Walk with Us project helps First Nation students 'tell stories of where they live'
Walk with Us project started in September 2016
A former northern Ontario teacher is hoping to help students in remote First Nation communities showcase their hometown and tell their childhood stories through the use of Google Maps Street View, with a project called Walk with Us.
"During the 2015/2016 school year ... I was at Bishop Belleau school in Moosonee and I was teaching about the uses of Google Maps and street view," she said. "There was a student there who tried to show me where his aunt lived and where he liked to play on the street," said Melissa Lavoie, the founder of Walk with Us.
"But, he couldn't because there wasn't any street view in Moosonee at that time."
She said that "got her wheels turning" as she realized students wanted to tell the stories of their communities and what affects them most.
"From there and with the help of a grant from the Ontario Teachers Federation, Walk with Us started," she said.
"It stemmed from that one student," she said, "he didn't understand why not my community. And that's the whole point of Walk with Us. Why not rural Ontario, why not north, northeastern Ontario, why not northwestern Ontario?"
The project officially launched in September 2016, and since then Lavoie said she's been trying to connect with as many teachers, schools and students to spread her project so that more northern First Nation communities can be featured on Google Maps.
"So Walk with Us is a two-tiered project," Lavoie explained. "The first tier are the street-view images, so putting the community on the map in 360 degree."
"The second tier is that story-telling aspect ... so [students] can use virtual tour building software to tell stories of where they live, using those panoramic images as the backdrop."
Lavoie said students don't need a fancy camera to create a 360 degree view, as the easiest way to capture images for Google Maps is through a free street view app on their phone, or simply capturing photos through panoramic image apps.
"That's definitely an economic way of doing that and in doing so, that would make the project free for teachers and students and I think that's a very attractive option," she said, adding that Google also offers a 360 camera that can be loaned out to teachers and schools by simply filling out a form.
Through the power of technology like Skype and Google Hangouts, Lavoie doesn't necessarily have to travel up to the communities to teach students how to create street views for Google Maps.
"I have a toolkit for teachers and they can access that from on my blog ... if they want to do it on their own," she said, "but what I'm trying to do now is build an open map of virtual tours of communities across Canada."
"The map is going to be a way to bridge a gap and have the communities learn from one another."
She hopes teachers around Canada who have already "built tours of their communities or school" or have knowledge and experience in building virtual tours can sign up and help teach one another.
"I think it's a great learning opportunity for kids," she said. "I might do the initial training ... and [the students] are going to be the ones to put their communities on the map."