Sketchfab and Virtual Microscope for Petrology Labs

Monday 11:15-11:45am PT / 12:15-12:45pm MT / 1:15-1:45pm CT / 2:15-2:45pm ET Online
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Jennifer Cuthbertson, University of Calgary


At the Rendezvous, I will show some of the rock samples that we used from Sketchfab and, demonstrate the features of these websites, and discuss the lab questions that we asked students to consider based on these samples. Other instructors of petrology labs may find these useful to incorporate into their online labs, and to use as a resource when labs are able to be taught in-person.


Similar to many post-secondary institutions, the second-year Igneous and Metamorphic petrology labs at the University of Calgary were forced to go online due to the covid-19 pandemic. Online resources for hand sample and thin section description were scoured in order to find high-quality websites that allowed students to manipulate (turn, zoom in and out, change plane-polarized to cross-polarized light) the rock image. Two of our favorites emerged: Sketchfab for hand sample descriptions, and for thin section descriptions. Online lab activities were largely built around these two websites. Some rock samples in Sketchfab have been annotated by users to show different minerals, which is a great teaching tool. The thin sections on have excellent descriptions of mineralogy and texture, and many include rotatable imagery to show students optical properties as the stage is rotated. Lab activities for students included mineral and texture identification, rock naming, mineral proportion estimation, and petrogenesis interpretation based on samples from these websites.


The lab activities using Sketchfab and ran weekly. Labs were posted on the course management system each Thursday, and were due the following Tuesday. Teaching assistants would mark the labs on Wednesday, and then meet with the class via Zoom for 2 hours to go over the answers and field any questions. Often, teaching assistants would incorporate fun quizzes or game-show style activities into the Zoom sessions. This class is composed of thirty 2nd-year geology students, and is split into two lab sections.

Why It Works

Lab activities incorporating samples from Sketchfab and are worthwhile because the image quality is very good, students can manipulate and rotate the images, images are clear even on higher magnification, and no special programs or software need to be downloaded. Since these are both web-based, they work on both PC and Mac.