Education through field exploration is fundamental in geoscience. But not all students enjoy equal access to field-based learning because of time, cost, distance, ability, and safety constraints. At the same time, technological advances afford ever more immersive, rich, and student-centered virtual field experiences. Virtual field trips may be the only practical options for most students to explore pedagogically rich but inaccessible places. A mixed-methods research project was conducted on an introductory and an advanced geology class to explore the implications of learning outcomes of in-person and virtual field-based instruction at Grand Canyon National Park. The study incorporated the Great Unconformity in the Grand Canyon, a 1.2 billion year break in the rock record; the Trail of Time, an interpretive walking timeline; and two immersive, interactive virtual field trips (iVFTs). The in-person field trip (ipFT) groups collectively explored the canyon and took an instructor-guided inquiry hike along the interpretive Trail of Time from rim level, while iVFT students individually explored the canyon and took a guided-inquiry virtual tour of Grand Canyon geology from river level. High-resolution 360° spherical images anchor the iVFTs and serve as a framework for programmed overlays that enable interactivity and allow the iVFT to provide feedback in response to student actions. Students in both modalities received pre- and post-trip Positive and Negative Affect Schedules (PANAS). The iVFT students recorded pre- to post-trip increases in positive affect (PA) scores and decreases in negative (NA) affect scores, representing an affective state conducive to learning. Pre- to post-trip mean scores on concept sketches used to assess visualization and geological knowledge increased for both classes and modalities. However, the iVFT pre- to post-trip increases were three times greater (statistically significant) than the ipFT gains. Both iVFT and ipFT students scored 92-98% on guided-inquiry worksheets completed during the trips, signifying both met learning outcomes. Virtual field trips do not trump traditional in-person field work, but they can meet and/or exceed similar learning objectives and may replace an inaccessible or impractical in-person field trip.
- Implications of Learning Outcomes of In-Person and Virtual Field-Based Geoscience Instruction at Grand Canyon National Park
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