Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


AUER PERRY, Sara, BESEMER WHITAKER, Christine, DUGGAN-HAAS, Don, KISSEL, Richard A. and ROSS, Robert M., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850,

The Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) is actively developing Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs) that allow students to virtually explore a real-world location with the purpose of answering the core question: Why does this place look the way it does? VFEs are intended to be interactive, inquiry-based investigations, not passive descriptions of field sites, and they can either replace an actual visit to a site or serve as pre- and/or post-visit exercises. In an effort to create a VFE that can serve as a model to educators and other informal institutions, PRI has developed a VFE based on Taughannock Falls State Park. Located in Ithaca, NY and possessing a drop of 215 feet, Taughannock Falls represents one of the tallest falls east of the Rocky Mountains. Taughannock Creek carves through Devonian-aged marine units and empties into Cayuga Lake, which formed during the glacial advances of the modern ice age. The site of Taughannock Falls therefore presents opportunities to discuss basic geologic principles, such as weathering and erosion, as well as events occurring in the deep past, such as transgressions, regressions, and glacial activity. With the presence of fossils at the site, also possible are discussions of evolution, paleoenvironments, and age-dating. All of these factors contribute to the above core question, making Taughannock Falls an ideal location for a VFE.

The Taughannock VFE utilizes “cutting-edge” yet highly accessible technology and software to capture high-resolution photographs, panoramas, and video of an area. Though key features of the site are targeted for imaging, students experience a sufficient degree of the site that they must filter observations as they would at the physical site. Equipment used includes: a panorama Tripod Head; Gigapan Robotic Camera Mount (for high-resolution gigapixel panoramas); and a Sony GPS Imager Tracker (which syncs images with GPS coordinates). Free Picassa Web Albums and Google Earth (GE) software are used to store and provide a platform for the VFE’s media. Advanced stitching software (PT Gui) is also used to create seamless panoramas and 360 degree Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) animations. The Taughannock Falls VFE is posted online at Creation of a core set of VFEs and a best-practices manual are components of PRI’s ReaL Earth Inquiry project (NSF DRL 0733303).