UniServe Science News Volume 15 March 2000

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Virtual Field Trips: Maximising the Learning Experience

Patrice Rey, Department of Earth Science, Monash University

The Victorian Institute of Earth and Planetary Sciences (VIEPS) is a cooperative affiliation between La Trobe University, Monash University and The University of Melbourne. Students enrolling in Honours and Master programmes in any of the three member universities can choose within a portfolio of more than 40 VIEPS short courses.

Granite Geology is a 5-day VIEPS course which includes a 1-day field trip to Wilsons Promontory. This course is supported by a booklet and a virtual field trip, both available on the Web. The course familiarises students with the processes that control the generation, the segregation and the transport of granitic melts in the continental crust. Particular attention is given to the relationships between the mode of emplacement of granitic bodies and the characteristics of the regional finite strain field.

In this context, the virtual field trip (Granites at Wilsons Promontory at http://www.es.usyd.edu.au/geology/people/staff/prey/FieldTrips/WilsonsProm/wilsonsprom.html) was designed to be a self-explanatory unit dedicated to a large audience, from the general public to post-graduate students, in Australia and overseas. This virtual field trip offers a colourful complement to the booklet related to this course, and improves the quality of its illustration. But this is not its only purpose.

We all have the tendency to illustrate our courses with slides that are carefully selected for their readability. We forget sometimes that those "textbook" slides often do not represent the field reality. In the field, students are exposed to outcrops that are often "noisy" and therefore less easy to understand and interpret. At the end of a day in the field, students are often overwhelmed by the profusion of confusing images. It is therefore important to help them to filter this information, and extract the useful signals from the background noise.

The main aim of this virtual field trip is therefore to provide students with the opportunity to "virtually" go back to the field and have a second look at a selected number of outcrops. It also gives them the opportunity to complete their field notes and sketches, and improve their field book by using printed versions of the photographs displayed on the web site. Virtual field trips will never replace the "real thing", but they certainly can help to maximise the learning experience.

Other field trips have been developed to cover a magmatic shear zone in the Eastern Kimberleys (Western Australia) and an eclogite facies shear zone in Holsnoy (Norway). They are available at http://www.es.usyd.edu.au/geology/people/staff/prey/FieldTrips/Trips.html

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UniServe Science News Volume 15 March 2000

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