Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Second Advisor

Dr. William W. Cobern

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathleen M. Baker


video analysis, think aloud, time use, GPS tracks, geologic mapping, expertise


The task of constructing a geologic map is a cognitively and physically demanding field-based problem. The map produced is understood to be an individual’s two-dimensional interpretation or mental model of the three-dimensional underlying geology. A popular view within the geoscience community is that teaching students how to make a geologic map is valuable for preparing them to deal with disparate and incomplete data sets, for helping them develop problem-solving skills, and for acquiring expertise in geology. Few previous studies have focused specifically on expertise in geologic mapping. Drawing from literature related to expertise, to problem solving, and to mental models, two overarching research questions were identified: How do geologists of different levels of expertise constrain and solve an ill-structured problem such as making a geologic map? How do geologists address the uncertainties inherent to the processes and interpretations involved in solving a geologic mapping problem?

These questions were answered using a methodology that captured the physical actions, expressed thoughts, and navigation paths of geologists as they made a geologic map. Eight geologists, from novice to expert, wore a head-mounted video camera with an attached microphone to record those actions and thoughts, creating “video logs” while in the field. The video logs were also time-stamped, which allowed the visual and audio data to be synchronized with the GPS data that tracked participants’ movements in the field.

Analysis of the video logs yielded evidence that all eight participants expressed thoughts that reflected the process of becoming mentally situated in the mapping task (e.g. relating between distance on a map and distance in three-dimensional space); the prominence of several of these early thoughts waned in the expressed thoughts later in the day. All participants collected several types of data while in the field; novices, however, did so more continuously throughout the day whereas the experts collected more of their data earlier in the day. Experts and novices also differed in that experts focused more on evaluating certainty in their interpretations; the novices focused more on evaluating the certainty of their observations and sense of location.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access