A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography
 

 

Thesis

 

Thesis:

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, NORTHRIDGE

 

A VIRTUAL GEOGRAPHY

FIELD TRIP:

VENTURA COUNTY

 

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

For the degree of Master of Art in Geography

By

Jessica Mae Douglas

January 2007

 

The thesis of Jessica Mae Douglas is approved:

Edward Jackiewicz, Ph.D.

Ronald A. Davidson, Ph.D.

Steven Graves, Ph.D., Chair

 

California State University, Northridge

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you to Professors Graves, Jackiewicz, Davidson, Sun, Orme, and Bowen (at C.S.U.N. Geography) for all your help with this project. My admiration goes out to Professor Christopherson as well for creating such a great geography text book and being so open about its use. Recognition is granted to T.C., Uncle Joe and Aunt Jan for the hardware/software gifts; I couldn’t have completed this project without them. I wish to convey my appreciation to Grandma Lilly for gas money to school and all your enthusiasm about this project. Thanks to Bob-o too for the 'you can do it' attitude and accompaniment throughout Ventura County.  My gratitude especially goes out to Mom Rachel for supporting my decision to continue with higher education, paying my tuition and other school-related expenses, and always expecting more of me. I would also like to recognize the role my late father has played in introducing me to geography and environmental concerns. Mom and Dad, your values are my values, and I will pass them on to the next generation.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Signatures Page

Acknowledgements

Table of Figures

Abstract

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Overview

1.2 Organization of Thesis

Chapter 2 : Literature Review

2.1 Field Trips and Geography

2.2 Virtual Field Trips

2.3 Multimedia and Websites

2.4 Geography, Multimedia, and Websites

Chapter 3 : Ventura County

3.1 Introduction and Brief History

3.2 Physical Geography of Ventura County

3.3 Human Geography of Ventura County

3.4 Identity and Sustainability in Ventura County

Chapter 4 : Methodology

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Geosystems Text Instruction

4.3 Website and Multimedia Creation

4.4 Google Earth

4.5 Ventura County, Geosystems, Multimedia, and Google Earth Combined

4.6 Web Master’s Additional Methods

Chapter 5 : Conclusion

5.1 Conclusion

5.2 Final Remarks

References

TABLE OF FIGURES

 

Figure 3:1 California, with Ventura County Highlighted. 

Figure 3:2 Aerial Image of Ventura County, California.

Figure 4:1 Website Home Outline.

Figure 4:2 Website Page Outline.

 

ABSTRACT

 

A VIRTUAL GEOGRAPHY

FIELD TRIP:

VENTURA COUNTY

By

Jessica Mae Douglas

Master of Art in Geography

A website, titled: A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County, was created for the purpose of encouraging local education in physical geography. This website is basically a geographic and environmental learning tool focused on the physical features and processes found within Ventura County, California. This site has been fashioned mainly for geography students in high school through university level courses in and around Ventura County who could utilize the website as a complement to course curriculum. However, as a stand-alone geography educational tool, members of other disciplines, the community at large, and area travelers alike will find the website informational and fun. A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County includes a main homepage, explanatory index pages, and twenty-one sections of instruction based on the Geosystems: An Introductory to Physical Geography textbook by Robert W. Christopherson. Website users are encouraged to follow along in each of the sections with the textbook, Google Earth software, and other useful media. The site’s URL is as follows: http://geography-venturacounty.info/index.htm.

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

1.1 Overview

Improvements in geography education abound within secondary education, colleges and universities of the United States. Many geography educators and researchers agree that the quantity of geography education has increased rapidly in the last 50 years, especially within higher education (Firman, 1952; Bednarz, 2002). As the quantity of education in this discipline enhances, so the quality of geography education becomes a target for improvement. With this in mind, many geography educators and researchers advocate balancing the learning of geography in a classroom setting with the doing of geography in the field (Brown, 1999; McMorrow, 2005). Educational field trips that connect with geographical class curriculum are great examples of doing geography. Another improvement in the quality of geography education includes using virtual field trips (VFTs), with an emphasis on learning and doing geography relevant to a specific geography course. This method of learning/doing geography by employing field trips and VFTs can be especially useful if planned or created for local education in geography (Owen, 2001). Preparing a field trip to a local destination and creating VFTs as an educational supplement may increase the quality of geography education overall.

Such field trips and VFTs at the local level are considerably useful in physical geography education (Clark, 1996; Klemm and Tuthill, 2003). However, very few VFTs in geography exist for teachers and students at the local county level. Therefore, I have created such a VFT for the benefit of my local secondary schools, colleges and universities. Entitled "A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County", this project acts as an interactive website about physical geography in Ventura County. It is a VFT because it includes a variety of computerized instructional modules about Ventura County delivered via Earth imaging, photography, specialized instruction and learning opportunities, suggested field activities and links to related sites. The intent of this project is to further peoples’ geographic knowledge in Ventura County and with those who may visit the region. The utility of the site benefits geography/science students and teachers, tourists interested in the physical environment, and local community members in general. Since the theme is local physical geography, this site will hopefully increase geographical awareness of the local environment in Ventura County. Increased geographic awareness may in turn lead to more active citizenship where environmental matters are a concern, and ideally more educational trips around the county as participants find themselves better able to understand the natural features and processes that lie before them.

The website, A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County, is designed for use as a stand-alone instructional aid. Nevertheless, it would stand to reason that complementing the VFT experience with actual field trips to places of interest would be beneficial for VFT participants.

