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

Paper No. 15
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:05 PM


PENCE, Nicholas, Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, 800 S. Main St, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, WEISBROT, Elizabeth, Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, WHITMEYER, Steve, Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, Memorial Hall MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, VA 22807, DE PAOR, Declan G., Physics Department, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529 and GOBERT, Janice, Department of Social Science and Policy Studies, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609,

This research focuses on creating geology labs and exercises using Google Earth and evaluating these instructional materials to see whether they enhance student learning of geological concepts. Several features in Google Earth are useful for visualizing difficult concepts, such as the relationships between scale, location, relief and time. We make use of features such as the polygon tool to delineate regions on the Google Earth surface that represent unit boundaries, the extent of ice sheets, etc. Digital images can be draped over the 3-D terrain, and COLLADA models can be imported and positioned any location and orientation. For example, we use models to locate cross sections along their correct lines of section on geologic maps and allow the viewer to lift them from the subsurface using a slider control.

Using these tools, we have created laboratory exercises for physical geology classes that include: an Introductory lab, a Virginia Geology and Topography lab, a Glacial lab, and an Oceans lab. The introductory lab teaches students how to use standard and advanced features of Google Earth in the context of viewing type examples of a variety of geologic features located around the Earth. The Virginia lab includes simplified maps of physiographic provinces and geology, cross sections, and a stratigraphic column. Geologic map and cross section images were created in Adobe Illustrator and imported into Google Earth. By including cross sectional images with surface geologic features we can illustrate how surface geology translates into the subsurface. The glacial lab covers temporal processes such as glacial retreat and includes cross sections explaining glacier mechanics. The oceans lab includes maps of global ocean currents and time-based animations of sea level changes.

These instructional materials have been evaluated by both geoscience experts and novices. Assessment and evaluation vehicles have included pre and post tests, think aloud protocols, and user-monitoring software. Initial results suggest that introductory exercises are needed to familiarize users with the Google Earth interface, prior to their using more advanced models to address geologic questions. However, once these initial hurdles are overcome, users report that these Google Earth exercises significantly enhance the learning experience.