2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


WHITMEYER, Steve1, FICHTER, Lynn1 and PYLE, Eric J.2, (1)Dept. of Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, (2)Department of Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, whitmesj@jmu.edu

Earth science students at all levels commonly experience difficulties with the perception of 3D structures and appreciation of time-dependent processes that exceed the human lifespan. In many respects, the digital environment is an ideal medium to address these conceptual barriers. Most geologic texts now include animations of global-scale systems (Cenozoic plate tectonics), as well as smaller-scale processes (rock cycles). However, surprisingly little attention has focused on the interdependency of Earth systems at all scales and how to familiarize students with such concepts. Standard curriculums in secondary school and undergraduate introductory geology courses present the basic concepts of plate tectonics and rock classifications. However, many instructional approaches fail to properly integrate these topics into an Earth systems viewpoint where rock type is intrinsically dependent on tectonic setting. Our current focus is towards an interactive digital environment where students can equate characteristic rock types with key tectonic settings, such as arc systems, rift systems/spreading centers and continental/oceanic convergence zones. An example is a temporal animation that illustrates the development of a fully mature arc system and includes an interactive interface through which students can focus on locations where characteristic rock types form and evolve. This approach considers the variations in use (educative vs. decision-making), level of prior subject mastery (naïve vs. more expert), and types of information provided (qualitative vs. quantitative), to define user-task expectations with more precision. In order to make interactive visualizations usable in a variety of educational settings, they must be based on an easily accessible platform. Existing animations have used Microsoft Powerpoint, Macromedia Flash, and ArcGIS with varying degrees of success. Powerpoint is universally available and functional for presentations but is limited as an interactive interface. ArcGIS is effective for 3D display of geologic data, but the steep learning curve restricts it to the upper-level college student. Flash animations can be written with both interactive and non-interactive interfaces and thus is the most appropriate platform for educational techniques where the visual domain is of primary importance.