GSA Penrose Conference
Google Earth: Visualizing the Possibilities for Geoscience Education and Research

Cyber-Enabled Earth Exploration (CE3) – Google Earth in Experiential Learning
Heather Almquist1, Lisa Blank1, and Jeffrey Crews1

(1) The University of Montana, Missoula

The intent of the CE3 curriculum is to help students learn about plate tectonics in an active manner, as a scientist would. Using their own observations, measurements, calculations, and reasoning abilities, students embark on a Google Earth journey of discovery that culminates in an understanding of the underlying causal mechanisms of volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics. In contrast to most curricula addressing this content area, we begin with volcanoes and end with plate tectonics. This is a deliberate attempt to help students experience the process of discovery that the scientific and lay communities have undertaken through the ages. That is, people’s first understandings of natural phenomena are based upon what they observe and experience at the Earth’s surface. These experiences foster curiosity about the essential nature of these events - how and why they happen. Over time, through concerted and cumulative observations, advances in technology, and new ways of thinking, we begin to build an understanding of processes occurring beyond our immediate experience. Used in the context of CE3, this progression is also meant to instill in students a sense of science being an ongoing, dynamic pursuit.

Google Earth is used not only to engage students, but also to develop their geographic awareness and geospatial ways of thinking. The curriculum gradually builds student competency using Google Earth, exposing them to a variety of forms of embedded content, the use of simple measuring tools, and ultimately asking them to develop their own abstractions to help visualize data connections.