Initial Publication Date: September 8, 2006

Essays on Teaching with Visualizations

These essays were written by education researchers who were participants at the 2004 On The Cutting Edge workshop on Teaching Geoscience with Visualizations.
You can also check out a recommended reading list and an annotated bibliography.

Jump down to essays on GIS * Virtual Field Trips * Earth History * Landscape Visualization * Cognitive Processes * Tools * Introductory Courses * Groundwater * Peer Collaborations * Maps * Other Classroom * Interdisciplinary Approach


Bringing GIS into the introductory Earth Science classroom at Middle Tennessee State University (Acrobat (PDF) 75kB Feb25 04) - Mark Abolins, Middle Tennessee State University
This essay describes the use of GIS in teaching Earth Science at Middle Tennessee State University. The author does so to address three goals: familiarizing large numbers of undergraduate non-majors with GIS, recruiting students for GIS courses, recruiting Geoscience majors.

Applications of GIS-based Laboratory Exercises In Entry-level Geoscience Courses (Acrobat (PDF) 278kB Feb25 04) - Laurel Goodell, Princeton University
This paper discusses the use of GIS-based exercises in basic collegiate geoscience courses. The PDF includes several examples of work assigned to the students in these entry-level courses and describes how this data manipulation fosters learning. By using these technologies effectively, these students can work with data and test fundamental theory in the context of an introductory course.

MICRODEM: GIS & Mapping Visualization - Peter Guth, United States Naval Academy
This web page discusses the use of GIS in an educational context, and provides examples of the different ways that animated visualizations can be used to convey information. There is a special focus on the use of interactive visualizations in order to demonstrate how scientific models simulate actual events. The page also includes information on how data and equations can be effectively modeled by visualizations.

What is the impact of scientific visualizations on understanding of Earth processes (Acrobat (PDF) 114kB Feb25 04) - Michelle Hall-Wallace, University of Arizona
This essay considers the need to balance simplicity and accuracy in visualizations. It is based on experience working with visualizations as a tool for the instruction of high school and college students, and it also examines how GIS-based information can be best be presented in order to facilitate learning. The paper explains how models are an effective tool for demonstrating concepts that cannot be easily demonstrated in the laboratory.

Geovisualizations for pre-collegiate science education (Acrobat (PDF) 124kB Mar9 04) - Thomas Baker, University of Kansas
This paper includes information on the use of GIS as an educational tool in pre-collegiate education in the context of a larger experimental effort by students. It further references a quasi-experimental study examining the success of GIS-based information provided in static and dynamic formats. Even when the GIS was animated with controls for playback, the study found that students learned best by studying static GIS data.

Virtual Field Trips

Acquisition and Use of 3D photorealistic models for virtual fieldtrips and exercises (Acrobat (PDF) 68kB Feb25 04) - Carlos Aiken, University of Texas, Dallas
This essay describes the use of 3D photorealistic imaging technology in order to create virtual fieldtrips. The authors have developed an advanced mapping system that makes it easy to view and work with these 3D models in an educational context. So far, their technique has been used to map both geologically and historically significant sites.

Teaching Field Geology is all about Visualization (Acrobat (PDF) 47kB Feb25 04) - John Geissman, University of New Mexico
The importance of visualization in geology is discussed in this paper. The author contends that successful use of visualizations and visualization techniques is critical to successful field geology. Through the use of visualizations, students are better able to derive inferences from the information available in the field based on previous experience in the classroom.

Earth History

Animating Earth History (Acrobat (PDF) 84kB Feb26 04) - Tanya Atwater, University of California, Santa Barbara
The author includes a brief discussion of the use of animations and films to instruct students in the mechanics of plate tectonics. The paper also provides tips for creating an effective conceptual animation and information about the Educational Multimedia Visualization Center, a NSF funded center that specializes in creating multimedia tools designed to be used to teach the geology of specific regions of the world.

Landscape Visualization

Visualizing Landscape (Acrobat (PDF) 48kB Feb16 04) - Paul Bierman, University of Vermont
A discussion of the use of visualizations to describe landscape change is at the center of this brief essay. The author has focused on Vermont towns and landscapes and the manner in which they have changed over time. The paper includes two links to relevant visualizations that the author and his colleagues have produced.

Cognitive Processes

Cognitive Processes and Visualization (Acrobat (PDF) 108kB Feb19 04) - Kirsten Butcher, UCAR/NCAR
An examination of the psychological implications of visualization use, this paper discusses empirical research on the effects of visualizations applied to educational purposes. Although the conclusion reached is that further study is required to measure the impact of dynamic visualizations, the essay does include information suggesting that visualizations focused on functional relationships are effective tools for education.


