Anna Grayson, the geologist who presents BBC2's The Essential Guide to Rocks, said the textbook that inspired her career was an OU publication called Understanding the Earth.

Speaking at the launch of the OU's new Geology course at the Geological Society, she said: "The course has exciting new teaching materials which provide not just a vocational training, but help students view geology as a cultural education. The OU teaching reaches all sectors of society. The virtual field trips on CD Rom can bring geological learning to many for whom geology has been inaccessible in the past."

Alongside innovative CD ROM and multimedia - enabling students to visualise rocks, minerals and fossils in three dimensions - the new course still includes a kit of actual geological materials sent with a microscope for each student. And real field trips to geological sites are still an integral part of the course. The role of multimedia is to supplement and enhance the `hands on' experience, and to enable students with disabilities to participate more fully than before.