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Water Wars field trip experience: a comparison of real and virtual field trips

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Laurie Cantwell, Montana State University
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A virtual and traditional field trip experience that was designed to study how virtual field trips should be used in geoscience curriculum. Field trip exercises are based on a local groundwater controversy that involves geologic, hydrologic and environmental policy. Students role-play as geoscientists, evaluate the problem and provide recommendations for addressing the issue.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 18.6MB Oct21 04)

Learning Goals

groundwater flow and aquifer properties
geologic controls on groundwater
geologic history of Gallatin Valley

Geologic Skills:
stream gauging
recording field notes and observations

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
developing and articulating questions regarding complex local environmental issue
evaluating and drawing conclusions from data
developing hypotheses from field observations

developing and articulating a scientific argument

Other Skills:
gain an appreciation for the complexity of the natural world


Instructional Level:
Undergraduate entry level

Skills Needed:
igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rocks
limited groundwater/surface water hydrology
scientific method/thought

Role of Activity in a Course:
As central integrating theme (best) OR
Stand-along exercise

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
Water Wars virtual field trip (available online)-no special training necessary.

Logistical Challenges:


Evaluation Goals:
Determine if a virtual field trip can achieve the same learning goals expected from traditional field trips,
Determine if virtual field trips are most effective as a pre or post activity when used in conjunction with a traditional trip,
Provide suggestions for the development of effective virtual field trips

Evaluation Techniques:
pre-test: demographics, multiple choice and sketch
post-virtual field trip: confidence log, concept map
post-traditional field trip: confidence log, concept map
post-full activity: report and field notebooks (scored with rubrics)


This study establishes the value and optimal role of virtual field trips in the Earth Science curriculum. A virtual field trip and traditional field trip counterpart were designed to evaluate the learning goals addressed during virtual field trips and how a virtual field trip can be used in conjunction with a traditional field trip. Results and conclusions are summarized on the poster.