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Exploring Evidence of Plate Tectonics Using GeoMapApp

This page and associated activities are authored by Sean R. Cornell, Shippensburg University, Department of Geography & Earth Science.
Shippensburg University, Geography & Earth Science
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Summary

This activity requires students to explore a range of datasets that help substantiate Plate Tectonic Theory. Students investigate plate tectonic environments (convergent, divergent, transform boundaries), topography/bathymetry of continents and ocean basins, the distribution and pattern of earthquakes, the distribution of volcanoes, as well as ages of the sea-floor, and more. The objectives are to initiate global investigation of major topographic/bathymetric features and their relationship to plate tectonic theory. Another objective is to develop observational skills by requiring students to use simple graphics software to produce high-quality, images and maps that can be annotated and used to build and frame an initial baseline of information for further development and elaboration in later parts of the course.

Learning Goals

Students will learn:
  1. how to use GeoMapApp to visualize various data sets on different spatial scales.
  2. how to use GeoMapApp to produce topographic/bathymetric profiles of various geographic/geologic features.
  3. where earthquakes are distributed globally.
  4. the distribution of tectonic plates and their boundaries.
  5. the patterns and ages of different seafloor segments.
  6. to recognize the topographic/bathymetric signatures of convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries.
  7. annotation, and effective methods of labeling professional-quality graphics.

Methods of Geoscience

Students are engaged in inquiry-based learning. Students use data and visualization to infer and deduce patterns that support plate tectonics. Students ask questions and use data to support inference and deduction in ways that mimic the scientific process.

Context for Use

This exercise is applicable to introductory geology and physical geology classes. It may also be a good exercise for physical oceanography or physical geography class where students explore diverse elements of plate tectonics. Students should be comfortable using simple graphics program (i.e. PowerPoint), and will need to spend some time working with GeoMapApp so that the basic tool elements can be used effectively. This assignment is used early in the course to introduce elements of plate tectonic theory and serves as a framework for later exploration.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this activity, students explore a range of datasets that help substantiate Plate Tectonic Theory. Students investigate plate tectonic environments (convergent, divergent, transform boundaries), topography/bathymetry of continents and ocean basins, the distribution and pattern of earthquakes, the distribution of volcanoes, as well as ages of the sea-floor, and more. The objectives are to initiate global investigation of major topographic/bathymetric features and their relationship to plate tectonic theory. Another objective is to develop observational skills by requiring students to use simple graphics software to produce high-quality, images and maps that can be annotated and used to build and frame an initial baseline of information for further development and elaboration in later parts of the course.



Teaching Notes and Tips

Before this assignment is assigned, the instructor will probably need to provide an overview of GeoMapApp and how to access the program, and the various data sets and base maps found therein. This can easily be done in lecture (10-15 minutes), or in a computer laboratory with the students working on their own machines (20-30 minutes). I have used both methods, and both approaches work. I then assign the project for work outside of class/lab so students will have to spend time exploring GeoMapApp and learning all the various tools. It is fairly intuitive for students who are at least comfortable using basic computer software.

I find that it is also important to remind students to use their assigned textbook when they need to clarify or look-up certain terms or concepts. Students will generally struggle with what features to search for, and where they should look for them. This will frustrate the students who want to work quickly under the "get-it-done" mindset, while other students will find the exploration interesting and worthwhile. Nevertheless, it might be worthwhile to provide specific page references to your class textbook so students can look for specific figures and graphics to support their search efforts. For instance, I usually ask students to look at schematic concept diagrams showing different tectonic boundaries, or topographic profiles of major ocean basins, etc.

Lastly, the instructor will also need to remind students how to either capture a screen image, or use the save image function so students can assemble their PowerPoint. It is also useful to give students an example of what is required to producing an "annotated" figure. I also take time to remind students that they should cite all imagery/datasets and sources. GeoMapApp provides a convenient reference model for the purpose.

Add on: For a good extension to this assignment, an instructor might chose to ask students to "voice-annotate" their PowerPoint presentation as a final step. Within PowerPoint it is possible to either insert previously recorded sound files, or voice annotations can be recorded directly provided a headset and microphone are made available. The intent here would be to gauge a student's understanding and articulation of the concepts that they demonstrate in their PowerPoint and helps minimize plagiarism.

Assessment

Assessment for this can be variable and is up to the instructor and their specific goals. I typically use a rubric that is created in the course management software that we use for student submissions. The rubric is based on 7 criteria (Content & Completeness of Topics Covered, Demonstrated Use of GeoMapApp, Demonstrated Use of PowerPoint, Accuracy and Appropriateness of Sites Selected, Degree of Reflection, Evidence of Analytical/Inference/Deductive Skills, Overall Professionalism Including Citation and Graphic Design) with 3 scoring categories (advanced, average, below average) for each:

References and Resources

Ryan, W.B.F., S.M. Carbotte, J.O. Coplan, S. O'Hara, A. Melkonian, R. Arko, R.A. Weissel, V. Ferrini, A. Goodwillie, F. Nitsche, J. Bonczkowski, and R. Zemsky (2009), Global Multi-Resolution Topography synthesis, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 10, Q03014, doi:10.1029/2008GC002332.

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