Northeastern Section - 56th Annual Meeting - 2021

Paper No. 4-3
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


FLAGG, Timothy, MCCOLLUM, Caleb, HARRELL, Krystle and KIMBALL, Mindy, Geography & Environmental Engineering, United States Military Academy, 745 Brewerton Rd, West Point, NY 10996-1123

Fieldwork and firsthand experiences are vital tools within geoscience pedagogy, but some students are excluded from these opportunities because of circumstances out of their control. Virtual experiences offer educators an opportunity to simulate traditional field work and interactive activities to increase access for students. While these technologies have progressed greatly in recent years, their growth, implementation, and realism have flourished because of the recent health restrictions related to the 2020 pandemic. Teachers and institutions adjusted learning modalities, and in many cases relied heavily on virtual content for student learning.

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.