Coping with COVID – Using Virtual Geological Objects for On-Line Earth Science Education

Roach, Dr Michael1, Orth, Dr Karin1, Scott,Dr Robert1

1Earth Sciences, University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

Restrictions due to the global COVID pandemic have meant that most tertiary Earth science education has had to rapidly transition from face-to-face to primarily on-line delivery. Teaching Earth science in on-line environments has special challenges due to the ‘hands-on’ nature of typical practical and field-based programs. Fortunately, rapid improvements in visualisation methods and technology now allow educators to incorporate diverse, intuitive, immersive virtual objects into on-line education programs. Virtual objects can never fully replace the visual and tactile experience of visiting an outcrop or touching a specimen but they can augment and enrich traditional education programs and facilitate more effective on-line student experiences. 

At the University of Tasmania we have generated the world’s most comprehensive open-access collection of geological visualisations and have made extensive use of these objects in our undergraduate and postgraduate education programs. We have generated over 4000 photo-realistic three-dimensional geological models, together with thousands of full spherical panoramas and deep zoom images of significant outcrops and hand specimens. These visualisations have been integrated to produce virtual tours and virtual practicals that were used in our education programs prior to COVID and which have been crucial for recent on-line delivery. Student feedback on the use of virtual educational material has generally been very positive.

This presentation will showcase some of our recently developed resources and illustrate how we have utilised digital visualisations in our undergraduate and postgraduate educational programs. We will also discuss both student and educator perceptions on the efficacy of these new teaching resources and provide suggestions for how visualisations may be effectively integrated into future conventional educational programs when physical distancing limitations are removed.    


Michael Roach is an Earth Science educator at the University of Tasmania who has been pioneering new interactive, intuitive virtual methods for Earth Science education.

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.