A comparison of learning : integration of a virtual and traditional field trip into an introductory environmental geology course
Cantwell, Laurie Beth.
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Field trips are a common component of geoscience courses. However, time and budget constraints, increased safety considerations and large class size have become common obstacles to teaching in the field. Technology has provided an attractive alternative through the virtual field trip. While there is a wealth of virtual field trips available on the internet, it is unclear how students learn on a virtual field trip and how those trips are best incorporated in Earth Science curriculum. The goals of this study are to establish the learning goals addressed by virtual field trips, determine if virtual field trips are best used as a pre- or post-activity in conjunction with a traditional field trip and provide suggestions for developing effective virtual field trips. A groundwater hydrology and policy virtual field trip was developed and compared to a traditional field-based counterpart. The field trip was designed to help students gain an understanding of groundwater flow and aquifer properties, understand how geology influences the groundwater availability, learn how to use and evaluate data, develop question-asking and hypothesis-testing skills, develop observational and spatial reasoning skills, and gain an appreciation for the complexity of science and its application to real-world problems. A modified pre-test/post-test and attitude study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of virtual field trips, gain insight into how they are best used in an introductory Earth Science course and explore students' attitude toward virtual field trips. Students' performance, confidence, knowledge and attitude were evaluated prior to and following, the virtual and traditional field trips. The virtual field trip did not successfully mimic teaching observation and data evaluation learning goals; however it was able to address question and hypothesis posing skills and establish an appreciation for the complexity of a scientific issue. The virtual field trip in this study was best used as a preactivity, it helped reduce novelty space and establish necessary content knowledge prior to going to the field. However, using the virtual field trip as a pre-activity may diminish studentsα sense of discovery and wonder about the natural world.