Visiting a destination, climbing mountains, and discovering and analyzing rocks and soil are essential elements to a geoscience education, but many high school and university students do not have the opportunity to study in the field and miss opportunities to learn from an on-site experience. This is especially the case during the COVID-19 crisis when learning has been moved to a digital platform for so many. 

To answer this need, each iVFT provides an educationally rich experience that is captured during real expeditions with scientists to places like Australia, Panama and Mexico. These scientists are doing field work to understand everything from the demise of the dinosaurs to why human civilizations collapse. And because they run on a browser, iVFTs can be used by anyone with internet access.

“One of our key goals has been to develop an educational experience that takes users into scientifically significant locations around the world which would otherwise be challenging to visit in person,” said co-author and ETX chief exploration software architect Bruce. “Using sophisticated technology to capture and create these virtual environments, we are able to design adaptive experiences that empower users to explore these sites in unique and flexible ways.”

Currently over 3,000 students have completed labs associated with several of the iVFTs, in addition to the ASU students who regularly use the center’s iVFTs for coursework. Most recently, the center has even been developing ways for teachers to create their own simplified iVFTs to meet the needs of their specific students.

“Virtual field trips aren’t new, but the ETX designs have made some really important advances in making these iVFTs more educationally effective,” said Mead. “The interactivity brings in aspects of what you would see in a physical field trip or a science lab, while the adaptive feedback allows the software to provide some of the guidance that a live instructor might provide. Even 10 weeks after the experience, our study found positive learning outcomes.”

The ETX team is now extending the iVFT model to be more game-like, exemplified by Surviving Extinction, an experience that guides students through the process of evolution that shaped the development of animal life. The same research team is studying Surviving Extinction to measure its impact on learning. Through this interplay between learning design and research, the center is advancing a robust model for effective learning in virtual environments.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration