Initial Publication Date: September 8, 2006

Using Visualizations to Explain Ideas

Geoscience faculty use visualizations of observational and model data to describe various parts of the earth. These are often linked together or animated to develop an understanding of Earth processes with twin goals of understanding the nature of the process and the evidence for its role in the Earth system.

Jump down to Visualizations for Introductory Courses * Landscape Change * Earth History * Mineralogy * Petrology * Ocean Waves

Visualizations for Introductory Courses

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.

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.

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. His presentation, Visualization in College Geology Courses: Interactive Visualizations and their Assessment (PowerPoint 8.3MB Mar9 04) describes the types of visualizations used in geoscience, research on visualizations, and tools for faculty. Also, see the abstract from his 2004 AGU presentation, Spatial Visualization in Introductory Geology Courses.

Spatial Ability and Earth Science Conceptual Understanding, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, p. 402-414.
Alice (Jill) Black, Southwest Missouri State University

In this study, the author found moderately significant positive correlations between scores on the ESC, a new test of Earth science conceptual understanding, and scores on each of three types, or factors, of spatial ability in university undergraduate non-science majors. The author found mental rotation to be the best predictor of ESC scores of the variables tested. Results suggest that an opportunity may exist to improve Earth science conceptual understanding by focusing on spatial abilities or the spatial aspects of concepts.

Landscape Change

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. See also Visualizing 150 Years of Landscape Change with a Web-based, Community Image Archive (PowerPoint 8.1MB Mar17 04).

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.


Using the American Mineralogist Crystal Structure Database in the Classroom, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 52, p. 76-80.
Christine Clark, Eastern Michigan University and Robert Downs, University of Arizona

The American Mineralogist Crystal Structure Database is a compilation of every crystal structure potentially of mineralogic or geologic interest. This database, when linked with visualization software, provides a valuable resource for instructors, allowing direct access to crystal structures of almost any mineral, and many at various compositions, pressures or temperatures. Suggestions for using the database and software in an instructional setting are given; full lesson plans and instructional guides are being developed as Internet resources.


Bringing the Field into the Classroom by Using Dynamic Digital Maps to Engage Undergraduate Students in Petrology Research, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 52, p. 313-319.
Theresa M. Boundy, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and Christopher Condit, University of Massachusetts

The authors utilized Dynamic Digital Maps (DDMs) in an undergraduate petrology courses to bring accessible and exciting volcanic field areas to the students in the classroom and to engage the students in research experiences.

Ocean Waves

Teaching ocean wave forecasting using computer-generated visualization and animation--Part 1: sea forecasting, Computers & Geosciences, v. 28 , #4, p. 537 - 546.
Dennis J. Whitford, U.S. Naval Academy

Ocean waves are the most recognized phenomena in oceanography. A two-part article series is offered to explain ocean wave forecasting using computer-generated visualization and animation. This paper, Part 1, addresses forecasting of sea wave conditions and serves as the basis for the more difficult topic of swell wave forecasting addressed in Part 2.

Teaching ocean wave forecasting using computer-generated visualization and animation--Part 2: swell forecasting, Computers & Geosciences, v. 28 , #4, p. 547 -554.
Dennis J. Whitford, U.S. Naval Academy

This paper, the second of a two-part series, introduces undergraduate students to ocean wave forecasting using interactive computer-generated visualization and animation. This paper focuses on the teaching of ocean swell wave forecasting, often considered a difficult oceanographic topic due to the mathematics and physics required, as well as its interdependence on time and space.