1.2 Organization of Thesis

This thesis is organized in five sections with the website as an addendum on disk. The introduction provides an overview of the project, including the topic, purpose statement, and significance of the project; plus the thesis categorization. A review of literature informing and inspiring this project follows the introduction. Included among the literature reviewed are sections on field trips and geography; VFTs; multimedia and websites; and finally, geography, multimedia, and websites. A Ventura County section provides additional setting information in terms of an introduction and brief history, the physical geography of Ventura County, the human geography of Ventura County, and concluding remarks. The methodology then identifies how the project was researched and created. This consists of an introduction, the Geosystems text instruction, website and multimedia creation, Google Earth, these attributes combined with Ventura County, as well as, some additional methods. The final conclusion section is broken into a main conclusion and a brief paragraph with final remarks. A copy of the website is located on a disk attached to this thesis.

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Field Trips and Geography

Geography, as well as many other sciences, is inherently a field subject (Clark, 1996). A field subject is one in which much of the learning on that subject is done outside of the classroom. Field trips, field work, field courses, field days, field sites, field experiments, and field experiences are therefore a necessary part of learning this discipline (Dewey, 1963b; Clark, 1996; Driver 2000). Field observations, data acquisition, and the like are important aspects of the scientific process used by geographers, much of which is performed in the field. Driver (2000) specifies that although much of the geographic education of today is taught and learned within the classroom, many within the community continue to frown upon ‘armchair’ geographers. Building a deep understanding of the physical world and its processes is made much easier by field work. According to Clark (1996), it remains necessary to study firsthand the physical world and its processes through fieldwork to understand the physical sciences.

Mackenzie and White (1982) researched the link between "Fieldwork in Geography and Long-term Memory Structures." The authors conducted an empirical investigation of the effectiveness of fieldwork in connection with memory retention using high school students as test subjects. All students took the same basic geography program at school, but they were divided up into three groups. One group experienced active excursions, another passive excursions, and the third experienced no excursion at all. Every student was tested twice, once just after the field trip (if they had one) and again twelve weeks later. These investigators concluded that the students who took part in the active excursion group were able to retain what was learned in geography much better than the other two groups. The passive excursion groups did better at memory retention of the subject matter than the group that did not participate in the field trip as well. Therefore, Mackenzie and White (1982) strongly support the value of field work, especially in the study of geography.

Field work is also necessary to learn geography at the local level. According to Feam (2001), involving students in "local environmental problems can provide a context (for) understanding the real-world (and the) importance of geography." A holistic comprehension of the local environment can be achieved through local field studies that focus on environmental quality. Owen (2002) advocates field trips to local places in order to allow geography students to "gather data, connect the information to cause and effect, and define relationships." Owen also suggested that students create a map of the local area and a presentation of all findings to a student committee which acts as a political entity. Since this field work is done on a regular basis in the course and by another volunteer group at the school, patterns arise about the environmental quality of the subject area. In this way, geography students taking this course researched by Owen (2002), get both a short and long-term understanding of the local environment as well as practice in the political process of lobbying for stability or change in local environmental management.

However, secondary schools, colleges, and universities have some limitations when it comes to including field trips into geography programs. Public secondary schools in the United States are structured so that a student takes multiple courses in a day, bounding a teachers’ ability to take all students in one class on even a half-day trip. The mass higher education system also has its draw backs in the same light: lots of students with many different schedules. Probably the most limiting factor is money, or the lack thereof. Clark (1996) states that the "growth in student numbers has not been matched by funding…and students today fund themselves." Tuthill and Klemm (2002) emphasize that the major boundaries that schools and teachers face in terms of providing students these field experiences are the very serious liability issues to the school. Combine the substandard funding with liability and safety issues, a reduction in student to staff ratios, the cutback of resources, contracts and school days that limit working and student participation hours, transportation availability, so on and so forth; and there is a huge barrier to pursuing field learning opportunities. Therefore, "fieldwork is in danger of being diminished and debased by structures which are designed to supply a standard educational product, with high efficiency, to a mass market" (Clark, 1996). This is really bad news for geography, but worse for those who seek to learn about their world.

Since field work remains an effective component of student learning, while becoming increasingly difficult to deliver, compromises and innovative solutions must be sought. Some suggestions to overcome the problems addressed above include making use of local, low cost, time-wise field trip opportunities in the community (Clark, 1996). This is especially useful at the secondary school and community college levels. Whereas many university students have the opportunity to get more funding and budget more time for field trip experiences like the Wildlands Studies (where a student can pick an environmental project focusing on field work in some distant location and get school credit for it), the majority of secondary and college level students do not have such occasion (Wildlands Studies, 2006). Yet, all students benefit from learning about the local environment no matter what level of study or institution. Making learning in the field happen for geography students may be tricky, but it is definitely worth the effort.

Some students and some teachers also have limitations that prevent them from engaging in certain field trip experiences for a number of reasons. People with permanent physical disabilities or even temporary illnesses may not be provided access in the field (McMorrow, 2005). Another problem facing students and teachers is overall site inaccessibility because of rugged and dangerous terrain (Lacina, 2004). The changes in the physical environment that occur throughout the year(s) can restrict the usefulness of field work as well. Phenomena evinced through particular climates, seasons, and natural disasters may be apparent one semester, but gone again the next. Thus, field work may not always be the optimal learning method in the physical sciences given these criteria.

A preferred method is to combine field trips in geography with VFTs amid the same theme. The process of combining field excursions with VFTs is highly recommended by Klemm and Tuthill (2003), because "field trips benefit students in connecting school studies with real-world, local situations… (and VFTs) maximize an actual site study." Also, VFTs "allow students with disabilities (and other limitations) to participate in the learning experience" according to Burgstahler (2000). Another perk of the VFT experience is that VFTs can capture phenomena that may only occur in certain inaccessible places or certain inconvenient times throughout the year(s); unlike field trips. Therefore, when a VFT about a particular topic related to geography is available for use or can be created and customized to that theme, it is suggested as a supplement and when necessary as a substitute to actual field work in the subject.

