Teaching with digital geology in the high Arctic: opportunities and challenges
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionGeoscience Communication. 2021, 4 (3), 399-420. 10.5194/gc-4-399-2021
The Covid-19 pandemic occurred at a time of major revolution in the geosciences – the era of digital geology. Digital outcrop models (DOMs) acquired from consumer drones, processed using user-friendly photogrammetric software and shared with the wider audience through online platforms are a cornerstone of this digital geological revolution. Integration of DOMs with other geoscientific data, such as geological maps, satellite imagery, terrain models, geophysical data and field observations, strengthens their application in both research and education. Teaching geology with digital tools advances students' learning experience by providing access to high-quality outcrops, enhancing visualization of 3D geological structures and improving data integration. Similarly, active use of DOMs to integrate new field observations will facilitate more effective fieldwork and quantitative research. From a student's perspective, georeferenced and scaled DOMs allow for an improved appreciation of scale and of 3D architecture, which is a major threshold concept in geoscientific education. DOMs allow us to bring geoscientists to the outcrops digitally, which is particularly important in view of the Covid-19 pandemic that restricts travel and thus direct access to outcrops. At the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), located at 78∘ N in Longyearbyen in Arctic Norway, DOMs are actively used even in non-pandemic years, as the summer field season is short and not overlapping with the Bachelor “Arctic Geology” course package held from January to June each year. In 2017, we at UNIS developed a new course (AG222 “Integrated Geological Methods: From Outcrop To Geomodel”) to encourage the use of emerging techniques like DOMs and data integration to solve authentic geoscientific challenges. In parallel, we have established the open-access Svalbox geoscientific portal, which forms the backbone of the AG222 course activities and provides easy access to a growing number of DOMs, 360∘ imagery, subsurface data and published geoscientific data from Svalbard. Considering the rapid onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Svalbox portal and the pre-Covid work on digital techniques in AG222 allowed us to rapidly adapt and fulfil at least some of the students' learning objectives during the pandemic. In this contribution, we provide an overview of the course development and share experiences from running the AG222 course and the Svalbox platform, both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.