02 Nov 2020

02 Nov 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal GC.

A Flexible, Open and Interactive Digital Platform to Support Online and Blended Experiential Learning Environments: Thinglink and thin sections

Adam J. Jeffery1, Steven L. Rogers1, Kelly L. A. Jeffery2, and Luke Hobson1 Adam J. Jeffery et al.
  • 1School of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, U.K.
  • 2School of Life Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, U.K.

Abstract. This study investigates the potential value of, and provides a method for the creation of, flexible, digital and asynchronous platforms to create student-centered materials for use in an online and/or blended learning environment. We made use of Thinglink to create a virtual microscope resource for geology and associated courses in higher education. This is achieved through the dissemination of a simple learning resource comprising interactive imagery and audio.

The visual analysis of rocks under the microscope, termed thin section petrography, is a fundamental component in geology programmes in higher education, with key skills which are transferable with other fields such as material science, biology and forensic science. However, learning environments and activities in this field are often dictated by the requirement for access to microscope facilities, and supplementary resources which are highly variable in their academic level, availability, design, and scale, ranging from traditional textbooks to online resources.

A resource was created which allows individuals to experience some of the aspects of petrographic microscopy in a digital manner. In particular, specific features of the materials observed, and how microscopes work were included. The resource was disseminated to a population of learners and educators who provided responses to a questionnaire. Responses were overwhelmingly positive and indicate considerable interest from learner and teacher alike. Critical areas for improvement include the need for clarity in the user interface, and the inclusion of recorded human voice rather than automated text narration. This study highlights the need for, and benefits of, interactive online learning resources in petrology and associated fields. This type of resource has positive implications for the flexibility, inclusivity and accessibility of teaching materials. Such resources may prove particularly valuable when distance-learning is unavoidable (e.g. the COVID-19 crisis) and/or hybrid, blended learning environments are being deployed. The method and platform used in this study are highly transferable to other subject areas (or other areas of the geosciences).

Adam J. Jeffery et al.

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Status: final response (author comments only)
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Adam J. Jeffery et al.

Adam J. Jeffery et al.


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Short summary
We investigate the potential use of Thinglink, an interactive imagery-based web platform, for the study of rocks, minerals, and fossils under the microscope. We disseminated a prototype which allowed users to view rock samples through a 'virtual' microscope, and gathered feedback from staff and students. Results were overwhelmingly positive and imply real interest in this style of resource. Such resources could help to enhance accessibility, inclusivity, and could complement existing teaching.