TEACHING GEOLOGIC PROCESSES VIA VIRTUAL FIELD TRIPS OF NATIONAL PARKS
The visual resources for the virtual field trips were collected during a recent sabbatical, mainly from parks in Alaska and the western to central continental US. These data include digital photos and digital videos, conventional 35 mm slides, and digital panoramic photo sequences that were stitched and blended to permit interactive manipulation for cylindrical views of 360 degrees. Oblique aerial photography from low-flying aircraft was acquired for some of the parks. All materials can be linked to provide a custom-made interactive series of scenes that incorporate maps, photos, movies, panoramas, diagrams, text, and problem sets. Rapidly evolving technology continues to simplify the process of creating interactive panoramas, scenes, and web-based applications. In-class presentations mainly utilize PowerPoint. The incorporation of presentations into WebCT permits students to revisit formal classroom presentations; study guides, review questions, problem sets, and other peripheral data are also included in the web page. Several students volunteered to develop their own virtual reality presentations, thus creating a learning experience which blended computer technology and geological concepts.
Sample prototypes of some virtual field trips were used and tested last spring in my general education course, Geology of US National Parks. Compared to previous class offerings, the students were markedly more engaged and responsive, and showed improved mastery of the material and concepts. Many students developed increased enthusiasm to understand more about the earth and the processes operating thereon and within. As a consequence, they are zealously eager to hone their new found scientific skills by traveling to, and making first-hand observations at some of the parks themselves.