An Earth Data File is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Going Beyond Multimedia for Education (Acrobat (PDF) 190kB Feb12 04) - Bruce Caron, The New Media Studio, Santa Barbara
This paper includes information on the use of new computer technologies to simulate the scientific research process in an educational context. Using Macromedia Director in conjunction with the Data Discovery Toolkit, the author was able to create complex multimedia visualizations that were able to use data files to create multiple images. This decreased response time and permitted a more realistic simulation of scientific analysis.

Visualize Venus (Acrobat (PDF) 47kB Feb19 04) - Vicki Hansen, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Synthetic stereo images are a less common, but important tool for visualization. This essay discusses the use of these images (and the requisite red and blue glasses) as a tool to visualize the surface of the planet Venus. It also considers how these images can be used to accurately represent the geological features of planetary surfaces.

Using Advanced Interactivity to Create Compelling Simulations for Immersive Earth Science Visualizations (Acrobat (PDF) 82kB Feb23 04) - Jeff Sale, San Diego State University
This paper discusses the use of common commercial applications as tools to use for the creation of easy to use visualizations. These interactive visualizations use interfaces that are familiar to students and are easily accessible from a variety of locations.

Development of 3-D Interactive Visual Object Using the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Visualization Center (Acrobat (PDF) 52kB Feb19 04) - Debi Kilb, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
This essay is concerned with the need for the development and improvement of visualizations for use in the classroom. The paper considers all levels of education, and the importance of using visual objects that are accessible and easy to understand. Using these technologies, the author hopes to enhance geoscience instruction.

Introductory Courses

Multiple Representations, Scientific Visualization and Student Learning of Science (Acrobat (PDF) 100kB Feb23 04) - Shiladitya Chaudhury, Norfolk State University
Different ways of visually representing information are discussed in this essay, including the use of static media and interactive animations in order to teach science concepts. The author comments on his experience using visualizations to effectively teach non-science majors as well as science majors. The paper also includes commentary on the complexity of visualizations and the need for clarity in order to focus learning.

Simulations in Science Courses for Non-science Majors (Acrobat (PDF) 80kB Feb16 04) - Robert Filson, Green River Community College
This file includes links to interactive visualizations designed to be used in introductory education. The essay discusses the importance of interactivity in visualizations so that students can manipulate variables in order to see the consequences of these changes. The author describes how these visualizations can be an effective way to teach basic, but poorly understood concepts in an introductory context.

Promoting Spatial and Temporal Visualization Literacy Among Introductory Earth Science Students (Acrobat (PDF) 25kB Feb25 04) - James Myers, University of Wyoming
This essay identifies six critical abilities that must be fostered in introductory geoscience students and explains how techniques can be developed to help teach these abilities. This paper focuses heavily on the use of physical and virtual visualizations to demonstrate geoscience concepts and to help students' comprehension of basic concepts.

Visualizing the Hidden Earth - Learning with Interactive Animations (Acrobat (PDF) 66kB Feb19 04) - Stephen Reynolds, Arizona State University
Written from the perspective of an experienced developer of visualizations, this essay is concerned with the need to test the manner in which students comprehend visualizations. It is all too easy to develop a visualization that is clear to the experienced geoscientist but too complex for use in an introductory setting. This paper emphasizes the need to consider audience when developing these educational tools.

Some examples of my past, present, and future use of visualization in teaching (and research) in the Geosciences (Acrobat (PDF) 251kB Feb16 04) - Mickey Gunter, University of Idaho
This paper, which includes examples of visualizations, includes information on the historical development of the use of computers as a tool for visualization. It discusses how models, both virtual and real, can be used to aid student learning in introductory courses. This paper has special focus on the properties of minerals and their structure, and how these structures can be visualized.

My Interests and Research in Scientific Visualizations (Acrobat (PDF) 103kB Feb16 04) - Dan Montello, University of California Santa Barbara
A helpful discussion of the use of visualizations in popular education, this essay examines the need for clarity and brevity in communicating geoscience information to the general public. This paper considers how poorly-conceived visualizations can work against the visualization's intended purpose. A special emphasis is placed on designing visualizations that carefully consider their intended audience.

Every Story Tells a Picture (Acrobat (PDF) 146kB Feb18 04) - Mark McCaffrey, CIRES
A discussion of the need for scientists to communicate in an way that is accessible to non-technical audiences about the issue of climate change, this essay discusses the need for scientists to convey stories. Good visualizations about climate change need to be created and communicated.

From Popcorn to GIS: My Adventures in Using Visualizations for Geoscience (Acrobat (PDF) 487kB Feb19 04) - Colleen Riley, Northwestern University
This essay considers the importance of using visualizations to demonstrate complex geoscience concepts in layperson's terms. It considers the use of physical and virtual visualizations and why they can be incomparable tools for instruction. It also emphasizes the use of visualizations as a way to simulate laboratory investigation in introductory settings.