Although much research suggests that active field experiences are best for learning, the aforementioned limitations in the field can prevent actual field trip learning at all levels of education. Thus, virtual field trips, without the limitations of actual field trips and with the convenience of media, have great utility to allow learning for the masses. In this way, VFTs are a better learning tool for geography in many instances because they can still teach the subject matter to many people without the hassles.

2.2 Virtual Field Trips

A VFT is a multimedia presentation that conveys the sights and/or sounds of a place to the user through a computer screen and/or overhead projector. The purpose of a VFT, according to Klemm and Tuthill (2003), is to "enrich and augment actual field trips…or to provide a virtual alternative when no actual field experience is possible." Instructors can use existing VFTs or create their own to this end. When a VFT is utilized in conjunction with a field trip, pre- and post- activities can enhance the learning experience. Sometimes the entire contents of a VFT becomes useful for the teacher and students, while at other times, only a portion of the VFT may be presented or assigned as needed to fulfill the objectives of the curriculum and field work. When actual field trips are not an option, because of the aforementioned limitations like expense, time constraints, liability, and so forth; VFTs are practical mediums for conveying knowledge that field trips would normally provide.

VFTs have many benefits for students. Stainfield et. al (2000) suggest that some advantages of VFTs are: required observation of the physical environment, interaction with time and space through the virtual setting, internet use plus links to outside sources of information, encouraged collaboration among students, and optional testing of skills. More perks listed in Stevenson (2001) include background information about specific locations; the inclusion of images or animations, movie clips, sounds or music that capture students’ attention; online forums for increased interaction; and additional educational material. Klemm and Tuthill (2003) argue that VFTs are the new technological approach to the study of environmental phenomena that "promote and encourage teachers and students to get involved in field studies." More rewards surmised by Qiu and Hubble (2002) involve the presentation of extensive and varied studies of place, integration of multiple types of data, flexible accessibility or instant availability of information, repeatable virtual experiences, helpfulness for different users, and attractiveness to students. Thus, the VFTs are valuable because they are student or learner-centered.

The creation of VFTs presents several challenges. Focused planning of the site with the audience in mind, supporting active and cooperative student learning, and including strategies that encourage problem-solving and critical thinking are best practices that are emphasized by Klemm and Tuthill (2003). These suggestions are very useful to novice VFT creators. Additional considerations worth considering follow. To create a, VFT certain tools are needed. These range from web-design software to digital cameras. Instructors should know what students are expected to learn, how they are expected to perform, and what kind of assessment(s) will be used. The University of Wisconsin’s Geography Department has a Virtual Field Trips (1996) website that includes the following suggestions for student user activities and assessments: "collection, manipulation, and synthesis of data; mapping; compare and contrast questions; and predictive questions." A focused learning environment with diverse user interaction options is therefore advised. However, Klemm and Tuthill (2003) highlight that the virtual experience should be a "means to greater understanding, rather than as an end in itself." The difficulty level and presentation depth is also a key component of a VFT to adjust properly to the users’ abilities. Options for basic as well as more profound study are therefore recommended. Site design is very important to achieve a comprehensive VFT. Control of the virtual environment is imperative as well. Examples of both design and control necessities from Tuthill and Klemm (2002) and Klemm and Tuthill (2003) include a table of contents on the main menu, navigational tool availability, visual/audio placement, color and contrast, general consistency, and a way to return to the home page from links (if possible). Website design literature along with suggested online pedagogical practices is sufficient background material for creating a VFT website. Student tools for observation, measurement, data recording, analysis, and conclusions should also be included when pertinent. Soliciting student ideas or opinions is also a great way to involve students in the learning process or even with the modification of the VFT site (Tuthill and Klemm, 2002). Another vital necessity is the availability of computers with internet access and/or CD-ROM for all students. An important point to note is that teachers must also know how to use these computers, must be willing to use said technology to teach science, and must be competent enough to guide students through a particular VFT. Nix (2002) advocates in-service technology training as an advisable solution to aid instructors towards this target. Although there is a lot of work involved in producing a VFT, it can be done and used well if these suggestions are followed.

Many educators create VFTs to connect studies and students in the classroom with relevant local situations. Owen (2002) and McMorrow (2005) encourage the combined use of VFTs based on local areas with actual field studies to local areas for the purpose of maximizing student learning potential. Local area VFTs can really help students know more about their surroundings whether or not they are accompanied by a field trip. The pros of utilizing VFTs are summarized below. VFTs "bring local, real-world situations directly to the classroom (Tuthill and Klemm, 2002). Gubala (2006) also endorses VFT usage because the limitations of field trips are not problematic for learning via VFT: virtual field trips allow for geographic learning "in the comfort of your own school." Lacina (2004) notes that VFTs can be used to teach students material required by state standards and that VFTs are more visually stimulating than textbook learning if graphics are included. Other subjects are integrated in geography VFTs as well; allowing for learning of multiple fields at one time, according to this author. McMorrow (2005) lists the advantages of self-paced learning, links to other sites, and geographical concepts (presented through text and multimedia)." Thus, there are many researchers who promote geographical learning by VFT.

