Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Stephen M Moysey

Committee Member

D. Matthew Boyer

Committee Member

Catherine F Mobley

Committee Member

Kelly B Lazar


Geology field experiences can build students’ confidence, aid in identity development, and lead to emerging individual interest. However, instructors contend with cost, logistical, and accessibility challenges when planning field trips for large, introductory geology courses. This study designed a virtual reality geology field experience set in Grand Canyon to combat challenges with traditional geology field experiences, while providing introductory students with an exciting activity. This study used a concurrent triangulation mixed methods multiple-case study design to compare participants’ attitudes toward the virtual reality geology field experience to a classroom field experience and outdoor field experience. This study also assessed students’ change in geology interest from pre- to post-experience, as well as virtual experience participants’ sense of presence in the virtual environment. The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews to determine the aspects of each experience that led to participants’ geology interest changes, their attitudes, and their sense of presence. Students in the outdoor experience had the most positive attitudes toward their experience, as well as a significant change in geology interest. Interview participants mentioned that the outdoor experience was a novel, challenging activity that allowed for personal experience with geology, as well as strengthening their existing place attachment for their university. Students in the classroom experience also had positive attitudes toward their experience because they could apply their geology knowledge in a synthesis activity. However, the students did not experience a significant change in geology interest because the experience did not have any novel elements to it. Students in the virtual experience had the least positive attitudes toward their experience, but they did have significant changes in geology interest. Students also had a low sense of presence in the virtual environment. Participants noted that while the virtual experience background looked like Grand Canyon, educational aspects such as questions and geology tools, removed students’ belief of realness. Interview participants also discussed symptoms of cybersickness that led to negative opinions of the experience. Outdoor field experiences were the most effective at impacting students’ feelings toward geology. However, future work will determine if virtual experiences may be as effective at influencing students’ opinions toward geology if they feature local places, instead of or in addition to landmark locations with visible geology such as Grand Canyon.



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