Computers & Geosciences, Volume 24, Number 7, 1998

John C. Butler
Department of Geosciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204

The Virtual Geosciences Professor has been in existence in one form or another about 3 years. The site was originally developed as a means of keeping geologists and geophysicists aware of interesting Internet-based resources. As of July 1998 a total of nearly 16,000 ≥hits≤ have been recorded. This amounts to about 25 connections per day over the two year time period. During a one-week period in late June 1998 users in more than 50 different countries connected to this resource and the number of connections per day of the week and per time of day are relatively flat reflecting a more or less global set of connections. ≥Hits≤ as you probably know, are not a particularly good measure of use and clearly not a measure of quality.

There is an overhead aspect that developers of such meta-lists must keep in mind. Out-of-date addresses (URLs) are annoying and if there are too many, connections will decline. The site does not in maintain itself but the workload has declined over time as the developers of the listed resources often provide notification of changes. Also, it appears that the frequency of change of address is declining as the developers desire to maintain a level of stability, which encourages "return customers".

A companion site, Geophysics on the Internet went on-line in October 1997 and is receiving about 20 hits per day. This site was developed and is being maintained with support from the Foundation of the Society for Exploration Geophysicists.

"Futurists", whatever they are, tell me that a student graduating in 1998 will face 6 to 7 career changes during the next 35 years. The timing will be such that these individuals will not be able to return to complete yet another advanced degree each time such a change is presented. Therefore, life-long-learning or just-in-time learning will become a reality. Exercises, modules, courses, etc. that are being developed and distributed via the Internet may form the basis of learning opportunities in both formal and informal settings.

If you have not begun to explore the Internet to see what is there now, the Virtual Geosciences Professor offers several starting points. In particular, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the Introduction to Geophysical Explorationwhich is an effort supported by the Department of Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines and produced under the direction of Dr. Tom Boyd. My introduction to geophysical prospecting took place during the pre-mainframe computing days when pencil and paper and chalk were the primary means of expression. Take a look at the section on Gravity Anomaly Over A Tunnel. You can use this script to design a gravity survey for the project described in the request for bid. The red circle in the graph below represents a tunnel with a specific radius, R, depth of burial, and density contrast, rho. Clicking with the mouse on the tunnel and dragging the tunnel to different depths can vary the depth of burial of the tunnel. The radius and density contrast can be varied with the slider. Just a few minutes are required to examine the effect of one variable (holding the others constant) on the size of the anomaly ≠ something that was very difficult for me to see by careful examination of the underlying mathematical expression(s).

Take a look at Geology 202 Introduction to Petrology at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Michelle Lamberson has played a key role as the liaison between faculty with content command and a group of "gung-ho" students who do the "programming." A summary of the extent to which the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at UBC are experimenting with Internet-based course resources is given on their Educational Resources.

In June 1998 there were some 900 course resources being produced by about 180 departments for an average of nearly 5 courses per department. In many departments, however, it is the same individual producing the resources. Thus, a considerable proportion of the increase in such resources over the past two years reflects the commitment of a relatively small number of individuals to experiment with the Internet. Probably less than 2% of the geosciences faculty in the world are actively involved.

In both examples given above an individual was noted as having played a key role in the development and maintenance of the Internet-based resources. It is my opinion this is what is missing in many universities is department-level commitment. The experimentation that is going on in many departments often results from bits and pieces contributed by a single individual, or a small group. Only in a few instances is their evidence of a department-level commitment as reflected by the dedication of a faculty or staff position to the effort.