The constraints to VFT learning must also be addressed. Tuthill and Klemm (2002) suggest that classroom needs may not be met by a single VFT or even multiple VFTs. These web resources are usually not customized to a particular course or group of students. These authors bring up concerns such as: the URLs that locate VFTs online can be changed, some VFTs can simply disappear offline, and VFTs can not always replace what is learned (and retained) during field trips. McMorrow (2005) lists the costs of equipment and necessity for internet as a VFT constraint. Another problem with VFTs has to do with pedagogical issues. Many of the papers written about virtual field trips and pedagogy really critic rather than promote the currently accessible VFTs. VFTs have "high variability and uneven educational value, are predominantly text-based, and (incorporate overall less of an emphasis) on quality (Mioduser et. al., 2000)." McKnight (2004) brings up the faults in design as a major factor in poor VFT practices. These include documents that are poorly formatted, with unclear indexing and navigation as well as pages which are too large or linear. The lack of guidelines and benchmarks for VFTs are noticed by many researchers, such as this last author. Therefore, these faults should be avoided when creating a VFT for educational purposes.

There are many thousands of virtual field trips available on the internet, according to Qiu and Hubble (2002), and many more on CD-ROM. The purpose, content, design, and links vary significantly with each. Thus, keeping in mind the preferred pedagogical practices is highly recommended for creation of a high quality VFT. The issues most important to Mioduser et. al. (2000) are as follows: "site identification, site evolution, language, target population, size, and subject matter." Johnson (2001) includes the creation of new technologies, such as the "guidebot" (a proclaimed animated pedagogical agent) to enhance site quality. Integrating technology into any curriculum is suggested by McKnight (2004) as an innovative approach to the practice of proper educational pedagogy; however, quality of the VFT product in terms of best practices is again stressed as the single most important theme (Klemm and Tuthill, 2003).

Some of the high quality educational VFTs are based on specific courses at certain schools or even actual textbooks currently in use. An example of one such VFT is the Dark Peak Virtual Tour, a website that is used to prepare students for a single day physical geography field course with the University of Manchester. This site went through multiple tests and edited iterations before completion, which included multiple drafts, site trialing, and student evaluations. Some purposes of this VFT are to encourage students to relate theory to real-world examples and to give students a chance to get a more in depth education through technological support. This VFT included an easy to use index page, offshoot pages based on theme from the central page, and links back to home from all site pages. Graphics and tools are also useful on the Dark Peak Virtual Tour. McMorrow (2005), the author of a Dark Peak Virtual Tour review, stressed that the VFT was still a work in progress. Therefore, the website should get better as additional time, expense, and expertise are expended on site improvements.

Another example of a textbook-based VFT, on CD-ROM, is the "Virtual Field Trips for Physical Geography, Version 2.0;" which accompanies the Geosystems: An Introduction to Physical Geography, 4th Edition, textbook by Christopherson (2002). The Geosystems VFT is divided into four main sections: Chapters, Field Trips, Resources and Toolkit, and Notebook. Each ‘chapter’ corresponds to the 21 chapters in the book, with a ‘field trip’ allotted for the subject matter of each chapter. The ‘resources and toolkit’ section has a glossary, links and other useful items; while the ‘notebook’ segment functions to save data and answer questions. The layout is, therefore, well-organized, allowing for ease of use. The VFT is theme specific (physical geography) and includes many examples from around the globe. The use of many relevant multimedia examples means that the CD-ROM is interesting and engaging. It is a useful complement to the textbook.

2.3 Multimedia and Websites

Educators increasingly employ multimedia, the application of multiple mediums to represent and transmit information, in their classes (Olson, 1997). Examples of multimedia include text, graphics, sound, animation, and movies, on CD-ROMs or the Internet. It is well-known among instructors of many disciplines that computers are a required tool for the use of multimedia technology in education. The incentive for using this technology is that multimedia presentations on computers can accomplish instructional goals that are not possible through traditional lecturing and accompanying text teaching methods (Olson, 1997). In other words, multimedia offers teachers and students an alternative pathway to learning (Luna and McKenzie, 1997).

The most widely accessible way of exchanging multimedia information is through the internet, especially the World Wide Web. According to Whittaker (2004), HTML and HTTP formats are the most widely utilized. A website with such a format has been defined as a "set of interconnected web pages, usually including a homepage, generally located on the same server, and prepared and maintained as a collection of information by a person, group, or organization" by common dictionary. Also important to note are the basic requirements to get online: a personal computer, a power source, an internet service provider, and an active phone line connection (Whittaker, 2004). Broadband hook-ups that permit fast downloading of data, text, and images are also becoming prevalent, making visually rich VFTs a more viable option to larger numbers of students.

Websites and multimedia are commonplace in educational instruction; however, there are numerous factors to consider when creating one of these instructional aides. Cato (2001) advises web design that is user-friendly. This involves a website/multimedia that has a specific purpose, is easy to learn and remember, has an efficient layout, consists of minimal errors, and creates a sense of satisfaction from the user. In the end, the usefulness the user attributes to the product is what really matters. Design is therefore extremely important to achieve this goal. The following design tips from Niederst (2001) are listed below:

1.  The website design should be flexible so users can customize it;

2.  The website needs to be compatible with Internet Explorer, America Online, and as many other browsers as possible;

3.  The website needs to be created so as to be legible within monitor live space or area available on the screen;

4.  Use typography with appropriate sizes and fonts to convey meaning;

5.  When choosing colors, be selective of the color scheme and remember not only RGB, but also HSB, Lab, and available web palette;

6.  Keep in mind how heading, body, and other formatting will look, given spacing and position, lists, text and graphic appearance, background, tables, links, and so forth;

7.  Make links stand out as links;

8.  Use frames when needed for viewing multiple pages at once;

9.  Forms can be utilized for feedback if desired;

10.  Cascading style sheets are a design option as well;

11.  Make certain pages that need to be printed out, "printer-friendly;"

12.  Most still images should be in JPEG, GIF, or PNG format and be aware of image resolution and file size;

13.  There are many types of audio and video formats (WAV, QuickTime, MP3, Flash, MPG), so choose the best kinds for the type of audio or video recorded (remember size and compression issues too);

14.  Use HTML and web standards as necessary;

15.  If possible, look into utilizing XML, XHTML, DHTML, Javascript, WAP, WML, and all the other advanced technologies for web design.

