Using online visualisation tools to reduce spatial thinking barriers in an introductory field methods course

Wednesday 4:30pm-5:45pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Wednesday Session


Jenny Riker, University of Bristol
Almost every course we teach in earth sciences requires spatial thinking; this is particularly true of field-based courses. Spatial skills can be especially challenging to teach at an introductory level, as pre-university educational training tends to emphasise quantitative and verbal skill sets.

This presentation discusses our experiences using the Visible Geology app (Cockett et al. 2016) to reduce barriers to spatial thinking in an introductory field methods course in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. Visible Geology is a free, interactive online tool for visualising 3D block diagrams; it allows users to build strata and structures and to view the interaction of built geology with topography in both map view and in rotatable 3D. We have recently introduced use of this app into our first year module "Geologic Maps and Structures" with the aim of enhancing students' ability to infer three-dimensional structures from geologic maps. Examples of concepts introduced or reinforced using the app include the relationship between dip and younging direction; the map expressions of unconformities; the outcrop patterns of folds; and the difference between fault separation and true slip. We have used the app in both instructor-led (e.g., classroom demonstrations) and student-led contexts (e.g., in-class think-pair-share activities; self-guided pre-class exercises preceding lectures on associated content).

Classroom observations and student feedback suggest that students find the visualisation tool helpful and enjoyable to use, and comparison of exam results with previous cohorts (who have not used the app) will provide a basis for more robust evaluation of students' 3D thinking skills. These results are necessarily qualitative, however. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss approaches that link visualisation tools and quantitative improvements in students' spatial thinking ability. I will also discuss our preliminary attempts to use Visible Geology to enhance 3D visualisation skills in a field setting.