The vast majority of theses in this collection are open access and freely available. There are a small number of theses that have access restricted to the WWU campus. For off-campus access to a thesis labeled "Campus Only Access," please log in here with your WWU universal ID, or talk to your librarian about requesting the restricted thesis through interlibrary loan.

Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Summer 2005

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Linneman, Scott

Second Advisor

DeBari, Susan M., 1962-

Third Advisor

Schermer, Elizabeth, 1959-

Fourth Advisor

Nolet, Victor


The use of computer animations to help students visualize processes they cannot observe directly is becoming more widespread in geoscience classrooms, but few studies have formally assessed the effectiveness of these technological aids as learning tools. This research project evaluated the effect of interactive computer animations on undergraduate introductory geology students' understanding of mountain building processes. The study focused on introductory geology students’ misconceptions about the formation of mountains. With the assistance of Flash programmers, an online interactive web activity was developed. This tool was aimed at reducing misconceptions, and included activities related to plate tectonics, isostasy, erosion and rock exhumation. Although these geologic processes are complex, each was simplified in the learning activity for programming purposes and to be appropriate for introductory geology students. The interactive web activity contained four animation activities in which students could manipulate variables or progress through a series of still or animated images and text. It employed an open- ended navigation style so each student could interact with the animations and text in the way that best suited his or her learning style. A contrast group viewed a static web page containing graphics and text. Outcomes were evaluated with a pre-assessment and two post-assessments to compare students’ understanding of the mountain building processes before and after using the static or interactive web activity. The questions and distracters on the assessments were based on misconceptions in the literature and pilot studies. Essay and multiple-choice assessments were given to different subgroups of students within the Static and Interactive groups.

Both groups showed a positive gain on the post-tests. On the multiple-choice assessment, the Static group had significantly higher post-test scores than the Interactive group, and there was no difference between the groups on essay post-tests. Students in both groups displayed a number of common misconceptions in their written responses and selection of multiple-choice distracters. Most of those misconceptions decreased in frequency on the post-tests. The Static group decreased the percentage of incorrect multiple-choice responses more than the Interactive group, but the Interactive group had the greater reduction in the average number of misconceptions written on essay post-tests.

Self-reported student confidence levels of their understanding about mountain building- related subtopics increased for most subjects, with the Static group's ratings increasing more than the Interactive group's ratings. Student written evaluative comments indicated that the interactive web activity had advantages over the static web activity. Although students in both contrast groups noted problems with the length of the assessments and their lack of motivation to participate, the Static group commented that there was little difference between the static web page and reading a textbook. However, students using the interactive Flash site indicated that they enjoyed the activities where they actively manipulated variables.

The results of this study are not consistent with others that show computer animations to be valuable tools in increasing student understanding. Several factors, including limitations in the design of the multimedia learning object and validity concerns with the assessments, may have affected the results of this study. With refinement, the learning object could be a useful tool to distribute to the geoscience education community in addition to a well-documented collection of student misconceptions about mountain building processes.




Mountain building, Conceptual understanding, Geology


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Digital Format



masters theses




Copying of this thesis in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this thesis for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author's written permission.

Instructions for accessing files

geology.html (1 kB)

geology.swf (702 kB)

index.htm (1 kB)