Use of a virtual environment in the Geowall to increase student confidence and performance during field mapping: An example from an introductory-level field class

Michael M. Kelly, Nancy R. Riggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


Geology students often have difficulty learning the baseline terrain-analysis skills required for success in introductory field geology. Students in the Introductory Field Methods class at Northern Arizona University are prepared, in part, for field-mapping experiences through exercises with stereo photographs and topographic maps. To improve spatial skills and enhance confidence, we added a computer-based virtual environment (VE) to this early training. Using the GeoWall, we developed a VE in which students navigate and transfer location information and geologic contacts from the VE to a paper topographic map. Following this exercise, students go into the field to produce a geologic map of the field area. Using a Wilcoxon rank sum test we examined scoring differences between the experimental group from 2003/2004 (n=27, Median = 80) and those in a control group from previous years without the visualization exercise (n=35, Median = 60). At an alpha level of 0.05 the mean ranks of the control and experimental groups are statistically different (z = 3.67). These results, together with student narratives and attitude surveys, suggest that the virtual environment had an effect on student mapping performance that is coupled with an increase in spatial survey knowledge and increased confidence in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-164
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2006


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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