Interview with Jerome Burg, at the meeting place of books and the web
Thanks to Betsy Partridge, who told me about Google Lit Trips www.googlelittrips.org/, and put me in touch with its founder and creator. If you are an author, school librarian, teacher, parent, editor, or publisher you should know about this ever-growing site – and the thinking behind it.
Jerome retired last year after 38 years as a high school English teacher in northern California. The turning point in his life that led to his new career in online education came some 30 year ago when he was given the choice of monitoring hormones as a chaperone at school dances, or developing minds as an advisor to the school newspaper. While he had no training in journalism, he had supervised enough dances to make the choice easy: Helping out on the paper he got to know technology so well that he was eventually named an Apple Distinguished Editor by the computer company, and, shortly before he retired, trained by Google to use their tools. At the Google training where the Google Earth staff was showing their work he had the epiphany that led to the site which, now, gets between 700 and 1200 hits a day.
As many of you must know, Google Earth allows you to zoom down to images of real places on the world in fine detail. You can view places down to the level of actual streets and houses, and, if you use the “terrain” tab travel through an animated rendering of the geography. Jerome realized that you could trace the journey described in any book, fiction or nonfiction – whether the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, or, as you will soon be able to see on the GLT sites, the Selma marches described in Betsy’s forthcoming book Marching For Freedom – on a master map, then allow visitors to view those actual sites, along with guiding captions, historical images, and links. Google Earth, he understood, would allow students to experience and explore the physicality of places they previously could only outline on traditional 2D maps.
The reason you should all be excited about GLT it is that they can be used so many ways: teachers can create rich journeys with many layers of information and possibilities for exploration; students can be assigned to create their own GLT – learning by doing in a perfect 21st century form of Deweyite experimentation. Trawling viisitors to the site will have an ever growing library of books-expressed-in-maps to browse. Terrific. And, as Jerome stresses, this application is just the tip edge of an entire approach: we can use digital technology to let students develop their own expertise, to lead all of us, students and teachers, past what we know on our own.
Happy birthday Jerome — and I hope all of you begin thinking up ways to use the great tool he has created.