Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM
USING COMPUTER MODELING TO STIMULATE INTEREST AND LEARNING IN LARGE LECTURE COURSES
National Parks Geology is a large, 100+ student, lecture course at Penn State Erie - The Behrend College. This course satisfies a general science requirement, and as a result the students are of diverse backgrounds. In an effort to engage these mostly non-science majors, a series of computer exercises and visualizations have been developed. The exercises revolve around GIS models of the National Parks. The GIS models are easy to construct, and once developed, can be used without expensive software. The data used to create the virtual parks are available from the National Park Service and the US Geological Survey. National Elevation Datasets (NED) are used as the terrain basemaps. Land cover, hydrology, geology, and anthropogenic features are added as additional layers. Students are able to query the maps, to find for instance, which vegetation types are found at a given elevation. Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) models are also created. These allow the students to move through the park, zoom in and out, and look at the region from any location.
The students are asked questions about the interactions between the various map layers. The questions range from very simple identifications (What are the oldest/youngest rocks?) to more interpretive problems (What would be the impact of a new road?). These exercises get students thinking about geologic history, ecology, and park stewardship. Student response to the models has been positive. The exercises have encouraged interest in the National Parks as well as in geoscience and GIS.