Website design and multimedia usage do have limitations though. Olson (1997) and McMorrow (2005) point out that it takes a lot of money to get the hardware and software needed to create and use websites and multimedia for instructional purposes. The computers, cameras, recording devices, camcorders, and so on are costly. The web publishing software or mapping software may also be expensive and involve a considerable time investment, especially for those new to such software products. A great amount of time must also be put aside to design the website and multimedia for the use intended. Travel costs and time are of concern as well. High quality products are expected in educational instruction, but financial and temporal constraints must be addressed. Therefore some compromise must be achieved to create a quality web product given these limitations.

2.4 Geography, Multimedia, and Websites

The combination of multimedia and website use in classrooms is now mainstream in the United States, and quite prevalent within geography teaching and learning. Geography departments within colleges and universities especially make the effort to include new technology in course instruction. An example of website/multimedia use for instruction is the Introduction to Meteorology website from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Geography Department (University of California, Santa Barbara, Winter 2006). Although the lectures contained at this site are dated, each is an example web creation and multimedia application that is well done. The most current lectures are posted year-round; each web page is listed clearly on the home page; every link is easy to access, uncluttered, and functional; and all the lectures have some interesting multimedia included. Thus, the multimedia used for this geography course is the progressive example of a well organized, user-friendly website that utilizes new technology.

CHAPTER 3: VENTURA COUNTY

3.1 Introduction and Brief History

Ventura County is located in Southern California, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean (see Figure 3.1, California, with Ventura County Highlighted; and Figure 3.2, Aerial Image of Ventura County, California). This region was once home to the Chumash people, a tribe of hunter-gatherers who lived on the land for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. When explorers from Spain reached the area, missionaries created the Mission at San Buenaventura in 1782. The word "Ventura" actually means "fortune" in Spanish. Settlers from Europe brought agricultural and pastoral practices, and ranches were created to encourage such practices. Many other cultural groups explored and settled around this expanse, including the British, French, and Russians. A period of Mexican rule followed starting in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The gold rush in that same year brought numerous immigrants to the state. In 1850, California received statehood and the area began to grow as an agricultural hot spot. In 1872, Ventura County split from Santa Barbara County and began to self-govern locally.

Figure :1 California, with Ventura County Highlighted.

Figure :2 Aerial Image of Ventura County, California.

3.2 Physical Geography of Ventura County

Ventura County has a total area of 2,208 square miles, of which 1,845 square miles are of land area and 363 square miles are of water area. Much of the northern half of the county is mountainous; this includes portions of the Los Padres National Forest (860 square miles) and the Chumash Wilderness. The Transverse Range runs east to west through this area. Mount Pinos is the highest point at 8,831 feet. The uplands are forested, and receive snow at intervals throughout the winter months. The climate in general, however, is Mediterranean; characterized by warm summers, cool winters, and maritime effects at the coast. Because of the mild, temperate conditions, the average annual temperature is 74.2 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also six different micro-climates in the region; an environmental setting that complements biological diversity. The southern half of the county includes the lower plains, mid-elevation plains, and the Santa Monica Mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is in the southern-most province of the county. The coastline stretches for 43 miles, trending east to west direction in the upper county and north to south direction in the lower county. More than seven miles of the coast is public accessible beach and 411 acres are in State Beach Parks. The Santa Clara River is the principal water way running directly through the county from east to west. Ventura County is also known as the gateway to the Channel Islands. Anacapa Island (part of the Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) and San Nicolas Island (a military installation) are within the county limits as well. [County of Ventura, 2006]

3.3 Human Geography of Ventura County

Ventura County is bordered by Santa Barbara County to the west, Kern County to the north, and Los Angeles County to the south and east. Ten cities (Ventura, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, Ojai, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Simi Valley) and numerous smaller towns make up the human landscape of this county. The northern portion of Ventura County is mostly uninhabited, especially within the federal and state protected lands. Most of the human population lives in the coastal region to the west and near the Los Angeles County border to the south. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2005 approximately 796,000 people lived in Ventura County. Population growth in the county is controlled through policies designed to limit urban sprawl, conserve agricultural lands, and reduce air pollution. Partly in response to this legislation, land and housing prices have increased dramatically in recent years. Politics in the county are therefore dominated by topics such as impending housing shortages, maintenance of rural character, quality education, immigration issues, sustainability of the natural environment, military concerns and so on. [County of Ventura, 2006; United States Census Bureau, 2006]

3.4 Identity and Sustainability in Ventura County

Ventura County has been strongly influenced by its relationship with Los Angeles just to the south. Its proximity to the sprawling metropolis has lead to increased urbanization, commercialization, industrialization, and commuter traffic. Still many Ventura County residents value the access to natural environments. According to Tuan (1977), people consider their homeland or place of residence to have a greater value than "outside" because of its proximity to their world center and their sense of identity through this place. Since access to the natural environment is still relatively easy in Ventura County, many locals should value this type of environment as a reflection of identity perception, according to Tuan’s logic. And although many factors structure the sense of local place and peoples’ ties to it, humans wish to live in what Tuan (1974) considers the "ideal environment." Given the diversity of characteristics that make-up Ventura County as a place, from preserved natural landscapes to urban ones; many residents of this county must wish to sustain the value of the place, if Tuan is correct. The retention of value, quality, or topophilia (love of place) for Ventura County thus happens ideally through perceiving a healthy local physical environment balanced with those same qualities in urban environment (Tuan, 1974).

