Student and Instructor Insights for an Online Synchronous Introductory Geography Lab Using Interactive Geovisualization “Video Games” – Fall 2020 Term at Arizona State University

Authors: Ryan Heintzman*, Arizona State, Aldo Brandi, Arizona State University, Madeline Kelley, Arizona State University, M. Colin Marvin, Arizona State University
Topics: Geography Education
Keywords: education, teaching, geovisualization, video games, virtual learning, COVID-19
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 24
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools around the globe to close or move to a remote format. Due to social distancing and exposure risks, the fall 2020 introductory physical geography lab at Arizona State University migrated to an online-synchronous learning method using Canvas and Zoom. Normally, instructors for the lab use traditional lab manuals, in-class exercises, and field activities. For this online-only semester, interactive geovisualization "video games" were used to provide a novel, active learning approach to teaching physical geography concepts. These games allowed students to freely move around digital elevation mapped landscapes, with unique geographic raster layers for each lab (i.e. lightning strikes, NDVI, precipitation, surface temperature). In addition to weekly Zoom classes, students had access to video tutorials and a virtual textbook. Here we present the course materials, which have been made freely available to all geography, climatology, and geology educators. We report student responses to several surveys as well as instructor feedback. From student surveys, we discuss responses on student demographics and backgrounds, learning preferences, and changes in lab experience and success through the semester. In addition, we captured the opinions of lab instructors, many of whom were teaching assistants with little prior experience with the geography lab material or online teaching. Based on student’s success and survey feedback, as well as instructor responses, our results highlight the challenges and many successes of a synchronous, online, active-learning physical geography lab course.

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