THE USE OF VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS TO ENHANCE OR REPLACE TRADITIONAL FIELD LEARNING EXPERIENCES AS A MEANS OF SUPPORTING DIVERSITY IN THE GEOSCIENCE STUDENT POPULATION
For students who are not able to participate in a traditional field learning experience, it is imperative that we as educators understand how and when it is appropriate to use virtual approaches to substitute for physical field work, as well as the challenges in designing an equitable educational experience that doesn't further isolate students from the rest of the academic community. Presented here are the results of an interdisciplinary review of the literature regarding the use of virtual field trips and remote field access in the natural sciences, and studies of learning and engagement in virtual worlds from a range of disciplines. This review was undertaken with a special focus on students with physical disabilities in mind, but the resulting synthesis provides insights useful to the design of virtual learning environments that promote a positive learning environment for diverse student population . A synthesis of the literature provides a framework of knowledge in the evolving world of virtual learning, defines the gaps where more study is needed, and offers insights regarding the successful design and implementation of virtual learning experiences in the geosciences.