De Paor Develops Virtual Learning Tool to Bring Geology to Students’ Fingertips
August 27, 2015
Geophysicists have long realized they teach most effectively when they can be on location with students. Old Dominion University's Declan De Paor has helped make that virtually possible every day.
De Paor spearheaded the development of EarthQuiz, an online geospatial educational tool that uses Google Maps, Street View, Photo Spheres and Gigapans to help bring a world of geological imagery to students' laptops and computers.
"We rely so much on in-person field work," De Paor said. "That meant online education in geosciences in general was lagging behind other disciplines that didn't need field work."
Through funding from the National Science Foundation, De Paor and a small team of researchers - including ODU associate professor of geology Rich Whittecar and teaching assistant Chloe Constants who provided content - were moved to produce EarthQuiz. Other team members in the development of EarthQuiz were Steve Whitmeyer from James Madison University and Callan Bentley from Northern Virginia Community College.
Visitors to the site can play an autoscored game by identifying randomly selected global images and answering related questions, including the location of the given image. Educators may employ the free, crowdsourced site with more focus. They can create their own course modules of images and questions, then provide coded access to students for study and testing at various degrees of difficulty.
De Paor said a board of credentialed curators will add content and also review the collections for accuracy and overall quality control.
Writing about EarthQuiz in Earth and Space Science News, lead author and ODU doctoral recipient Mladen Dordevic, of the Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology, called EarthQuiz "a potentially transformative vehicle for educational instruction and research. . . . Virtual sites cannot fully replace physical presence in the field, but they offer opportunities to develop global awareness in distance education and informal education settings."
De Paor said immediate anecdotal feedback has been encouraging, and that EarthQuiz's interface will evolve through user comments and changes incorporated by Google.
"I'm pretty excited by this," De Paor said. "I think it's engaging and has great potential for development, even beyond geoscience. This could be a model for all sorts of other disciplines."
With $2 million in funding from the NSF, De Paor two years ago helped develop GEODE - Google Earth for Onsite and Distance Education. EarthQuiz is a continuation of that decade-long effort, which De Paor has called the inverse of a massive open online course, or MOOC.
"Instead of one professor lecturing to numerous students, as in a MOOC, we will assemble numerous professors around the world who will create virtual field trips in their areas of expertise," he said, foreshadowing the arrival of EarthQuiz. "The format will open opportunities for nontraditional geoscience students, including those with jobs or mobility restrictions, that prevent them from physically climbing mountains or diving in coral reefs."