Field Geoscience Goes Digital – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Field Geoscience Goes Digital

This year, Associate Professors of Geoscience Tara Curtin and Neil Laird are expanding the student-learning experience in geoscience by incorporating a number of important digital technologies in their courses and fieldwork.

Thanks to a digital pedagogies grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that’s allocated through the HWS Office of the Provost, students taking courses taught by Curtin and Laird are using mobile apps on iPads, as well as a high-resolution camera system (GigaPan) to enhance the process of collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing data.

Typically, students have used traditional, but important, tools to visualize and record their observations. The digital technologies are now enabling students enrolled in “Weather Measurements,” “Geomorphology,” “Environmental Geology” and “Geoscience Field Studies” to gather and assess data and information in newer and even more efficient ways.

“By following a pedagogical approach that’s using these digital technologies, we really have the opportunity to enhance the learning experience of students in the classroom and out in the field,” Laird says.

Titled, “Bringing Digital Technology and Pedagogies to Undergraduates for Geoscience Fieldwork,” the proposal was one of 11 curricular-development projects from across academic departments that aim to bridge liberal arts pedagogies with new technologies to enhance the learning at the Colleges.

Laird says that connecting digital technology with more traditional approaches helps to boost already successful approaches, while enriching the overall experience for students.

For example, Laird says by using iPads to record measurements or the GigaPan to take extremely high-resolution panoramic images out in the field, students can more easily bring the data back to the lab for further examination and analysis. “Once we’re back on campus, the technology is really expanding on what we have access to from the field,” Laird says.

Curtin says students who took “Geoscience Field Studies” over the summer had the opportunity to use the GigaPan during a trip to the Pacific Northwest, where they explored geological phenomena such as volcanic fields in Central Washington and Central and Coastal Oregon.

“Students use the GigaPan in the field, but have access to the images back in the lab and classroom where they have the ability to zoom in on the high-resolution images to examine the various features,” Curtin says. “This helps them to better hone their observation skills. It will also allow students and classes that are unable to participate directly in a field experience to be immersed in a virtual trip to many different locations.”

The high-resolution panoramas taken with the GigaPan can be uploaded on the web for sharing and viewing. Those images are “stitched” together to provide the observer with a large-scale, comprehensive view of the landscape.

Also made possible by the grant, students taking “Weather Measurements” earlier this year, used specialized mobile apps on the iPad to record wind measurements during a weather balloon launch on campus. The iPads, equipped with camera, video, and a theodolite app, augment the fieldwork experience, giving students a different way to collect information and compare directly to the simultaneous use of a traditional theodolite.

In GEO 220 “Geomorphology,” students collect and review digital images embedded with data that were taken in the field. Using iPads with ArtStudio and GIS Pro Apps, students are able to record geological features digitally, which makes identifying and tracking the information easier. It allows students to enrich discussion and interpretation in the field and provides a means of systematically recording information for use back on campus.

With the technologies already in use by students, Curtin and Laird will next evaluate the learning outcomes of the students, noting that early feedback looks positive. “We’ve built in feedback from the users, our students, and the next phase will be assessing the enhancement to learning by implementation of these digital technologies and approaches,” Laird says.

In the photo above, Caitlin Crossett ’15, Katherine Coughlin ’16 and Laura Kenny ’14 using the GigaPan to collect data at Sunset Bay State Park in Coos Bay, Oregon.