However, in order to sustain the quality of the physical environment for all Ventura County inhabitants, present and future; it is necessary for residents to be able to both perceive environmental value and also maintain actual environmental quality. To do the latter, local residents need to be educated about what the physical environment consists of here, plus why and how it needs to be protected. According to Dewey (1963a), interest in the subject matter to achieve action is key to educational goals. Consequently, this project may prove useful in promoting a better understanding of the local physical environment, which in turn may promote responsible public action on issues regarding the long-term health of the physical environment in Ventura County.

CHAPTER 4: METHODOLOGY

4.1 Introduction

As a Ventura County resident, I wanted to create something that would contribute to geographic knowledge in my community, and I wanted this "thing" to be publicly accessible to everyone interested. Physical geography, education, and Ventura County were my main focal points. On the advice of mentors, I decided to create a series of lesson plans regarding the physical geography of Ventura County that could be accessed via the web by teachers and students. The instructional modules would be modeled after an edition of Christopherson’s well known and widely used physical geography text book, Geosystems: An Introduction to Physical Geography. I also gained access to a digital camera in order to make a library of images from around the county. With the help of Google Earth, an Earth imaging software, and other links to complement the project; it became a successful teaching and learning tool.

4.2 Geosystems Text Instruction

Christopherson’s text made sense because many of the local colleges’ geography departments use this text for their introductory physical geography courses. Because the range of topics contained within the book is very broad; it is possible to apply a limited number of concepts, specific to Ventura County’s physical geography. For example, it is impossible to create a local VFT focused on glacial geomorphology, since such features are not present in Ventura County. Thus, only chapters and certain sections within chapters are cataloged for use as relevancy and efficiency determines. Chapter names and applicable context (also considered student learning objectives within the website), in parentheses, are listed below:

  • Chapter 1: Essentials of Geography (geography introduction, location with latitude and longitude and time with zones, maps and scales)
  • Chapter 2: Solar Energy to Earth and the Seasons (solar energy, Earth energy budget and hemispheres, seasons plus solstices and equinoxes)
  • Chapter 3: Earth’s Modern Atmosphere (atmospheric composition, temperature, and function, the ozone layer and UV, atmospheric pollution)
  • Chapter 4: Atmosphere and Surface Energy Balances (insolation and albedo, greenhouse effect, urban heat island)
  • Chapter 5: Global Temperatures (temperature scales, maritime and continental effects, global and local temperatures)
  • Chapter 6: Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulations (air pressure and wind, force of gravity/pressure gradient force/Coriolis force/force of friction, land-sea breeze and mountain-valley conditions)
  • Chapter 7: Water and Atmospheric Moisture (water bodies, water phases, clouds and fog)
  • Chapter 8: Weather (weather and air masses, atmospheric lifting, violent weather)
  • Chapter 9: Water Resources (hydrologic cycle, surface and groundwater, fresh water uses and pollution)
  • Chapter 10: Global Climate Systems (climate classification and Mediterranean Dry-Summer climates, climate change, local microclimates)
  • Chapter 11: The Dynamic Planet (geologic time scale and Earth's layers, rock types, plate tectonics and plate boundaries)
  • Chapter 12: Tectonics, Earthquakes, and Volcanism (topography and orogenesis, volcanism and folding/faulting, earthquakes)
  • Chapter 13: Weathering, Karst Landscapes, and Mass Movement (denudation and geomorphology, weathering, mass movement)
  • Chapter 14: River Systems and Landforms (fluvial processes and drainage basins, flow and channel characteristics, floods)
  • Chapter 15: Eolian Processes and Arid Landscapes (eolian processes and dunes, semi-arid regions and desertification, landscape features)
  • Chapter 16: The Oceans, Coastal Processes, and Landforms (ocean layers, composition, and properties, tides, waves and islands)
  • Chapter 17: Glacial and Periglacial Processes and Landforms (not applicable)
  • Chapter 18: The Geography of Soils (soil characteristics, soil identification, soil classifications)
  • Chapter 19: Ecosystem Essentials (ecosystem components, abiotic and biotic factors, survival and stability)
  • Chapter 20: Terrestrial Biomes (biogeographic realms and evolution, terrestrial biomes, biodiversity)
  • Chapter 21: Earth, Humans and the New Millennium (Earth and humans, international cooperation, the future)
  • 4.3 Website and Multimedia Creation

    Creating the website and the multimedia was the most time consuming component of this project. The first step in creating the website involved looking at other VFT sites on the web. However, as stated in the literature review, most VFTs have "high variability and uneven educational value, are predominantly text-based, and (incorporate overall less of an emphasis) on quality (Mioduser et. al., 2000)." The goal for this project was to create a quality website on local geography at the county level. Regrettably, no existing VFT found proved to be similar enough in design, content, and quality as I envisioned my VFT should be. So, after looking through many of these sites and finding none suitable as a template, an original site design was planned.

