Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting (13-16 March 2010)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:05 PM


GUERTIN, Laura A., NEVILLE, Sara and HARTLINE, Jonathan, Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine, 25 Yearsley Mill Road, Media, PA 19063,

Google Earth can serve as a valuable technological foundation for undergraduate research projects involving non-science majors. Freely available, Google Earth is a virtual globe that utilizes satellite imagery with aerial photographs and GIS data for a geographic exploration of the planet. It is critical to ensure that today’s undergraduate students, whether they are geosciences majors or not, have some basic content knowledge and skills with geography and the environment. A 2006 National Geographic-Roper ASW poll reveals a significant lack of basic geographic knowledge among 18-24 year-old Americans. Interviews with 510 young Americans revealed that 37% could not find Iraq on a map, and one in three could not place the state of Louisiana on a U.S. map after Hurricane Katrina. But geography is about more than place names and locations - geography analyzes and illuminates interconnections between people, places, and environments. In a world increasingly defined by a global economy, cultural migration, and mounting environmental challenges, geography and spatial connections are essential prerequisites to citizenship and success in the future.

Non-science majors at Penn State Brandywine have the opportunity to engage in research involving the creation of a Google Earth QUEST. A QUEST (Questioning and Understanding Earth Science Themes) is where a student takes a popular non-fiction book relating to the Earth sciences and plots the content with a short narration in Google Earth. The students also develop a set of critical-thinking questions so that the QUESTs can be used by middle and high school teachers for in-class exercises. Students respond positively to engaging in research with Google Earth, as “seeing where in the world these things are occurring makes the issues more real,” and “my knowledge and comfort with geography has definitely increased from working with Google Earth.” In connecting books such as John McPhee’s The Control of Nature and Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, a student commented, “creating Google Earth QUESTs helps me make sure I have a better understanding of the science in the books I read.” Combining the technology with printed texts can assist students in developing their spatial and science knowledge, necessary in a global citizenship, no matter what a student’s major.