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Bringing Grand Canyon to the Campus Quad
  • Natalie Bursztyn
Geoscience educators have long considered field trips to be the best way of attracting students into the discipline, however they are often not possible in introductory geoscience courses due to high-enrollment (100+ students). A solution for bringing student-driven, engaging, kinesthetic field experiences to a broader audience lies in ongoing advances in mobile-communication technology. This project developed three virtual field trip experiences for smartphones and tablets (on geologic time, geologic structures, and hydrologic processes), and tested their efficacy in student interest and gains in learning in geoscience. The virtual field trips utilize the GPS capabilities of smartphones and tablets, requiring the students to navigate outdoors in the real world while following a map on their smart device.

The results of this study, involving 873 students from five institutions, show that students who completed all three virtual field trip modules were significantly more interested in learning the geosciences than control students who did not complete any. Hierarchical linear modeling results indicate three strong predictors for student interest toward learning the geosciences: 1) initial interest, 2) STEM major, and 3), the number of virtual field trip modules they complete. Analysis of covariance and multiple regression showed minor gains in learning across all participants and not statistically different between intervention and control groups. Predictors of gains in content comprehension for all three modules are the students’ initial interest in the subject and their base level knowledge. For the Geologic Time and Structures modules, being a STEM major is an important predictor of success. Most pertinent, for Geologic Time and Hydrologic Processes, gains in student learning can be predicted by having completed those particular virtual field trips. Gender and race had no statistical impact, indicating that the virtual field trip modules have broad reach across student demographics.

The virtual Grand Canyon field trips for mobile smart devices are an accessible, inexpensive resource that bring field trips to campus in lieu of students experiencing none at all. This study opens the door to this genre of mobile-game-like pedagogy for geoscience, and all STEM, education at the post-secondary level.
Publication Date
August, 2015
Some permutation of this work was presented at CRESST (August 2015), GSA Baltimore (October 2015), AGU (December 2015), GSA Cordilleran (April 2016), and AERA (April 2016)
Citation Information
Natalie Bursztyn. "Bringing Grand Canyon to the Campus Quad" CRESST/AGU/GSA/AERA (2015)
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