VIRTUAL GEOLOGY ROCKS: CREATING AN INTERACTIVE VIRTUAL FIELD EXPERIENCE FOR AN INTRODUCTORY GEOLOGY COURSE
Students enrolled in the physical geology course at the United States Military Academy have participated in a regional field trip each year for the last fifty years. The trip covers over 200 road miles and gives students a chance to analyze locations that highlight the geologic structure and history of the Hudson Valley. To develop future resilience and flexibility for the curriculum, our team recorded this field trip with multiple audio-visual platforms including an Insta360 Pro camera. We combined still images and recordings into an interactive story map for our students. Students used this story map in lieu of participating in a physical field trip in academic year 2020. We assessed student comprehension by comparing the results from a short homework assignment and student feedback on the course-end survey to test scores and course-end survey feedback from prior years when the field trip was in-person.
While the students who only used the virtual field trip did not feel like the in-person experience could be replicated, we found no statistical difference between their assessment scores and the scores from those who attended the in-person trip. Our sample size was small, but this shows the effectiveness of substituting interactive virtual experiences when firsthand opportunities are limited. Interactive virtual activities can strongly complement the tools available to educators. Further, implementing a diverse teaching portfolio builds resilience in geoscience education by allowing teachers to supplement physical trips and experiential undertakings, while also increasing access to the natural sciences for students.