    The next step involved choice and availability of resources. Hardware and software employed included a lap top computer, Microsoft Frontpage (2003) web design software, Microsoft Word (2003) word processing software, Microsoft Paint (2003) image manipulation software, a Nikon CoolPixP2 (2004) camera, Nikon Picture Project (2004) software, as well as old fashioned paper with pen. So, I experimented with Frontpage to see if any of the website templates could be utilized; however, none of the templates were right for this project. Then, I sketched an outline for the website home page and general website pages that would suit this project. After completing this, I turned these sketches into a Word document outlining my design ideas. These organized sketches are viewable in Figure 4.1, Website Home Outline, and Figure 4.2, Website Page Outline. Acceptable colors for this website were ‘Earthy colors,’ like green, blue, brown, grey, tan, and so on. I made use of a green veranda font against a sky-themed background as the basic elements of the template from which most web pages were created. Hyperlinks were set to appear in a bright-blue, underlined font. A theme-based table of contents navigation bar was also added as a column on the left hand side of the home page as well as horizontal navigation bars on each page. An aerial image of Ventura County was imported as the reference map on the home page. Some of the links from the top of the page would direct the user to information at the bottom of the page, while other links went to off-site pages, such as the other index pages and the twenty one Geosystems-based sections. I also took the majority of the photographs for this website. This involved foot, vehicle, and boat travel around Ventura County for months with camera in hand (multimedia was created from Fall, 2005 to Summer, 2006). Once images were taken, they were saved onto the lap top, manipulated using Picture Project to increase photo quality, and stored after editing/production for upload into Frontpage. Most of the other graphics were made using Microsoft Paint or simply by hand. Finally, I created the website using the Jamsa et. al.’s guidebook HTML & Web Design: Tips and Techniques (2002).

    Figure :1 Website Home Outline.

    Figure :2 Website Page Outline.

    4.4 Google Earth

    Google Earth software became available during the early stages of this project and presents a uniquely useful device to complement the website. Google Earth software is a combination of global information system layers containing NASA satellite imagery, TerraMetrics aerial photographs, and additional features such as political borders, census data, and physical terrain. The basic version of this software is free, so it does not present an additional impediment to widespread adoption by students. Students can download Google Earth onto any computer with sufficient memory and processor speed. Once the program is downloaded onto the computer, it can be accessed at any time with the A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website or for many other purposes.

    The rationale behind applying Google Earth software with A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website is to maximize the instructional potential of the website instruction and multimedia. The website users will be prompted to find specific places within Ventura County and will also have the option to take a brief quiz at the end of each instructional chapter/section. Some prompts and questions will require students to navigate the Google Earth software. This will include using the "Fly To," "Local Search," and "Directions" text searches. Also, finding local places using the latitude and longitude cardinal locations will be required. Users will be instructed to save precise images to their "Places" and to turn on and off certain "Layers."

    Google Earth software images can also be manipulated by the ‘up, down, right, left’ arrows; the ‘rotate’ functions; the ‘reset’ applications; plus the ‘zoom’ and ‘tilt’ buttons. Experimenting with the software is highly advisable because it is simple to use, a great learning tool, and just plain fun. When users are given a prompt or quiz that requires Google Earth, any information can be printed or e-mailed using the ‘print’ and ‘email’ options. These functions make Google Earth a great tool for teachers and students, as well as the general public. Google Earth prompts and quizzes mentioned above can be found on A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website.

    4.5 Ventura County, Geosystems, Multimedia, and Google Earth Combined

    A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website is divided into five index (home page) sections and twenty-one content sections. The primary home page, to which all pages can return to via internet hyperlink, contains introductory information about the project, navigational hyperlinks to all the other pages, an aerial image of Ventura County for reference, key definitions of the title, plus some other imagery. From this home page, users can follow a series of additional hyperlinks entitled: Message About Instruction, Tools, Acknowledgements and References, About the Author, Answer Key, Thesis, and Suggested Activities and Links. The Message About Instruction is simple in that it introduces the textbook from which this project is derived and gives tips about site utility to students, teachers, and other users. The Tools section does the same for Google Earth. The Answer Key is based on questions posed in each of the Quiz sub-sections (from the twenty-one content pages) that are based on the textbook, Google Earth, and pertaining specifically to Ventura County. Suggested Activities and Links is the final index page including titles and links to certain natural places of significance and their managements’ websites in Ventura County.

    The primary factors used to decide what content was included in this website were its treatment in the Geosystems textbook and availability of a suitable case study site in Ventura County. Twenty-one content pages correspond with the twenty-one sections in the Geosystems text, each entitled accordingly. Images were created and added as needed to complement each chapter. Google Earth was also used when it proved a better media for introducing Geosystems material.

    The content pages are structured as follows: the title, SLO (student learning objective), Lesson 1 (Instruction, Photos and Images, and Quiz), Lesson 2 (Instruction, Photos and Images, and Quiz), Lesson 3 (Instruction, Photos and Images, and Quiz), and navigation options. The title is an obvious connection between the textbook and the website so the user can easily utilize both the textbook and website at the same time for instruction. The SLO sub-section is a pedagogical best practices suggestion to summarize what the user is supposed to learn in the section. Three lessons are given in every section because the Geosystems text is written with three main content sub-sections in every chapter, minimum. If more applicable content was added in a Geosystems chapter than the minimum, lesson plans were organized so one lesson could include more than one sub-section of information in Geosystems. Using the Geosystems text as a guide, corresponding geographic phenomena in Ventura County were photographed. Those that best represented the lesson plans were placed in the website. Where photos would not suffice, illustrations are employed. A diagram that portrays some generalization about a geography topic would be a basic example. Finally, a question and answer sub-section is given for review. These are exceptionally fun for any users and especially useful to teachers who wish to make sure their students completed the lessons. The navigations options at the bottom of the page allow the user to go to any section from 1-21 or to go back to the home page. In the aforementioned ways, all content pages are similar in structure and substance.

    4.6 Web Master’s Additional Methods

    In A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website, helpful information contained in the literature review section increased the quality of the website. Suggestions for high quality VFTs and the pedagogical theory behind these components were of great use. Among the design elements suggested by authors in the literature review and applied throughout this site are: navigational ease of use, clear organization, student learning objectives, text that explains phenomena and graphics that show the same phenomena, and links to other sites are. Access to the site is free to anyone with a working computer and internet service. The URL is clearly based on the website’s name (http://geography-venturacounty.info/index.htm). The target population, namely, Ventura County students, clearly remains the focus of the content selections, tone and style of the website. Another benefit of the organization of this site is that it can be used by any individual or by any group, in part or in full at any time, and can be changed according to the comments and suggestions of the users.

