GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 301-6
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM


COLUZZI, Michael1, MATTOX, Tari2, POLLAK, Jacob S.1, BROWN, Logan1, SPAGNUOLO, Jake1 and MODDERMAN, Dominic1, (1)Digital Animation & Game Design Program, Ferris State University, 151 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, (2)Department of Physical Sciences, Grand Rapids Community College, 143 Bostwick Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Most geology students develop a deeper understanding of geologic principles when exploring a rock outcrop. While research has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of field instruction for geology students, there are financial, logistical, and physical challenges to student participation, particularly at 2YCs. Virtual reality (VR) can be used to bridge this gap and provides a powerful tool that exposes students to geologic concepts that are normally difficult to demonstrate in a classroom.

Adapting any new technology to the classroom is usually a slow process due to lack of proper resources. VR technology has recently become more accessible to institutions. VR Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) provide a way for students to actively engage with virtual environments. PassportVR: Geology 101 is a collaborative project that introduces students to geologic concepts in a virtual environment using a HMD. In phase one of the project, we used a technique called photogrammetry to recreate a classic rock outcrop in Grand Ledge, Michigan. In the virtual environment, introductory geology students were able to explore the outcrop and enter a lab where they could examine rocks and minerals. The students, who had never attended a geology field trip, were polled before and after the VR experience. We used learning outcomes expressed in student papers from in-person field trips of previous semesters to assess the students’ perception of the virtual environment. Student responses clarified what is and is not possible within a VR environment and what might create a more “real-world” experience as we move forward.

Ultimately this virtual environment will allow students to practice various field-work techniques, including identifying rock layers, measuring and creating a stratigraphic column, and collecting samples to examine more closely. Beyond the outcrop, we are filling the virtual lab with activities that allow students to identify rock and mineral samples, transform 2D topographic maps into 3D representations, and study the physical properties of minerals. The techniques used to develop this project can be applied to any physically accessible location, allowing us to bring the field to the students in the hope of increasing the accessibility of geoscience education and deepening students’ understanding of geologic principles.