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Two sets of learning activities in Google Earth were developed for use by geoscience majors and non-science majors. The first activity aimed to foster undergraduate students' understanding of the geography and basic geology of Iceland. We tested the efficacy of this activity for learning with 300 undergraduates from a university in the southeastern part of the United States. In terms of post- versus pre-test scores we found: (1) overall learning gains when collapsing over type of prior knowledge and gender, (2) no differences in learning gains when comparing those with prior coursework in geology or geography to other students without such prior coursework, and (3) no differences in learning gains when comparing males and females. In terms of items completed during the lab exercise, again we found no differences by prior coursework (prior geology, prior geography, or none), and no differences by gender. Lastly, moderate positive correlations were found between students' pre-test and post-test scores, as well as between students' embedded lab scores and post-test scores.

For the second activity, we developed a laboratory activity about the classic Tonga region of the west Pacific in order to support undergraduate students' understanding of: (1) the physical geography of the Tonga Subduction System, (2) the dynamic geological processes involved in plate movement, subduction, magmatic arc evolution, and trench rollback, and (3) geological processes resulting from subduction, including volcanism, and earthquake formation. Using the program called Sketch-Up, we created 3-D COLLADA (three-dimensional COLLAborative Design Activity) models that are viewable as four-dimensional animations in the Google Earth API (application programming interface; a web-based version of Google Earth) to help demonstrate several geophysical processes. These animations potentially have a wide range of learning application from basic to more abstract ideas. Specifically, the learning objects created involve the Pacific Plate subducting underneath the Australian Plate in the Tonga Region. These are designed to help show subduction, active and dormant volcanoes, back-arc spreading, trench rollback, and migration of the tear point that marks the northern termination of the subduction system. We tested the efficacy of this activity with 127 undergraduates from a university in the southeastern part of the United States. In terms of post- versus pre-test scores we found: (1) overall learning gains when collapsing over type of prior knowledge and gender, (2) no differences in learning gains when comparing those with prior coursework in geology or geography to other students without this prior coursework; and (3) no differences in learning gains when comparing males and females. For the lab activity itself, we found no differences by prior coursework (geology and/or geography versus none), but found a gender difference favoring males; however this learning did not show up as statistically significant at post-test (as previously mentioned). Lastly, moderate positive correlations were found between students' pre-test and lab scores.

Data is discussed with respect to Google Earth's utility to convey basic geoscience principles to non-geology undergraduates and its potential impact on public understanding. This is important and aligned with many current educational reform efforts (the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Science Education Standards), which call for broader scientific literacy.

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