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Teaching Structural Geology, Geophysics, and Tectonics in the 21st Century
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Cutting Edge > Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Teaching Activities > Google Earth Introduction to Canadian Cordillera

Google Earth Introduction to Canadian Cordillera

Katherine Boggs, Mount Royal University

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This exercise is intended to: i) give students an introduction to Google Earth, ii) guide the students through various geological structures using Google Earth, and iii) serve as an introduction to the key features covered during our Structural Geology field trip. For the purpose of a teaching activity, this is intended to provide a virtual field trip through the Canadian Cordillera. Many of the features illustrated during this activity would be useful for courses in geomorphology, structural geology, tectonics, and natural disasters.
There is a work sheet for students to complete. The expected outcomes are that students should be: i) comfortable with using Google Earth as a tool for exploring geological structures, ii) familiar with the main geological boundaries throughout the Canadian Cordillera, iii) able to identify topographic expressions of faults, iv) able to identify various glacial landforms and v) more aware of the potential for natural disasters in their surroundings. This exercise should also assist students in developing the 3D visualization skills necessary for successful completion of their Introductory Structural Geology course.



This exercise is used as a lab/lecture in the Introductory Structural Geology course. This is a required course for our BSc Geology Major students in the fall term of their second year. In our program the students will have taken their Introductory Geology Field Camp for two weeks during the summer prior to their fall term.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

It is expected that students will have mastered several concepts by this exercise, including being: familiar with navigational reference systems (Lat/Long, UTM), able to calculate apparent & true dip & thickness, able to distinguish between antiforms/synforms, understand what strikes and dips are, familiar with the main concepts of plate tectonics, able to identify geomorphological & volcanic features.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is designed to give the students an introduction to the geological features of the Canadian Cordillera prior to a weekend field trip in late September/early October. Concepts such as apparent/true dip & thickness are introduced in the Introductory Geological Field School and then examined in further depth during previous lectures and laboratory exercises. This activity is introduced in an interactive lecture format and then given to the students as a laboratory exercise which is later reviewed in an interactive lecture format.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity is designed for the students to be introduced to: i) Google Earth as a tool for exploring geological features (and assist in developing 3D visualization skills), ii) the main geological features of the Canadian Cordillera, iii) the potential for natural disasters in their surroundings, and iv) visualizing the characteristics of plate margins.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity requires that the students: i) continue developing their 3D visualization skills, ii) analyze data that they collect/observe, iii) formulate hypothesis from their collected data/observations, iv) link their hypothesis and observations to plate tectonics.

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity introduces Google Earth as an exploration tool to the students. The computer skills required are minimal, however the students will require a computer with Google Earth downloaded. Typically the students will work in groups, but are required to submit individual completed work sheets.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is designed for the students to work through with minimal introduction. The worksheet is attached as is the answer key.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The most challenging part of this activity is ensuring that the computers are ready to go with Google Earth fully functioning. WIFI connections can get overloaded which slows down all the computers (plug in connections work the best). Occasionally MAC users can experience some challenges. Also, depending on firewalls some limitations may be placed on the Google Earth download.


I grade the worksheet on completeness and effort rather than perfection, where an "A" would be a complete worksheet with obvious effort and careful consideration demonstrated in completing the questions. I assess whether the students met the activity goals by accuracy in the question responses. Questions that have poor responses are discussed in more detail during the review than those that have excellent responses. Some of this material is also examined during the midterm and/or final lab/lecture exams.

References and Resources

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