Tag Archives: Department of Geological Sciences.

UC scientists mix technology, art and roleplay to show teens the earth’s power

Combining special effects, science, art and storytelling, University of Canterbury geological scientists have developed an exciting hi-tech game to help high school students understand the power of the earth.

The game, called ‘Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth’, was developed by UC volcanologist Associate Professor Ben Kennedy and geological 3D visualisation expert Dr Jonathan Davidson with help from artists, digital experts and educators. The game integrates storytelling, 3D software, video technology, holograms, comic art and geology to teach secondary school students about the inner workings of volcanoes and the role of geologists and engineers.

Students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi in Christchurch were the first to test the game this week.

“One group jumped out of their seats celebrating when they got the right answer,” Dr Davidson says. “It was really exciting to see it all come together and see them having fun. Hopefully it inspired some of them to think about a career in science or engineering in the future.”

Dr Kennedy says the game enables the students to experience science through educated play and by becoming the stars of the game.

“The students ultimately have to work out how to ‘save the planet’ by finding and safely extracting renewable energy from a volcano,” Dr Kennedy says.

“It puts the students in the role of the geologist or engineer, saving planet earth from a potential environmental disaster.”

Dr Kennedy and Dr Davidson came up with the idea for the game while watching the 2005 disaster movie Supervolcano about a massive volcanic eruption, which used 3D imagery to show the geological processes behind the eruption.

“We thought it would be really cool to try and replicate the 3D holographic effects in the classroom, especially as a way to inspire younger kids and get them excited about geology and how it makes a difference in the world,” Dr Davidson says.

The game sees students work in teams of four to role play as scientists or engineers trying to drill into a magma chamber to extract its power. Each team member is assigned a job (geophysicist, environmental risk manager, volcanologist, or drilling engineer) and watches entertaining videos relating to their role. The team members then share their knowledge, as real scientists and engineers would, to identify such things as the location, depth and budget of the drilling. They input their answers into an online form. At the end of the game, they get to see the consequences of their proposed solution visualised in a 3D hologram. 

“Its characters are a bit silly and hopefully make the students laugh while they’re learning, but we also hope there’s some excitement,” Dr Kennedy says.

“Drilling too deep could initiate an eruption and kill everyone. But, get it right; and you can cool down the magma chamber, reduce the risk of a large eruption, make renewable energy and save the earth!”

The game was created with help from UC educational psychologist Dr Valerie Sotardi of UC’s School of Educational Studies and Leadership, teachers Ian Reeves and Georgina Barrett, artist Elizabeth Mordensky, and UC videographer Rob Stowell. The 3D visualisation used local Christchurch 3D geological software company Leapfrog to create the magma holograms.

The project received $30,000 in funding from the Unlocking Curious Minds 2017 funding round, administered by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. UC provided in-kind support through staff time, use of equipment and facilities.

The UC scientists hope to share the game with other schools, museums and educational centres around New Zealand.

Q&A with award winner Dr Tom Wilson

As part of our follow-up to the 2016 UC Teaching Awards, we profile award winner Dr Tom Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Hazards and Disaster Management.

Q: What are your areas of interest?
A: Natural hazards risk assessment, with a focus on impacts; disaster risk reduction; and aspects of disaster resilience.

Q: What is your teaching philosophy?
A: Disasters are interdisciplinary, complex challenges for society. So I try to reflect this in my teaching, by focusing on students developing strong fundamental understanding of how, where and why disasters occur, but also on developing strong transferable interdisciplinary skills which they can use in their future profession including: communication using a range of formats, critical thinking and teamwork skills (both in relaxed and pressure situations).

Understanding and coping with uncertainty is also a key part of dealing with disasters – so putting students in (hopefully) authentic learning situations where they have to cope with undertaking assessments and make decisions in messy, complex, and information-poor situations is critical for their learning (and usually fun, rewarding and often amusing for all involved).

Q: What do you love most about teaching?
A: Working with students, seeing them achieve (and go on to awesome jobs), and having fun doing it. I really like the joy of discovery that happens in 100-level classes, which extends through to the more one-on-one teaching at post-graduate level where we get to know individuals really well and work with them on complex problems in these more advanced classes.  In particular, I absolutely love working with my fantastic thesis students and seeing them become researchers who help society reduce the impacts of future (and sometimes current) disasters.

Q: Do you have any stand-out teaching moments you would like to share?
A: Firstly, realising that the more engaging, dynamic and fun you can make teaching the more effective it is.  I’d read and heard all the theory, but to actually see it manifest in the ‘classroom’ (wherever this might be) was amazing.

The second was a former masters student, Emily Lambie, who developed a coding scheme to analyse how people react in strong earthquake shaking using CCTV footage.  It was a very challenging topic, which interlinked earthquake scientists, psychologists, public health researchers, and emergency medicine specialists.  She really did a terrific job with her masters, and she has taken this work to the world – publishing it in international journals, winning an EQC Fulbright scholarship to further these studies in the USA, and presenting her work at an international intergovernmental meeting.  Just awesome.


Q&A with Dr Ben Kennedy

As a follow-up to the 2016 UC Teaching Awards, we will be profiling  some of the winners to see what drives them to do what they do. First up is Dr Ben Kennedy, Senior Lecturer in Physical Volcanology.

Q: What are your areas of interest?
A: I teach a second year course called Rocks Minerals and Ores, as well as third and fourth year Magmatic systems and Volcanology courses. I also teach field trips where we get to take students into the mountains, along the coast and up volcanoes.

Q: What are the highlights of your career?
A: Prior to teaching at UC, I worked as a teaching learning fellow at the University of British Columbia with Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman. I was lucky enough to spend a full year learning how to teach, how to research teaching, and how to spread the word about the benefits of good teaching. Since arriving at UC seven years ago, together with Erik Brogt and an enthusiastic team from the Department of Geological Sciences, I have received several big grants from Ako Aotearoa to promote active learning, science communication role plays, and research learning in virtual and real fieldtrips.

Q: What is your teaching philosophy?
A: To focus on the students and to have fun using innovative teaching techniques that have been rigorously proven to increase learning.

Q: What do you love most about teaching?
A: All geologists love fieldwork, and I love watching students becoming part of the geology family, there is nothing like seeing rocks in action to excite and bond teachers and students alike. It is amazing to see the transformation a fieldtrip can have. An awkward group of second year geology students that don’t really know each other or what their future holds can be transformed in a week into best friends and geologists for life.

Q: Do you have any stand-out teaching moments you would like to share?
A: It has been wonderful to have been at UC long enough to see longer term transformations. I can think of one student (she will know who she is!) who started out at UC, shy, not outdoorsy, and not confident in her academic abilities – now she is an expert in her field, she hikes up and down volcanoes, jumps in and out of helicopters, she blows stuff up, appears on TV and advises DOC and GNS Science on volcanic hazards, and she has become a great teacher and mentor to other students.

ben yasur eruption2Ben watches volcanic activity from the crater of  Mount Yasur, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.



New partner sponsors senior lecturer position

An event was held to celebrate a partnership between Pells Sullivan Meynink and UC on Wednesday night.

Pells Sullivan Meynink are sponsoring a new senior lecturer position in Engineering Geology in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Vice Chancellor Dr Rod Carr signing agreement with Pells Sullivan Meynink. Pictured: Mark Eggers Director PSM (sitting), Barry Ramsay Chair UC Foundation and Dr Rod Carr.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr signing the partnership agreement with Pells Sullivan Meynink. Pictured: Mark Eggers Director PSM (sitting), Barry Ramsay Chair UC Foundation and Dr Rod Carr.