Research Highlights / Full Story

From the sliding San Andreas Fault to the desert of Death Valley, the landscape provides geology lessons professors could only dream of bringing to the classroom. Dr. Jeff Pelz, professor at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and an expert in visual perception, is leading an RIT team in a multidisciplinary research project to explore how perceptual learning occurs in these complex environments. Co-PI Dr. Mitchell Rosen, research professor of RIT's Center for Student Innovation (CSI), and doctoral student Brandon May are capturing the experience in photographs, video, and audio to create a semi-immersive virtual field trip. The team will compare how people learn in actual versus virtual environments.

For over 10 years, Dr. John Tarduno, professor of geophysics at the University of Rochester, has led undergraduate students on a transformational 10-day journey from San Francisco, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev., teaching fundamental geology lessons. The experience has led students to pursue advanced degrees and professions in geology.

A research team consisting of Dr. Robert Jacobs, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, Tarduno, Pelz, and Rosen won a five-year National Science Foundation grant to support the research. They seek to understand how students develop perceptual expertise in the field, what role perceptual learning plays in the understanding of geology, and to what extent those experiences transfer to the classroom through the use of imaging.

Each student on the real and virtual trips will be equipped with a wearable eye-tracking device developed by Positive Science, a company formed by RIT graduate Jason Babcock. Each eyetracker has a camera that watches eye movements and another that captures the scene. Expert geologists will also be equipped with the device to help understand the differences in gaze behavior.

Rosen and May are producing ultra-high resolution still imagery of the sites and a hemispherical video view with a 12-megapixel video camera. When projected on screens in the CSI, the final footage will allow viewers to walk up and examine some of the geological landmarks in life size.

"If we can understand how learning takes place in the natural environment, we may be able to replicate this experience for thousands of students across the country," adds Pelz.