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Brain Food: iPads Become New Field Tool For NAU Geology Students

Bonnie Stevens/KNAU

It's estimated that by the new year, more than 60 million Americans will be using iPads. NAU geologist Lisa Skinner is already using them in the field with her students as a geologist time machine of sorts.

Skinner says, "they're walking around with their iPad and looking at where they are on the ground. And if they find an interesting location, they'll stop, take a photo of the rocks there, describe the rocks and they may annotate the photos. So, they'll draw on top of the photo and say this color unit is this type of rock and this color unit is another type of rock."

Before iPads, Skinner says geology students would lug around dozens maps, photographs and reference materials while conducting field research. But like geologic strata, all of those materials are now layered into one thin electronic tool.

"We've had them out there collecting data in slot canyons to try to figure out erosional rates of those canyons," Skinner says. "They're essentially tributaries to Glen Canyon and, eventually, the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. We've had them making geologic maps on an iPad."

Collecting all that information on an iPad allows the students to visit the site as often as they like while working on a project without physically having to go back into the field.

"It used to be that students would collect the information on a piece of paper," Skinner says. "And when they come back from the field, it may be 2 or 3 weeks later that they finally get down to writing their report. And they can go back, with their information they collected with the iPad, they can go back, basically "into the field", so that they can visit the locations where they were standing." Skinner adds, "that personal experience and visual experience they can connect while they're writing their report. And we're finding that they have a better understanding of where they were, and what they took pictures of, and how all of those different places fit together."

Skinner believes the iPad is the new reference tool for geologiss. And her students are on the cutting edge of technology for mapping the geologic features of the world.  

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