VIRTUAL GEOLOGIC MAPPING IN THE GEOLOGY EXPLORER
The newest module provides students an authentic, spatially oriented, geologic mapping experience. Tasks they can master include: a) recognizing their location on topographic maps and air photos, b) sampling, testing, and identifying rock types in the region using physical and optical properties, c) creating a draft geologic map based on these observations, d) having their map critiqued, and d) interpreting their final map by putting the rock units and events in time-stratigraphic order. Students also learn that there may be more than one plausible answer as in the real-world practice of geologists holding multiple working hypotheses on maps in progress. Student mastery of material is demonstrated by task completion.
In the field, when students have difficulties, they might turn to a more experienced geologist for advice. The Geology Explorer is automated to provide this type of student tutoring. Software agents monitor student actions and "visit" students if needed. The tutors access the database of the geology, of the requisite tests for object identification, and of the student's history. Tutors then advise the student, but do not mandate student actions.
Virtual experiences are not to be replacements for real life field or laboratory analytical work. Rather, they are learning environments that can provide students with an appreciation of how geologic studies are undertaken.