Google Tour Creator Is Great. Gatsby That Is.

As a former Social Studies teacher, I believe most stories can be told with maps. That’s why I’m such a fan of Google’s mapping and geography tools. Ever since it debuted in May 2018, Google Tour Creator has been my favorite of these tools. What a great storytelling tool for students and teachers:

Speaking of storytelling, as I think about Tour Creator’s uses for the classroom, it occurs to me that it can help students visualize settings in novels.

Growing up on Long Island, it was easy for me to visualize the setting in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The novel takes place primarily on the island and in New York City. Even though most native New Yorkers consider the New York metropolitan area the center of the universe, many students who read The Great Gatsby will struggle with visualizing setting. Additionally, the narrator, Nick Carraway, references events in places beyond the New York metropolitan area.

What if Tour Creator can help students visualize setting in novels such as The Great Gatsby? Determined to find out, I re-read the novel and put Tour Creator to the test. So like Gatsby leading an awestruck Daisy through his mansion, let me show you the tour and share lessons learned about using Google Tour Creator.

Image Overlays in Points of Interest

Using images overlays in points of interest adds to the story. Great sources for copyright-friendly images include the Wikimedia Commons and Unsplash. Additionally, I used two Google tools to add geography to the tour. Tour Creator is great for its 360° Street View imagery but the viewer has no idea where they are. I added a sense of location by using map images as image overlays in points of interest. First, I created a Google My Map of Gatsby locations. Then I screen captured map images and annotated them using Chrome Canvas. Doing this kept the image quality high.

A map as an image overlay in Google Tour Creator.
Use maps as image overlays in points of interest to let students know where they are in Tour Creator tours.

For the ink color, I used the Colorzilla Google Chrome extension to grab the blue color from this Great Gatsby cover:

Images with transparent backgrounds are especially fun. Have a look at the Yale University scene for an example.

Screen capture of a transparent Yale logo in a Google Tour Creator tour.
Transparent images make for good image overlays in points of interest.

Sound in Points of Interest

Points of interest can also have sound. I used Online Voice Recorder to quickly record narration for points of interest and scene descriptions. Additionally, users can add ambient music to scenes. I used Bensound to find copyright-friendly music and added it to the Louisville and Queensboro Bridge scenes.

Screen capture of the Google Tour Creator scene editor. Blue arrows point to scene ambient audio and scene narration.
Add ambient sound and narration to scenes!

Easy to Make Changes

What if you have typed a point of interest, added an image to it, and added narration only to realize the image is incorrect? Fortunately, if you delete the image, the rest of the point of interest remains intact. It is so easy to swap image overlays in points of interest. Simply click the remove image icon:

Screen capture of a Tour Creator point of interest.
The image overlay goes away. The point of interest remains.

Amazingly, this is also true of the Google Street View scene itself. You can change the Street View image and the points of interest remain intact. Try it by hovering over the upper-right corner in the scene editor. Then click “Change.”

Screen capture of the Google Tour Creator scene editor. There is an arrow pointing to the word "Change."
Click “Change” in the upper-right corner of the Tour Creator scene editor. I dare you.

Google Street View – Time of Year

Users have no way of knowing what time of year the Google Street View car last photographed an area. I encountered this with my East Egg scene. Google Street View for that part of Long Island is from winter, unlike The Great Gatsby which takes place in summer. That is appropriate considering Tom and Daisy’s coldness towards those whose lives they destroy.

Tour Creator East Egg scene with snow on the ground.
The East Egg scene does not evoke summer.

Website Embed and/or Expedition

My Great Gatsby Tour is 13 scenes. That is a lot for a Google Expedition. Of course, Tour Creator tours also embed nicely in Google Sites:

Additionally, teachers can lead and students can view Tour Creator tours in Google Expeditions. A teacher leading the Gatsby tour can pick and choose which scenes to show. Simply click “Like” in a tour to add it to your Google Expeditions library.

Screen capture of the Like button in a Google Tour Creator tour.
Click “Like” to add a Tour Creator tour to your Google Expeditions library.

This Gatsby tour and all publicly published tours are available on Google Poly’s Tour Creator site.

Wish List

As Tour Creator continues to improve, I have two wishes for its future:

  1. The ability to add animated GIFs as image overlays in points of interest. How cool would that be?
  2. The ability to add videos to points of interest. There are already Google Expeditions that have video this way. That would be a great feature for Tour Creator as well.

Does this post have you curious about creating your own tour? Navigate to Tour Creator and play around. Let me know if you have any questions by commenting below or tweeting me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

Does your school, organization, or conference need professional development to help teachers make the most of Google Tour Creator? Have a look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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