For example, an area that was once a lake 330 million years ago is now filled with plant and animal fossils. There are even traces of ancient rain, which made small indentations that have been naturally preserved. Some of these prints are elongated in one direction, which can be used to estimate wind speed. A student could find these rain prints, examine them in high resolution, and then write something about how they could be used to understand what Earth’s atmosphere looked like at the time.
The students were engaged and the quality of their work was similar to what the instructors had seen in previous seasons in the field. “Two of the projects were close to being publishable,” says Genge.
Normally a human instructor would be there to help, but that wasn’t possible with these single player game worlds. In their place, there was a small flying robot that followed the students, guiding them to geological curiosities. “I gave him a pretty sassy personality,” says Genge. She teased the students if they looked distraught and sometimes referred to Chris Hemsworth.
The goal was serious, but it was a platform for play after all, and Genge and Sutton couldn’t resist unexpected diversions. A precarious cliff edge in the real Sardinia became, in the virtual version, a place to throw students into the sea, whereupon a shark chased them as they swam to a nearby island.
For the next iteration, Genge spent three weeks in the Scottish Highlands, driving and taking tons of drone photos, which he used to recreate the scenery around the village of Kinlochleven, another pre-excursion destination. pandemic. He made waterfalls, planted 30,000 trees, and (in an act of fidelity perhaps unnecessary to reality) populated the hills with gnats. His son Harry made the buildings– refuges for these midges.
By this point, there had been another development milestone: Sutton had completed a multiplayer version of the game. All students could exist as avatars in the same space, communicate with their voices, point at objects, measure directions. and rock types and draw geological bands on a map. “And that made all the difference,” says Genge. “Suddenly it just got so much more real.”
As the students roamed the area, completing their geological maps as usual, the instructors checked their progress. “I could tell it was effective, because the students were behaving like students,” says Genge. Everyone had quads, “so there were a number of races going on instead of mapping.” A student texted him politely asking how to get a quad out of a tree. And after the day’s work was over, students were using the Scottish digital dimension just to hang out.
In class, came a module on meteorites, a new addition to the program. Genge wondered how to keep these eight lectures interesting during the pre-pandemic period: The department only had five meteorite samples among 30 students, which limited their individual exposure to practical instructions.
Fortunately, virtual field trips provided an obvious solution. “Basically, we went on this eight week space adventure,” says Genge.
After an introductory lecture on the distinction between meteorites and ordinary rocks, students were given quads and were told to find meteorites hidden in a vast desert. Several of the fragments came from a single meteor that had exploded in the atmosphere, scattering its parts like cosmic shotgun pellets. Could students find this related debris and piece the puzzle together?
As they carried out their detective work, a planet with Saturn-like rings slowly rose above the horizon. Some of the more exploration-conscious students have moved away to find an impact crater with a damaged spacecraft inside. As they roamed the wreckage, a student asked why there were cannon turrets. “Well, space is a dangerous place,” Genge replied.