2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 151-5
Presentation Time: 2:10 PM


KRANTZ, Robert W., Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ 77079, ORMAND, Carol J., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057 and FREEMAN, Brett, Badley Geoscience, North Beck House, Hundleby, PE23 5NB, United Kingdom

Geologists as a group have and use above-average spatial thinking skills to interpret and communicate complex geologic structures and models. Interpretation challenges, especially with industry subsurface targets, come from rich and detailed but still ambiguous data volumes, challenging geologic forms, powerful but difficult-to-learn software, and under-prepared staff. In June of 2013, 70 participants met in Reno to discuss these and related issues, and to explore how spatial cognitive science can help us better understand and develop geologic interpretation skills, software tools, and education strategies. Industry interpreters and trainers, academic structural geologists, software developers, and cognitive scientists brought complementary perspectives to three days of presentations, posters, and discussions, plus a field day with interactive interpretation modules.

By the end of the conference, many of the participants expressed significant new insights. These included a new appreciation for the complexity of the interpretation mission, both geologically and cognitively; a deeper understanding of the distance between novice and expert geoscientists, exemplified by the complexity of 3D interpretation; a developing understanding of the benefits of understanding the cognitive processes and cognitive challenges of our work; and a desire to learn from and improve computerized visualizations of the data. There are obvious implications in this for teaching and training, and in the application of research-proven strategies to help move people from novice to expert more efficiently.

For the majority of the conference participants, the cognitive science perspective on what we do, how we do it, and how we can teach/train people to do what we do was completely new. A few key ideas generated a high level of interest. First among these is that spatial cognition improves with practice, but also degenerates with disuse. Furthermore, whatever we can do to reduce the cognitive demands of visualizing spatially complex datasets frees our minds to analyze and interpret the data. Strategies that are known to help with cognitive off-loading include gesturing, sketching, and, simplifying software. All of this will help prepare the next generation of interpreters.