Joint 56th Annual North-Central/ 71st Annual Southeastern Section Meeting - 2022

Paper No. 42-7
Presentation Time: 3:20 PM


HUNT, Emma, Earth, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences, Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Hwy., Greenville, SC 29613

Optical mineralogy is a traditional geoscience subject that forms the core of petrographic study, yet relevance, combined with the costs of outfitting labs, in the context of environmentally focused geoscience courses, has been questioned (e.g. Reinhardt, 2004). Despite this, I believe that optical mineralogy remains a key skill. The challenges through COVID-19 are how to effectively teach optical mineralogy skills with the required social distancing to both in-person and remote students. The tool I personally found the most useful was the open access Virtual Microscope tool ( developed by the Open University, UK.

Many students find optical mineralogy to be challenging and building their confidence in their own skills and interpretation abilities is essential. I will discuss how I used the Virtual Microscope, in the context of a 200-level mineralogy and petrology course at a Small Liberal Arts College (August 2020 to present), to achieve this aim. While there are disadvantages, I would argue that the advantages considerably outweigh them for the beginner user. The Virtual Microscope provides a lower stakes method, using a more familiar device (laptop, tablet, smart phone) than the petrographic microscope. It also allows for all students to work with the same thin section, wherever they are physically located, enabling collaborative learning without requiring costly equipment. One of the most effective pedagogical techniques I have used is a collaborative activity for the first principles of optical microscopy, e.g. distinguishing and describing pleochroism and birefringence. This rapidly built students’ confidence; especially when followed up by individual activities. Another advantage is that links can be embedded in digital lab books, I built these through Moodle quizzes, which allows for near real time viewing of students input, thus the provision of timely feedback for remote students. When the pandemic stabilises and we have a new normal for the classroom, I strongly believe that the Virtual Microscope will still have a place in my teaching, in combination with Petrographic Microscopes.


Reinhardt, J. (2004). Optical Mineralogy in a Modern Earth Sciences Curriculum. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(1), 60–67. Doi:10.5408/1089-9995-52.1.60