Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from Western Ireland

Whitmeyer, S., Feely, M., De Paor, D., Hennessy, R., Whitmeyer, S., Nicoletti, J., Santangelo, B., Daniels, J. and Rivera, M. (2009) Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from Western Ireland. Special Papers of the Geological Society of America, 461. pp. 105-115. ISSN 00721077 (ISSN)


Geoscience students often have difficulty interpreting real-world spatial relationships from traditional two-dimensional geologic maps. This can be partly addressed with direct, tactile field experiences, although three-dimensional (3-D) cognition can still be hampered by incomplete exposure of all spatial dimensions. Many of these barriers can be overcome by incorporating computer-based, virtual 3-D visualizations within undergraduate field-oriented curricula. Digital field equipment is fast becoming a standard tool in environmental, engineering, and geoscience industries, in part because of the increased accessibility of ruggedized computers equipped with global positioning system (GPS) receivers. Handheld computers with geo graphic information systems (GIS) software record and display data in real time, which increases the accuracy and utility of draft field maps. New techniques and software allow digital field data to be displayed and interpreted within virtual 3-D platforms, such as Google Earth. The James Madison University Field Course provides a field geology curriculum that incorporates digital field mapping and computer-based visualizations to enhance 3-D interpretative skills. Students use mobile, handheld computers to collect field data, such as lithologic and structural information, and analyze and interpret their digital data to prepare professional-quality geologic maps of their field areas. Student data and maps are incorporated into virtual 3-D terrain models, from which partly inferred map features, such as contacts and faults, can be evaluated relative to topography to better constrain map interpretations. This approach familiarizes students with modern tools that can improve their interpretation of field geology and provides an example of the way in which digital technologies are revolutionizing traditional field methods. Initial student feedback suggests strong support for this curriculum integrating digital field data collection, map preparation, and 3-D visualization and interpretation to enhance student learning in the field. ©2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.

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