Today’s undergraduate students are accustomed to animations as important to their learning. Complex geologic processes such as subduction are well suited to animation. In spite of this opportunity and need, high-quality animations of fundamental Earth processes are uncommon. We have produced a realistic animation of plate creation and destruction processes for the undergraduate audience. First steps focused on building a storyboard, which is a visual outline of scenes to be animated. Then we organized a team of geoscientists and animators to make the animation. Students generated a rough draft animation, which was polished by a professional animator. We also wrote a narrative that was keyed to the animation, with written “call outs” inserted when terms that may be unfamiliar to undergraduates were spoken. Concepts in the animation are explicitly linked to the scientific literature, with references intended to guide interested viewers to sources to learn more. After the animation and narration were completed, we focused on dissemination and assessment. The animation (“Plate Tectonics Basics 1”) was placed on YouTube and the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) portal, and a Japanese version was made. Presentations about the animation were given at the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall meeting. Assessment focused on capturing student understandings before and after watching the animation. Three groups of students were assessed: community college students and lower- and upper-level students at a four-year university. Results of the assessment indicate that students at all levels improved their understanding of subduction zone processes after experiencing the animation, but that upper-level students showed the greatest improvement. More high-quality animations about important plate tectonic processes and additional research into the level of complexity for various student groups are required.

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