Rock and role-playing: new virtual game engages geology students


Courtesy image from Stephanie Mendes

Alvaro Abrego Trancozo, Staff Writer

Geology instructor Stephanie Mendes launched an interactive role-playing game this semester to create a more engaging virtual learning environment for her new “History of the Earth” class.

“I am going to make it as fun as possible,” said Mendes. “Especially because geology is missing that special something.”

Students who embark on the game’s journey are led to find artifacts and earn badges to save a fictional geology museum from an evil mayor that plans to destroy the museum. Students must complete all their assignments to earn a badge.

“Everybody moves on to the next level, but you don’t necessarily get your badge” unless you participate, said Mendes.

As part of the Earth and Planetary Sciences department, Mendes wants her class to provide an engaging learning experience for those that have interest in becoming a geology major and for those who choose to take it for fun.

Students receive a package of rocks collected from the Isla Vista beach or the surrounding cliffside by Mendes. She teaches them how scientists interpret ancient landscapes or how they analyze rocks in the lab portion of the class.

But the study of Earth is much more than just observing rocks.

“Earth science is an applied science… it’s math, it’s chemistry, it’s physics, biology, all interpreting what’s happening on Earth,” said Mendes.

Geology major and tutor Kainalu Ikapoliohaloa Kamai agrees the role-playing and lab could spark more interest in the course.

“I think for some students it can be very, very fun and entertaining,” said Kamai, adding that it’s a “little bit more dynamic, [and a] little bit more interactive.”

Students mostly work on PDF files and watch pre-recorded lecture videos since the pandemic changed teaching methods. 

Classes need more chances for dialogue and interaction, but it can be hard for students to speak-up during Zoom because it’s an “[all] eyes on me” type of feeling, said Kamai. 

“Anybody who’s going to be taking her course, I believe should be very excited,” said Geology Major Cody James Atwood. “She’s a great professor and you’re going to learn a lot from her.”

Despite the distance between teacher and student, Mendes wants to provide an enriching, hands-on experience. For geology majors, history majors, or anyone looking to fulfill a requirement.