2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


SAINI-EIDUKAT, Bernhardt1, SCHWERT, Donald2, SLATOR, Brian3, BORCHERT, Otto3, COSMANO, Robert3, HOKANSON, Guy3, RITTEL, Carson2 and TOMAC, Shannon4, (1)Department of Geosciences, North Dakota State Univ, Fargo, ND 58105-5517, (2)Dept. of Geosciences, North Dakota State Univ, PO Box 5517, Fargo, ND 58105-5517, (3)Dept. of Computer Science, North Dakota State Univ, Fargo, ND 58105, (4)Dept. of Art and Design, Minnesota State Univ Moorhead, Roland Dille Center for the Arts 161, Moorhead, MN 56563, bernhardt.saini-eidukat@ndsu.nodak.edu

The Geology Explorer is a synthetic, computer-based, educational environment where students can carry out geologic investigations as a geologist would in the field. It is a multi-user, role-based, internet-hosted environment consisting of a programmable software system coupled with a database of graphical backgrounds and objects. Players, who may be separated by thousands of km in real life, are represented by avatars of their choice and can “see” and communicate with one another.

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.