Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geological and Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Heather Petcovic, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Steven Semken, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Peter Voice, Ph.D.


Digital learning, field trips, geology, geoscience education, virtual field trips

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Virtual Field Experiences (VFEs) are a growing supplement and gateway to traditional fieldwork in the geosciences. With VFEs becoming more accepted for use in college geoscience courses, how instructors find and choose VFEs for their students is critical to creating greater accessibility and future resources. VFEs that are not easily accessed by instructors may go unused, and the effort put into making them would have been wasted. This phenomenological descriptive study utilized five focus groups of college geoscience instructors in the United States. Each 1-to-1.5-hour focus group session of 3-7 participants took place on video conferencing software, which was recorded for later transcription and analysis. Findings of this study suggest that instructors consider a wide range of digital resources to be VFEs, such as YouTube videos, gigapans, photos, websites, and open educational resources such as immersive virtual field trips. Results also show that instructors invest significant time to search for and adapt VFEs to meet their course needs because available VFEs, while containing quality content, fail to meet instructors’ learning goals. Instructors recognize that VFEs provide opportunities for students who may not otherwise be able to go into the field, and often find the resources they intend to use through their professional networks. Results of this study will help VFE developers understand what instructors want from virtual field experiences, enabling them to better design and market their products. Results will also contribute to a growing understanding of how geoscience instructors find and use VFEs and digital content to adapt traditional fieldwork to online teaching.