Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Instructor-Led Approach to Integrating an Augmented Reality Sandbox into a Large-Enrollment Introductory Geoscience Course for Nonmajors Produces No Gains

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Instructor-Led Approach to Integrating an Augmented Reality Sandbox into a Large-Enrollment Introductory Geoscience Course for Nonmajors Produces No Gains

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Topographic maps are a commonly used medium for describing the shape of the surface of Earth. Topographic data are key factors needed to intelligently manage a wide variety of natural hazards (e.g., flooding, landslides, sea-level rise, etc.); therefore, a basic understanding of how to read and interpret topographic data is necessary not only for future geoscientists, but citizens in general. For that reason, most introductory courses in the Earth Sciences include a module intended to teach students how to read and interpret topographic maps. Numerous activities are available through science education Web sites (such as the Science and Education Resource Center at Carleton College [SERC]) that promote building a connection between two-dimensional (2D) paper maps and three-dimensional (3D) visualizations of the map features. Some paper-based examples include constructing a topographic profile of a pyramid (SERC, 2017a), using geographic information systems (GIS) and digital elevation models (SERC, 2017b), and building contours with playdough (SERC, 2017c). Many students, however, struggle with visualizing data presented in this static manner (Chang et al., 1985; Ishikawa and Kastens, 2005; Rapp et al., 2007).

While topographic maps may be an abstract concept to some students, experience playing in a sandbox is far more common. In a sandbox, students can intuitively create hills, valleys, craters, etc., and then change those landforms. The KeckCAVES consortium at University of California-Davis has developed a process to quantify the landscape in a sandbox, calculate a topographic map, and then project that map back on the sand (i.e., the "augmented reality [AR] sandbox"; Reed et al., 2016; KeckCAVES, 2017; Fig. 1). This turns a static, 2D paper topographic map into an interactive, dynamic 3D tool. As students alter its landscape, the topographic map dynamically adjusts to match the new surface. This allows students to make predictions about the topography (e.g., What direction does water flow?) and then test those predictions instantly and persistently. This is exactly the strategy Newcombe et al. (2015) suggested would be most effective for teaching topographic map reading skills.

The AR sandbox has generated intense enthusiasm at professional geoscience conferences (Giorgis et al., 2016; Rost et al., 2016). Undergraduates enrolled in an introductory geology class for nonmajors overwhelmingly "loved" using the AR sandbox as part of a topographic maps laboratory course (Fig. 2). Woods et al. (2016) noted a similar level of zeal for the AR sandbox in their study. This enthusiasm has resulted in the construction of over 150 AR sandbox installations around the world (Reed et al., 2016). This widespread development is likely because the software on the University of California-Davis KeckCAVES Web site is free, the installation instructions are clear, and there are many resources for constructing the sandbox (Ryker et al., 2016a; Woods et al., 2016; KeckCAVES, 2017).

The popularity of the AR sandbox implies that its use in geoscience classes should be rigorously evaluated to determine the best pedagogical approach. Ryker et al. (2016a) suggested a number of critical research objectives that should be addressed, including the following: (1) Is structured questioning effective for learning about topographic maps when students are using the sandbox? (2) What are the characteristics of the students who get the most out of the sandbox? In this contribution, we sought to address these two questions. Specifically, the experiment presented here attempted to test the hypothesis that a structured, instructor-guided AR sandbox exercise is a more effective tool for teaching topographic maps than the traditional, paper-based approach alone. Previous studies have identified two groups that could potentially benefit most from the AR sandbox: (1) students with no experience reading maps, and (2) students with lower 3D visualization skills. …

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