Annotated map assignments

Annotated maps tools allow students to add textual or multimedia descriptions to a custom map. When the user clicks on the marker or region, the corresponding description appears. These maps can then be ‘embedded’ on a course website or linked online. Google Maps and OpenStreetMap are common examples of annotated maps.

Learning goals

  • Visualize spatial components of course material and organize that materials through the use of layers and color-coding
  • Incorporate multimedia to better tell a story or present information
  • Encourage collaborative, project-based work that may result in a lasting, informative artifact


  • Online mapping tools provide a shared, collaborative canvas on which students can locate and position course materials. With the addition of layers of data that can be shown or hidden, students can construct a thematic archive of geo-located materials.
  • Map tools can be used for geo-spatial analysis as well as for storytelling. Placing information on a map might give students a sense of the spatial relationships between events, people, and locations, but also can be presented to convey a sequential narrative.
  • When seeking online resources, it is important to check the file type. This may inform what kind of tool will suit your needs. Geographic data on the web is often shared as a geojson or KML file, which is suited to online mapping tools. Collections of data containing ‘shapefiles,’ tend to be used in desktop GIS software, such as ArcGIS, but can usually be converted for use on the web.
  • With the addition of the wpGeo plugin, a blog on the McGraw Commons course blog platform can become a platform for creating annotated maps. The plugin allows blog posts to be associated with specific locations and cumulative maps with markers for each post are automatically generated.
  • Google MyMaps is a very attractive tool for small-scale mapping projects, but may be somewhat restrictive. Be aware that Google MyMaps limits how many layers may be included in a map and how much data can be imported and plotted.
Student preparation

Tools such as Google MyMaps, MapHub, and uMap are intuitive, freely available, and require very little training. The McGraw Center offers documentation as well as in-class training when appropriate. The Library has a significant collection of both physical and digital maps, and staff who regularly lead training sessions in ArcGIS.

  • ArcGIS Online StoryMaps, an online application for sharing maps in the context of narrative text and other multimedia content.
  • Q-GIS, open-source geographical information systems software.
  • Google MyMaps, an online mapping tool for creating personalized, annotated maps
  • StoryMapJS, a visual timeline tool made available through Northwestern University’s Knightlab.
  • McGraw Commons
  • MapHub
  • Palladio
Rubrics and resources
Posted by May 10, 2021