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

Google Earth Exercises in Introductory Geoscience Laboratories
Jeffrey A. Nunn1

(1) Department of Geology & Geophysics, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA

As part of a HP Technology for Teaching grant, Google Earth based exercises for plate tectonics and earthquake epicenter location were developed and tested in physical geology laboratories at Louisiana State University.  The physical geology laboratories serve approximately 750 students per academic year including both majors and non-majors.  Limited enrollments and 3 hour laboratories make it possible to incorporate hands-on visualization, manipulation of data and images, and access to geological data available online. Goals of the course redesign include: strengthening student’s ability to acquire, manage, and interpret multifaceted geological information; fostering critical thinking, the scientific method, and earth-system science/perspective.   IT resources available in the laboratory include twenty tablet PCs and associated peripherals. 

The plate tectonics exercise asks students to identify plate boundaries using topography/bathymetry and earthquake focal depths.  Topography/bathymetry data are from the National Geodetic Survey.  Earthquake focal depth information is from the USGS.  Students are also asked to draw cross-sections by taking data from Google Earth and importing it into MS OneNote.  The earthquake epicenter exercise asks students to locate an earthquake epicenter within Google Earth using data from four seismographs.  Three component seismic records from the seismographs are placed in Google Earth.  Students take the records, cut and paste them into MS OneNote and determine the arrival times of P- and S-waves.  Arrival time information is then converted into distance from the epicenter.  A KML application takes distance from epicenter and latitude and longitude of the seismograph and plots a circle in Google Earth.  Tutorials for Google Earth and MS OneNote are provided as part of the laboratory exercise.    

Pre-tests and Post-tests are used to assess the effectiveness of the exercises.  Test results indicate that they are effective learning tools.  However, there is considerable variance between laboratory sections which may be due to different laboratory teaching assistants or different background of students within sections.  Students indicated a preference for using technology in the classroom.