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Virtual Geological Field Trips for Education through Exploration

An invited blog post by Steven Semken, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Center for Education through Exploration, Arizona State University,

Studying the Earth in the field is an integral method of geoscience (Kastens et al., 2009), and teaching in the field is fundamental to geoscience education (Whitmeyer et al., 2009). The landscapes of Arizona and the greater Southwest are classic localities for field geology. But many learners and teachers alike do not have ready access to the field, and some have unanswered concerns about safety and comfort that may discourage them from venturing far outdoors. This situation has been worsened by the current coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual field experiences available online, while not absolute substitutes for field learning in person, make use of the best available visualization and teaching technologies to enable anyone with an internet connection to explore many of Earth’s greatest geological landscapes, and others beyond Earth as well. The Center for Education through Exploration (ETX) at Arizona State University ( is a pioneer and a leader in the production and dissemination of immersive, interactive virtual field trips (iVFTs), for science education and for scientific research on effective teaching and learning in the virtual realm.

ETX iVFTs (available any time at are browser-based, so they can be used with smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers. They blend 360-degree video and imagery, high-resolution photography (e.g., GigaPan) and brief explanatory videos filmed with experts on location in the field—all to bring a learner or educator as near to an authentic field experience as is possible.  All ETX iVFTs permit free exploration of localities, and many also include adaptive lessons that guide students through inquiry learning activities in the field. Preliminary research at ETX and affiliated labs shows that iVFTs are effective in promoting science learning (Mead et al., 2019). ETX research also suggests that iVFTs can minimize concerns about field study held by novice learners, increasing their desire to try in-person field trips in the future (Ruberto, 2018).

In this time of obligatory social distancing, with teaching and learning being done almost exclusively online for some time, ETX encourages one and all to visit the Virtual Field Trips website at and “test-drive” an ETX iVFT.  Educators at any grade level are welcome to make use of iVFTs in their teaching! The iVFTs on the ETX website span the globe, but there are a few that are situated fully or partly in Arizona and the Southwest that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog:

Educators are also encouraged to visit the website of the Infiniscope program at ASU ( for more digital learning resources in Earth and space sciences.

Acknowledgments. The Grand Canyon iVFT was developed with support from the National Science Foundation under grant number 122541. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

Kastens, K. A., Manduca, C. A., Cervato, C., Frodeman, R., Goodwin, C., Liben, L. S., Mogk, D. W., Spangler, T. C., Stillings, N. A., & Titus, S. (2009). How geoscientists think and learn. Eos, 90(31), 265-272.

Mead, C., Buxner, S., Bruce, G., Taylor, W., Semken, S., & Anbar, A. D. (2019). Immersive, interactive virtual field trips promote science learning. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(2),

Ruberto, T. J. (2018). Implications of learning outcomes of in-person and virtual field-based geoscience instruction at Grand Canyon National Park. M. S. thesis, Arizona State University.

Whitmeyer, S. J., Mogk, D. W., & Pyle, E. J. (2009). Field geology education: Historical perspectives and modern approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America.