Know the Flow: Exploring Ground Water Flow with Computer Modeling (Acrobat (PDF) 513kB Feb23 04) - Laura Sanders, Northeastern Illinois University
This is a discussion of the use of computers to model geoscience concepts related to ground water flow. Interactive modeling can be used to emphasize concepts through animations, enabling comprehension of a concept that is difficult to convey through static modeling. This paper considers the importance of visualizations as a tool for education when laboratory work is impractical or impossible.

Peer Collaborations

Harnessing technology to support on-line model building and peer collaboration (Acrobat (PDF) 1004kB Feb19 04) - Janice Gobert, The Concord Consortium
This is a study of east and west coast middle and high school students who used images in order to model concepts they had learned. The work was then shared with peers on the opposite coast and criticism was invited in order to help students improve their models. The study found that this process successfully improved the students understanding of geoscience.


My Attempts to Use Maps (and Help Students use Maps) as a Tool For Visualizing, Synthesizing, Capturing and Conveying Information about the Earth (Acrobat (PDF) 130kB Feb19 04) - Kim Kastens, Columbia University
This paper focuses on the use of maps in elementary education in order to connect real-world phenomena with information represented on a map. Research conducted by the author discovered that students who had practiced exercises that used maps to represent real-world environs were able to better interpret data presented in map form. This ability to connect maps with actual locations enhanced students ability to understand maps and use them as a tool in geoscience education.

Contour Memory Test (Acrobat (PDF) 432kB Feb23 04) - Sian Proctor, South Mountain Community College
This paper describes a methodology for testing the recall of information presented as a 2D contour map. It also tests students' ability to match this 2D information with a 3D image of the same surface. This pilot study seeks to examine how students can best visualize this 2D representation of data.

Investigating the Underlying Processes of Visualization Experiences (Acrobat (PDF) 140kB Feb18 04) - David Rapp, University of Minnesota
This essay is an exploration of student's abilities to translate 2D topographic data into a 3D image of the subject on the map. Concerned especially with rapid and thorough understanding of textual information, it considers the cognitive implications of the use of visualizations in education.

Practical 3-D Visualization for Understanding Maps (Acrobat (PDF) 37kB Feb26 04) - Basil Tikoff, University of Wisconsin
This paper discusses the use of multiple visualization models in order to demonstrate a concept to students. By using different types of visualizations, the author claims that educators can help students with unique learning styles and better reinforce critical information.

Visualizations, Maps, and Symbolic Development (Acrobat (PDF) 19kB Feb18 04) - David Uttal, Northwestern University
This essay describes a study in which children were asked to identify landmarks in their neighborhood after verbal study and after studying a map. The study found that students who used a map to visualize their neighborhood were much less likely to make errors when identifying landmark location, demonstrating that maps can be a critical tool for education.

Teaching With Projections in the Geosciences (Acrobat (PDF) 132kB Feb26 04) - David Mogk, Montana State University
This paper covers the use of a variety of different projection types in the geosciences. It includes extensive sections about each projection type, and it also considers the need to balance simplicity with complexity in the development of visualizations, enabling successful education.

Student Interpretations of 2-D and 3-D Renderings of the Substorm Current Wedge (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Feb23 04) - Ramon Lopez, University of Texas, El Paso
This PDF is an abstract from a study examining the use of 2D and 3D visualizations in order to teach students about the substorm current wedge system's magnetic perturbations. The authors found that physics students with previous experience with space physics were unable to correctly interpret a 2D image of the system, but were able to correct these misinterpretations by examining a 3D visualization of the system.

Other Classroom

Making Our Classroom Experience What We Always Dreamed It Could Be (Acrobat (PDF) 81kB Feb27 04) - Jeff Crabaugh, University of Wyoming
A discussion of the use of visualizations in the classroom, this paper comments on the need for clarity and accuracy in visualizations. It notes that visualizations are increasingly available thanks to the rise of the Internet, and the ease of access associated with this development. Finally, it comments on the educational potential for visualizations and how they can be used judiciously.

Interdisciplinary Approach

The Power of an Interdisciplinary Approach: Bringing together the expertise we need to build stronger tools for visual communication in geoscience. (Acrobat (PDF) 105kB Feb23 04) - Cathy Manduca, Carleton College
This paper discusses the need to work collaboratively across disciplines in order to create visualizations for educational purposes. It considers the need to set goals for the use of visualizations and ensure that they are applied in ways that are germane to the course's focus. Finally, the essay discusses how observation and visualization in the classroom can prepare students for hands-on study of geoscience principles.