Bringing the Rocks to the People: The Creation of a Virtual Geological Field Trip
This article is based on the following research article:
Peace, A. L., J. J. Gabriel, and C. Eyles. 2021. “Geoscience Fieldwork in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond: Commentary on the Development of a Virtual Geological Field Trip to Whitefish Falls, Ontario, Canada” Geosciences 11, no. 12: 489. https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences11120489
Pandemic restrictions put a pause on field-based education in multiple disciplines. But even before COVID-19, field work experience was not possible for many students due to financial and accessibility barriers. This paper explores how a team of educators Alex Peace, Jeremy Gabriel and Carolyn Eyles from the School of Earth, Environment & Society at McMaster University developed a virtual geosciences field trip to bring the field to students wherever they are.
What did the researchers do and find?
In this commentary article, the researchers described how they developed their virtual field trip. First, two of the authors visited the Whitefish Falls area of Ontario, Canada. Many universities in Ontario have field work trips to Whitefish Falls, as it has many geologically noteworthy rock formations for students to examine.
The authors collected multiple types of data while on-site, including photos, digital 360˚ images, structural orientation data, and rock samples. They combined this data with other information including past drone surveys of Whitefish Falls. They used an online tool called Esri StoryMap to weave the data together with narrative descriptions, interactive maps, and question prompts to create an engaging learning experience. Prior study of Esri StoryMap for educational use found that students viewed the platform as interactive and easy to use (Cope et al., 2018).
Overall, the authors show how virtual field trips can make field-based learning more open and accessible to students. Not only do virtual field trips remove physical barriers to participation but are more affordable than in-person field work. They do concede that some in-person fieldwork aspects are hard to replicate virtually, like in-the-moment decision making.
How might you use this research in your teaching?
If you already use (or are interested in using) field-based learning experiences in your teaching, this paper outlines how to create your very own virtual field trip. The possibilities are endless – you can virtually bring students to remote locations, historical places, or work sites. There are some initial start-up costs to consider. Sending a team to the virtual field trip site to collect data can be expensive. Other costs include a high-quality camera and software licences. This costs, along with necessary time commitments, are thing to consider when planning your own virtual field trip project.
The authors discuss the strengths (decreased cost on students, improved accessibility) and challenges (hard to replicate hands-on decision making) of creating this type of resource, as well as how to obtain funding to support development. You can also access the virtual field trip of the Whitefish Fall area, as it is free for anyone to use in their teaching.
Other examples of virtual field trips
Cope, M. P., Mikhailova, E. A., Post, C. J., Schlautman, M. A., & Carbajales-Dale, P. (2018). Developing and evaluating an ESRI story map as an educational tool. Natural Sciences Education, 47(1), 1-9.
Stay tuned for the next Spotlight on SoTL coming to the MacPherson Memo on August 31, 2022