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Educator, curator create virtual lessons in geology
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Britt Dooley, an assistant professor of biology and geology at Patrick Henry Community College, shows iPads students use for the virtual field trips she is creating with her husband, Dr. Alton Dooley, curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Monday, November 19, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Brett Dooley’s historical geology students at Patrick Henry Community College next semester will explore dramatic changes in the environments and organisms of some far-flung places without ever leaving this area.

That’s because Dooley, an assistant professor of biology and geology at PHCC, and her husband, Dr. Alton Dooley, curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, are developing virtual field trips via the Internet.

The “trips” will be available to be downloaded free by anyone for use on an iPad or iPhone.

In the next few weeks, the first virtual field trip — to Oakes Quarry Park near Dayton, Ohio — will be available. The trek to the Badlands in South Dakota will be available in a few months, and the trip to the Black Hills, also in South Dakota, will be available by summer.

“Due to the rising costs of both the travel and logistics of field trips, the costs of insurance and the need to accommodate numerous physical, financial and time limitations of students, virtual field trips have begun to surface in the past decade,” Britt Dooley said in an email.

“They are available both bundled with textbooks and open access, but so far they are only available for physical geology. Generally they are really more of a tour than a field trip. By this I mean they show the student various sites, have them read about the site and answer questions based on both.”

Dooley’s virtual field trips are patterned after traditional field trips, she said.

“Students enter the area and are presented with visual information, then asked to make observations. Interactive components help the student self-assess prior to moving on. Students are then prompted to draw inferences based on their observations,” Dooley wrote, adding that is a different approach from the tours.

Her trips also are the first to focus on historical geology, which explores how environments and organisms have changed over time as opposed to strictly the physical processes involved, she said.

Take Oakes Quarry Park, for instance. The former quarry now is a city park in Fairborn, Ohio.

The virtual field trip shows Gigapan (panorama) images of a high quarry wall and the upper limestone exposed at the top of the large, open pit.

The narrative explains that they are sedimentary rocks and the principle of “original horizontality,” which enables scientists to determine whether layers have been disturbed. It goes on to discuss the types of rocks preserved at the quarry (Silurian-aged limestones and dolostones of the Brassfield Formation) and provide other information.

Students are asked to make observations, answer questions and draw conclusions as the field trip continues.

To sum up that portion of the project, students are assigned to make a comic strip, write an essay or make a video essay in which they put all this into their own words.

Brett Dooley received a $2,500 grant from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) to help with the virtual field trip project. Alton Dooley blogged about their experiences ( when they did their work at Oakes Quarry Park, the Black Hills and the Badlands.

Brett Dooley recently made presentations about the virtual field trip project at the Geological Society of America conference and the VCCS science peer group conference. She said a number of officials from two- and four-year colleges in Virginia and other states have expressed interest.

When completed, the virtual field trips will be available through Apple’s book application, iBooks. Download will be free. Once downloaded onto an iPhone and iPad, Internet access generally will not be needed.


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