    In the website, I attempted to use the information gathered from the background section to increase the quality of my site. Since the physical environment is the center of the website, I utilized what I already knew and what I learned from the background sub-section, Physical Features of Ventura County, to focus the Photos and Images examples along with the Quizzes examples on the best locations in Ventura County. Based on what physical features are located within Ventura County and expected student needs based on the Geosystems textbook and personal experience as a novice geography student, I came up with the following solutions. The majority of VFT destinations capable of demonstrating physical geography phenomena within the county are found in places like the Los Padres National Forest and the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. These areas were chosen because they make up the largest portions of lands and waters in the county, their features and processes represent what the lesson plans depict, and they are all protected and publicly accessible. Links to these main areas where field experiences in physical geography can be done are also listed. Contained within the VFT, however, are certain areas/things which may be inaccessible to students even on public lands and waters, and where phenomena may be intermittent throughout the year(s). Examples include wildfires and the conditions of soils and vegetation pre and post-burn in Chaparral communities or El Nino thunderstorm events which trigger mud slides on unstable slopes throughout the county. The VFT has many explanations and photos of what geography students in Ventura County would look for on a field experience too. Many types of phenomena discussed in the website are all applicable to student field experience. Every VFT contained on the website was designed because the author believed that it best equates a feature or best demonstrates a process found in Ventura County corresponding to a feature or process in the Christopherson text. A few examples of such features and processes, along with my rationale for including them in the website follow.

    To demonstrate the features and processes found in Christopherson text’s Section 3, "Earth’s Modern Atmosphere," photographs of the atmosphere above Ventura and Ojai, Port Hueneme and Mugu, and Moorpark are all provided in order to demonstrate air pollution and poor air quality. These sites were chosen because air pollution, mainly from interior areas, gets trapped in these valleys as it is carried by winds during warm days. This creates poor air quality at these locations that is easily visible and photographable in the late afternoon. The text in this section then explains the nature of this condition, the associated risks to humans, and what needs to be done to reduce anthropogenic air pollution sources.

    In Section 7: Water and Atmospheric Moisture, photographs were taken at three different places where each of three different stages of water could be found. Water in its solid phase could only be located during cold winter and spring months in the Los Padres National Forest at Pine Mountain after a snow storm. Water in its liquid phase could be found in numerous places year-round; however, the photograph chosen to depict the condition is the Santa Clara River, a major waterway shown with waterfowl at sunset. Water in its gaseous phase is also nearly ubiquitous, but for the purposes of the VFT, it was photographed in the atmosphere on a cloudy day in Oxnard, a location that is frequented by both maritime fog and seasonal storms.

    For Section 12: Tectonics, Earthquakes, and Volcanism, photographs of a fault line and a crustal fold in the Los Padres National Forest are provided to exemplify these phenomena. The Transverse Range, upon which these features are present, was the best place to gather visual examples of such geologic processes at work. Photographs of these features were utilized in order to explain crustal formation processes and to demonstrate the different types of stress that affect rocks.

    In Section 16: The Oceans, Coastal Processes and Landforms, photographs of four diverse coasts were chosen. Pictures of Rincon Point, Port Hueneme Bay, Ormond Beach Wetlands, and Anacapa Island were included for users to find these places using Google, locate their headlands and coves, and determine their expected wave energies based on the explanatory text provided.

    For Section 19: Ecosystem Essentials, food chains are discussed. Photographs of five marine organisms that all relate to each other through a food web interaction are shown. Since marine organisms are predominantly abundant on or near the Santa Barbara Channel Islands in this region, the photography for this section was completed on or near Anacapa Island in the Santa Barbara Channel Islands Marine Park and Marine Sanctuary.

    CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION

    5.1 Conclusion

    A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County website is a learning tool for geography enthusiasts everywhere. It includes instructional material from a very popular physical geography textbook and the content is applied directly to a single region by another qualified geographer. Photography and imagery of the physical features and processes found within Ventura County balance instruction with graphic stimuli. Questions pertaining to the physical geography of Ventura County along with relevant current events tease the intellect and invite additional inquiry. All in all, this website helps users to learn more about physical geography in a unique way.

    Preliminary trials of several portions of this website have generated very enthusiastic responses from students, especially about its theme, graphics, and prospective utility. Student respondents range from first year, community college students to geography graduate students. Much of the feedback received suggests that not only does the website make learning local physical geography easier, but it also may further action towards local environmental quality aims. One could assume then that, A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County has the potential to benefit the local community by educating people about issues in geography and the environment.

    Those who trialed the website recommended that it should have an easy to find URL and that efforts to generate publicity for the website be made. Endorsements were made for additional websites to serve other local areas in similar fashion. The practice of learning on the computer and experiencing in the field is strongly recommended no matter what the scale of geographic coverage.

    5.2 Final Remarks

    A Virtual Field Trip of Physical Geography in Ventura County will hopefully prove a valuable tool for people interested in how the physical environment functions and it gives the people of Ventura County a variety of opportunities to learn these lessons as they play out in a local setting. In addition to serving as a personally rewarding learning experience, the VFT may serve to forward political action as land development threatens to endanger a variety of natural features and processes in the county. This hope operates on the assumption that better understanding of the manner in which the local environment works can only lead to more sound decisions about how to deal with threats to the environment. At the very least, greater understanding of the natural environment has its own intrinsic rewards and this website should contribute to that in a direct fashion.

     

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