FROM VIRTUAL FIELD TRIPS TO GEOLOGIC MAP INTERPRETATION: USING GOOGLE EARTH TO TEACH GEOLOGIC THINKING AND VISUALIZATION
Google Earth is a versatile and interactive platform for teaching geoscience. Two of the many ways of using Google Earth are described below - both work best when students work individually and interactively with Google Earth, rather than watching an instructor do a demonstration.
Google Earth is an excellent resource for teaching geologic map interpretation and cross section construction in both intro geo and structural geology courses. Imagery in many places shows bedrock units with contrasting colors, and the tilt-and-fly-through capability of Google Earth helps students visualize contacts in 3D directly. One successful approach is to have students start by making their own geologic maps and cross sections of dipping units sketched on topographic profiles generated using the Google Earth elevation profile tool. Starting with dipping contacts is useful because they are actually easier for students to “see” in Google Earth. Students can then move on to mapping and visualizing folds, then horizontal contacts and vertical contacts, and, last, overturned folds. A full description of this approach, plus a kmz file of fabulous locations, can be found at http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/structure/Google_Earth/approach.html.
Google Earth is also useful for constructing, using, and organizing virtual field environments or VFEs. Like Google Street View, VFEs provide a ground level view of a field site thus giving students and teachers a valuable and engaging tool for preparing for and recording their field experience, or where necessary, virtually rather than actually exploring a site. As digital photography, note-taking, mapping, and data collection tools (especially those on mobile devices) become more robust and user-friendly, it becomes increasingly possible for students to construct sophisticated data rich and immersive VFEs linked to Google Earth. Examples of such environments can be found at http://www.artemis-science.com/VFE and http://www.virtualfieldwork.org.