About 20 percent of the respondents thought Sudan—Africa's largest country—is in Asia. Half of them couldn't find New York State on a U.S. map.
Africa was the featured continent during My Wonderful World's Geography Awareness Week from November 12 to 18.
To promote the event, Cochran and his colleagues approached Google Earth to find ways to incorporate facts about the continent into the popular digital mapping software.
"They came to us and explained the theme this year was Africa, and that was synergistic with some projects we had going on," said Rebecca Moore, a Google Earth software engineer.
The Mountain View, California-based company had already digitized a historic map of Africa from the David Rumsey private collection and has been developing an atlas of information about the continent, she said.
Over the course of two weeks National Geographic education specialists designed the questions, while the Google team directed how the quiz would play out on the screen.
"When you select an answer, it flies you there, and we wanted the flight to be interesting and the destination of the landing point to be informative," Moore said.
According to Cochran, response to the quiz has been positive.
In general, he expects interactive mapping technology to play an increasingly important role in geography education.
"People care about the things they see and they know, things they feel they can touch," he said.
"And a tool like Google Earth lets you see places that are far away and brings them up close. That will make people better stewards of the planet."
(Related news: "Satellite-Photo Atlas Uses Digital Globe to Show Eco Damage" [October 23, 2006].)
Michal LeVasseur is executive director of the National Council for Geographic Education (a My Wonderful World coalition member) and a professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
She said hard data on the effect of using tools like Google Earth on geography education is difficult to obtain.
But anecdotes suggest the technology is popular and is changing the way people relate to the world.
"It allows them to see the world in a different way that is much more dynamic than looking at maps alone it's fun, it's interactive," she said.
And while they are having fun, she added, "they are learning at the same time."
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