Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

2012 AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California

Publication Date


Faculty Mentor

Joel Pederson


There is a well-documented and nationally reported trend of declining interest, poor preparedness, and lack of diversity within U.S. students pursuing geoscience and other STEM disciplines. We suggest that a primary contributing factor to this problem is that introductory geoscience courses simply fail to inspire (i.e. they are boring). Our experience leads us to believe that the hands-on, contextualized learning of field excursions are often the most impactful component of lower division geoscience classes. However, field trips are becoming increasingly more difficult to run due to logistics and liability, high-enrollments, decreasing financial and administrative support, and exclusivity of the physically disabled. Recent research suggests that virtual field trips can be used to simulate this contextualized physical learning through the use of mobile devices – technology that exists in most students’ hands already. Our overarching goal is to enhance interest in introductory geoscience courses by providing the kinetic and physical learning experience of field trips through geo-referenced educational mobile games and test the hypothesis that these experiences can be effectively simulated through virtual field trips. We are doing this by developing “serious”ù games for mobile devices that deliver introductory geology material in a fun and interactive manner. Our new teaching strategy will enhance undergraduate student learning in the geosciences, be accessible to students of diverse backgrounds and physical abilities, and be easily incorporated into higher education programs and curricula at institutions globally. Our prototype involves students virtually navigating downstream along a scaled down Colorado River through Grand Canyon – physically moving around their campus quad, football field or other real location, using their smart phone or a tablet. As students reach the next designated location, a photo or video in Grand Canyon appears along with a geological question. The students must answer each question correctly in order to proceed to the next location and accrue points in the game and multiple attempts reduce the number of points earned when the correct answer is found. The questions are either multiple choice or involve touch-screen interaction to identify a specific geologic feature. Initial testing of the prototype game in Historical and Physical geology courses at Utah State University indicate that students enjoy the mobile “exploration”ù nature of the game as well as experiencing photographs of geologic features rather than traditional cartoons. Qualitative evaluation using anonymous surveys was conducted to help determine the usability of the game and the potential effectiveness of this technology-based approach. Students were asked about the degree of fun and difficulty of the game, content learned, and their overall response to features they liked/disliked about it. The results of these early assessments are positive, both in regard to the improvement of students’ understanding of key geology concepts and their enjoyment of learning with the technology in a mobile orienteering manner. This is a positive first step in an innovative teaching tool with the power to overcome the pervasive problem of the boring first year STEM course and make world-class field trips accessible to all.


This work made publicly available electronically on March 25, 2013.