the free version. There is a free 7-day trial to explore many other variables.
  • The Census Flow Mapper from the U.S. Census shows inbound, outbound, and net migration flows for individual U.S. counties.
  • The Outcomes for Children Project (Ireland) is a geovisualization tool, i.e., it includes some interactive information graphics along-side the map) for health and social service indicators for Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • Consider looking up local county or city GIS or planning offices, as they often create online mapping tools for certain data, e.g. historical survey information, zonings, parcel ownership, tree inventories, etc.

Note some of these mapping tools are easier to figure out than others, e.g. with loading data, or what the variables mean, etc. If you get stuck or have questions about any site, please post in the Lesson 1 discussion forum. It will be interesting to discuss or explore some of these tools together.

Once you have decided on a mapping tool to use, create a scenario where it would help guide a professional decision. In a Word document or PDF, please include the following (with screen captures where useful):

  1. Describe your scenario for using the tool. Be specific here as to the included data (e.g., explain why the selected data sets are useful for the state purpose), the intended audience (e.g., who will benefit from the map and for what purpose), and ultimatley what purpose the tool will satisfy (e.g., list the specific desicions that the map will help in making)
  2. Consult Figure 1.3.3, and explain where your interactive map fits within the cube according to the three axes: presenting knowns - revealing unknowns, high interaction - low interaction, and public - private.
  3. Give a synopsis of one map that you created to help satisfy the scenario. In so doing be sure to explain how your map serves as a means of cartographic communication contrasted against cartographic visualization. In other words, think about how communication differs from visualization and how those ideas are brought out by the map: What is the map communicating about the data and what does the map help visualize about the data?
  4. Discuss and illustrate how the tool aided the decision making process for your scenario. Address what you concluded, and how you used the tool to get there.
  5. Discuss any limitations of the tool, and/or how the visual information may misguide a user.

When complete with this second part of the deliverable, save your document and name it "LASTname_L1" (using your own last name), and submit it to the Lesson 1 - Part 2 Assignment in Canvas.*

Reminder - Complete all of the Lesson 1 tasks!

You have reached the end of Lesson 1! Double-check the to-do list on the Lesson 1 Overview page to make sure you have completed all of the tasks listed there before you begin Lesson 2.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them to the Lesson 1 Discussion Forum.