Last week the annual Geological Society: Higher Education Network (HEN) conference 2015 was held here in Plymouth. The event is designed to share ideas and techniques which can be used to enhance geoscience education (more details can be found here). The first day comprised a range of talks relating to how we can enhance geoscience education through research practices (Brett Gilley was a particular highlight!). But of particular interest for me, the second day comprised a workshop on the use of e-gaming in geoscience education.
Throughout day two we got to test some of the games that have been developed for geoscience education and I thought it would be good to put together a brief summary of my favourite games, what their about and where you can find them.
1. CSI North Wales – Keele University (Jamie Pringle)
An unusual concept for a geoscience game and based on true events – your task is to find a body buried within a field using aerial photography, geophysical methods and forensic techniques. The initial phase of the game gets the player to conduct a desk study, looking at aerial photography, historical maps, geological information and even thermal camera imagery (apparently a body can still be several degrees warmer than the surrounding soil even up to a year after burial) to get acquainted with the site and identify areas of interest.
After the player has completed a basic desk study, they are asked to select specialist surveys to be carried out across the site. The specialists place flags around the field where they have identified areas as of interest. The next step has the player conducting a site survey and inspect these highlighted areas as well as adding their own areas of interest. During the second site survey the player can choose a range of geophysical equipment to conduct their own surveys. Once all the surveys are completed the player must then decide where they think the body has been buried based on their findings!
The game was built in Unity 3D and is currently playable on a web player (link above). It’s thoroughly enjoyable and is a good demonstration of how geological techniques can be applied for this style of investigation. I highly recommend having a go at this, you won’t be disappointed!
2. Geo Training Environment – Field Mapping and Skills – Leeds University (Jacqui Houghton, Annabeth Robinson et al.)
This game pretty much does what it says on the tin. The game is aimed at improving undergraduate mapping skills and supplement their fieldwork in a classroom environment. The aim of the game is simple, wonder around the field area looking for outcrops, add them to your geological map along with any other associated field data to create a geological map for the area. More information about the project can be found here.
This game was also built in Unity 3D and the landscape and level of detail is stunning. Outcrops are scattered all over the field area, the player can discover more information about them by clicking on them and revealing a field notebook. The information provided by the notebook is then plotted on a field map by the students in the classroom. Further information about locations and elevations are obtained through a virtual GPS device and a virtual compass.
One thing that definitely deserves a mention is the superb sound effects throughout the game – overhead RAF included. A high attention to detail has been put into this game to make it an as authentic field work experience as possible, well perhaps the weather is a little too nice!
The team at Leeds explained how important it is that this does not replace fieldwork but can be used to enhance key skills learnt through fieldwork. The game is fun to play and an enjoyable approach to improving key skills and has scope to extend into different skill areas in the future. Highly recommend having a go but don’t forget to print off your field maps first!
3. Virtual Geology Fieldtrips – Skiddaw – The Open University (Shailey Minocha, Tom Argles et al).
Another approach to virtual fieldwork aimed at undergraduate level comes from the Open University with their virtual Skiddaw field trip. The aim of this game is to visit various outcrop localities within the virtual Skiddaw map and investigate the geology. The following video gives you a walk through of the game and explains how many of the elements were put into the game (scanning actual rocks!).
There are some fantastic features included within this virtual fieldwork, one of my personal favourites is the virtual microscope. For every outcrop the student investigates, thin sections can not only be viewed but also manipulated. You can find out more about he virtual microscope and have a go here. Some other fun features include flying across the field site, teleporting and interacting with the other players throughout. I really enjoyed this game and I can see the benefits it may have in enhancing fieldwork skills. I’m unaware of a freely available version of this game but I believe Universities can talk with the Open University team and make arrangements for access.
That’s just a short summary of some of the game we got to test out, if you want to know more about any of the games you can either contact me or any of the developers. In the meantime, the game I am developing for volcanic hazard communication is nearing completion. The first prototype of the game was shown at the E-gaming workshop with some great feedback from those that played. I am looking forward to sharing more about the game with you soon so, stay tuned (here’s a sneaky peek)!