Developing Virtual Field Experiences to Promote Student Learning and Bridge Knowledge Gaps between the Classroom and the Field
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In 2020, a specific type of Virtual Reality (VR), Virtual Field Experiences (VFE), was identified as a proof-of-concept for positively contributing to student learning by the University of Waterloo's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (UW-EES). A pilot VFE was created and implemented in Earth 121 in the spring term of 2020. This successful implementation and constructive feedback from students and professionals established the basis for this thesis - improving the Earth 121 VFE for the following Fall 2020 term, in addition to creating another unique VFE for the Fall 2020 Earth 231 course. It was hypothesized that VFEs could be used to improve geoscience thinking of students and help students meet learning objectives during times when fieldwork was not feasible (as during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the case of Earth 231). The VFE implemented into Earth 121 was about salt and was designed to facilitate studentsÕ geoscience thinking, divided into four categories or ways of thinking: spatial, temporal, systems, and field (a foundational aspect of Earth 121). The VFE was a virtual tour, immersing students in 360¡ photospheres of specific environments related to the formation and use of salt. In Earth 231, a VFE was created using high-definition panoramic images of outcrops that were normally visited and mapped in previous terms in-person by students before the pandemic. In Earth 121, after having viewed the VFE, students were then asked to complete a salt quiz evaluating student knowledge and how students perceived their ability to think like geoscientists. In Earth 231, students in groups of five created a map and geologic interpretation of their assigned outcrop. This assignment and rubric remained mostly the same compared to previous terms, the only difference being the way in which students were able to gather information about their outcrop. Student performance data was analysed and revealed that, in Earth 121, 91% of students felt they were able to think like geoscientists after viewing the VFE. The difference reported for each of the four ways of thinking was small, ranging between 42% and 49%. These results suggest that intentionally designed VFEs can help improve learning and specifically help students think like geoscientists, equally among the four ways of geoscience thinking in this case. In Earth 231, student overall marks were statistically similar to those from the fall term of 2019. Student marks in one specific area of the assignment, Map Elements, were statistically greater in the Fall 2020 term than the Fall 2019 Term. This suggests that students were able to meet the learning outcomes of the assignment, despite not being able to visit the field. Greater marks in the Map Elements section are likely due to an added lab exercise in the Fall 2020 term, where students were able to practise creating map elements before the outcrop assignment, something not done in the Fall 2019 term. This thesis has demonstrated that intentionally designed VFEs contribute positively to students learning in undergraduate courses at the University of Waterloo. VFEs help students develop their geoscience thinking and can be used to support assignments with field components that are temporarily not feasible. VFEs are an emerging technology that can be further used to help bridge the gap between the class/lab and the field and educate students to become more competent geoscientists.
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Henry Visneskie (2021). Developing Virtual Field Experiences to Promote Student Learning and Bridge Knowledge Gaps between the Classroom and the Field. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17065