GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 45-11
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


HOUGHTON, Jacqueline J.1, GORDON, Clare E.1, ROBINSON, Annabeth2, CRAVEN, Ben1, MORGAN, Daniel J.1 and LLOYD, Geoff E.1, (1)School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9JT, United Kingdom, (2)Leeds College of Art, Blenheim Walk, Leeds, LS2 9AQ,

We are using screen-based virtual reality landscapes, created using the Unity 3D game engine, to enhance the training geoscience students receive in preparation for fieldwork. This presentation focuses on how we have tried to create realistic, engaging and immersive worlds in which to learn and teach. Memorable and engaging experiences aid learning, so we have looked to create realistic worlds with interesting features, beyond just the basic requirement of the spatial distribution of outcrops to be mapped. It is surprisingly easy to get lost in a landscape with few features, so a sense of scale and place is essential. We have utilised this with assets such as sheep (including a dead one with flies buzzing round it), flying seagulls and farm buildings. Sounds such as bird song, the sound of running water near the streams and a jet fighter plane flying over periodically, enhance the experience. Our early outcrops were generic grey lumps; now we are working on using 3D photogrammetry to create outcrops with more realistic textures and shapes. We have found the most convincing virtual terrains are based on real world examples, with the texture tiles, used to paint the landscape, created from photographs from the area. The levels of realism are constrained, however, by the technical requirements to run the game (web speeds, computer graphics etc) as well as our own abilities. The mapping experience itself is free form with no prescribed route through the virtual landscape. Students can plan their routes as they see fit, and based on data gathered. However, travel speed is restricted to a brisk walk, and rivers can only be crossed at bridges. This reflects time management, forward planning and the physical effort required in real fieldwork. How successful our attempts at realism have been in aiding learning is difficult to establish. Feedback from students is very positive and we have seen them engage in story telling within the virtual world – debating how the dead sheep died. Does this add to a memorable experience and so aid learning? This is something we plan to evaluate further. This project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds and Leeds College of Art, UK. All our virtual landscapes are freely available online at
  • GSA talk 2017.pdf (3.4 MB)