GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 49-8
Presentation Time: 3:35 PM


LEVERING, David, Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, 3000 Sternberg Dr., Hays, KS 67601

In 2020 and 2021, the Sternberg Museum Science Camps moved to virtual programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To enhance the virtual camp experience, we implemented new virtual field exploration environments in 2021 using the platform GatherTown. This resource has allowed our students from across the country to engage with active learning strategies that instructors typically deploy in our field science camps. My focus is on our basic fossil hunting world (FHW), and on our model of the Permian section of the Karoo Supergroup (PKS). These environments were successfully used by 3rd-5th graders, 6th-8th graders, and 9th-12th graders in respective online-based academic camps.

The FHW is a geographically simple set of three levels with rock layers from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous, with scattered fossils that participants could find. Each setting included two stratigraphic layers, each with fossils corresponding to the age and paleoenvironment. This is intended as a flexible, simple challenge environment. Students of different age groups were given distinct challenges using the same set of interactive elements. In each case, students improved in problem solving, communication, and information discipline as they progressed through different levels.

The PKS is a more complex environment that includes six distinct sedimentary formations in sequence, each with corresponding interactive fossil image media and lithological indicators. Here, students are asked to assess the fossil flora, fauna and paleoenvironmental changes through the sequence using accumulated evidence they collect in collaboration. Knowledge scaffolding and proximal development principles that we use in the field were put into successful operation, with students consistently affirming to staff that they felt the virtual world challenges helped them better learn the material at hand.

In FHW and PKS, students engaged with each other and with instructional staff in ways remarkably similar to in-person field education experiences. Students have been overwhelmingly positive in their response to the observation, critical thinking, and problem-solving puzzles provided in these virtual exploration environments. In light of these successes, I intend to expand the use of these virtual exploration environments into the foreseeable future.