Physical specimens play a central role in teaching students about natural history because they provide tangible, awe-inspiring connections to the natural world. While critical to learning, collections of teaching specimens pose challenges that were outlined in an essay by Hendricks et al. (2020). These include access to specimens outside of class periods, uneven representation of particular types of specimens in a given collection, quality of available specimens, and the fact that significant amounts of student learning now takes place online.
In order to overcome some of these limitations, we have developed a Virtual Collection of interactive, 3D photogrammetry models of rocks and fossils that are organized according to traditional classifications that are common in physical teaching collections.
The rock collection was newly assembled for Earth@Home from models developed by PRI staff, as well as other individuals and institutions. The fossil collection was built as part of our Digital Atlas of Ancient Life project; nearly all of the models in the fossil collection were created by PRI (methods here) and come from the collections of PRI and Cornell University.
A Virtual Collection user guide is available here.