Geology Students Do Fieldwork for Video Games in Covid. He was thrilled
For example, the area that was 330 million years ago is now full of fossil plants and animals. There are also traces of ancient rain, which made small indents that are naturally preserved. Some of these impressions extend in one direction only and can be used to calculate wind speed. A student can find these rain prints, study them in high resolution, and then write how they could be used to understand what the Earth’s atmosphere was like.
The students were concerned, and the quality of their work was similar to what the monitors had seen in previous field seasons. “Two of the projects were close to publication,” says Genge.
Normally, there would be a human monitor to help, but that wasn’t possible with these single-player worlds. In their place was a small flying robot that followed the students, leading them to geological curiosities. “I gave him a pretty embarrassing personality,” Genge says. He teased students if they saw him as clueless, and sometimes made references to Chris Hemsworth.
The goal was serious, but it was a game platform after all, and Genge and Sutton couldn’t help but throw in some unexpected deviations. In good faith Sardinia became a precarious cliff, in the virtual version, a place for students to be thrown into the sea, and then a shark escaped while swimming to a nearby island.
For the next version, Genge spent three weeks in the Scottish Highlands, driving and making numerous drone shots, taking advantage of the re-creation of the landscape around the town of Kinlochleven, another pre-pandemic exit destination. He made waterfalls, planted 30,000 trees, and (perhaps in acts of fidelity unnecessary to reality) populated the hills with half. His son Harry he made buildings“Rejections of the said hills.”
At this point, there was another milestone in development: Sutton finished the multiplayer version of the game. All students could be as avatars in the same space, communicate with their voices, point things out, make orientations and measurements of rock types, and draw geology bands on a map. “And that caused it all,” Genge says. “It suddenly became much more real.”
When the students crossed the region, filling in their geological maps as usual, they checked that the teachers were making progress. “I could say it was effective because the students acted like students,” Genge says. Everyone had quad bikes, “so instead of mapping, they were doing some racing.” A student politely sent him a message asking how to get a quad out of a tree. After completing the day’s work, students used the digital dimension of Scotland to pass.
In class, a unit on meteorites came up, a new complement to the curriculum. Genge was concerned about how these eight lectures should be held during the pre-pandemic period: the department had only five meteorite samples among the 30 students, which limited individual exposure to manual instructions.
Fortunately, virtual outings provided an obvious solution. “Basically, we went on this eight-week space adventure,” says Genge.
After an introductory lecture on separating meteorites from ordinary rocks, students were given a quad bike and told to find meteorites hidden in a vast desert. Several parts came from a single meteorite that exploded in the atmosphere, scattering parts like cosmic shotgun pellets. Can students find these related wastes and puzzle pieces together?
While detective work was being done, a planet with rings resembling Saturn slowly rose above the horizon. Some of the more enthusiastic explorers wandered to find a crater inside the damaged spacecraft. While they were examining the wreckage, a student asked him why he had a weapon tower. “Well, space is a dangerous place,” Genge replied.