Weathering and Sedimentary Processes in Google Streetview

Nicole LaDue, Northern Illinois University
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Initial Publication Date: March 12, 2020 | Reviewed: December 10, 2020


This exercise uses Google Streetview, in combination with 360 degree immersive photographs, to show students real-world examples of the sedimentary rocks, sedimentary structures, and weathering processes that they are learning about in class.

Examples are taken from Parfrey's Glen (WI); Zion National Park; Glacier National Park; Starved Rock State Park (IL); Monument Valley; and Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.

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This activity was used as an in-class activity for an in-person course and as an assignment for an online, introductory-level geoscience course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students are expected to know the relationship between clastic sedimentary rocks and depositional environments and to be familiar with weathering processes. They should be able to use sedimentary and igneous identification charts to identify rocks from photos.

How the activity is situated in the course

For the in-person class, this activity was used following a lecture on sedimentary structures and weathering. Students are introduced to the appropriate terminology, processes, and structures through slides. They complete a series of clicker questions to assess their understanding of the content. Then they apply their understanding by analyzing the Google Streetview 360 photos from various locations.

For the online course, students view a series of videos curated form various sources. They complete a video quiz to assess their understanding of the content. Then they apply their understanding by analyzing the Google Streetview 360 photos from various locations.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will be able to:

  • Identify sedimentary structures (e.g., cross-bedding and ripple marks) and explain what they tell us about past environments
  • Identify examples of physical and chemical weathering
The goal of this activity is to engage students in applying their understanding of the course content to real world settings.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Not applicable

Other skills goals for this activity

Not applicable

Description and Teaching Materials

In the in-person version, this activity is completed on paper and turned in for participation credit. In the online version, this activity is structured as an "assessment" in the course management system (i.e., Blackboard). The assignment was structured to include a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended responses.

Teaching Notes and Tips

In the in-person section, we utilized tiny urls to make it easier to type in the web addresses for the 360 images.

A common error that emerged from student responses is the conflation of the chemical weathering process of hydrolysis with the physical weathering process of abrasion. These two types of weathering could not be more distinct for us as geologists, but the students saw water and assumed it indicated weathering via hydrolysis. Since several of the settings involved limestone, that was not possible, yet students at the introductory level did not understand that nuance. Students also appear to struggle with the idea that physical weathering involving water is caused by abrasion by water-carried sediments, rather than the water itself.


This activity is designed for use as a formative assessment activity.

References and Resources

There is limited research on students' conceptual understanding about sedimentary processes and weathering. One useful reference on this topic is:

Sexton, J. M. (2012). College students' conceptions of the role of rivers in canyon formation. Journal of Geoscience Education, 60(2), 168-178.