Maps are a natural and efficient way to communicate spatial information. More than serving as tools to help us think about physical space, they are useful for visualizing and organizing information within the context of a particular place. Maps provide a concrete landscape on which to present a story tied to a place that can provide visually compelling interpretation of data. Interactive maps help people visualize and communicate complex spatial relationships that can facilitate decision making (Pacheo  and  Velez, 2009, p. 290).

Interactive map authoring tools lend themselves to weaving together a narrative that

  • provides spatial context.
  • provides a contextual point of reference to visualize interrelated events.
  • is not limited to location-specific information. The dimension of time can be incorporated over geo-spatial regions.
  • encourages deeper inquiry from viewers and gives them agency in their exploration.
  • make map authoring easy for creators.


Easy to use and flexible mapping platforms for those who are not savvy GIS (geographic information system) users:

ESRI Story Maps provides templates for showcasing map-related information alongside narrative and multimedia content. It is a tool well-suited for communicating technical information to laypeople. ESRI also has a collaborative platform for building maps called Crowdsource. Best practices for Story Maps are available if you are new to the platform.

Scribble Maps makes mapmaking easy, and their app is also mobile friendly.

Google Earth is a reliable platform for presenting non-technical geospatial information. The user community has shared a wealth of geospatial and tutorial resources for others to use.

StoryMapJS is one of the most flexible mapping tools but may require extra time while building a map. This tool differs from the others: you can upload your own basemap, so that a historical map can be used in place of the default map. There is also a Gigapixel tool that makes mapping on top of high-resolution photos of artwork possible. Imagine facilitating exploration of an artistic masterpiece as if it were an interactive map!


As we send students off into this world of ever-increasing amounts of data, interactive maps can provide a mechanism to not only help them understand and make sense of the world around them but to also present and communicate complex information to others. Mapping is a form of digital scholarship that promotes inquiry and understanding. With best practices of effective data visualization in mind, these interactive map authoring tools allow students to focus on publishing, without the overhead of learning the technical underpinnings of integrating maps and multimedia.



If you are interested in learning more about publishing using ESRI’s Story Maps, join us October 30, 2016, at 9 a.m., in the eCampus office, 131 Bunnell, for a hands-on workshop.


Pacheco, D., & Velez, V. N. (2009). Maps, mapmaking, and a critical pedagogy: Exploring GIS and maps as a teaching tool for social change. Seattle J. Soc. Just., 8, 273.