Technology Enhanced Learning

Carrie Heeter
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication


2.7.3 Student-Built Virtual Environments

Human Interface Technology Laboratory

University of Washington [17]

Funded by US West, 365 students in grades four through twelve from fourteen schools build VEs (virtual environments) to demonstrate some concept related to wetlands ecology and the interaction of objects such as nitrogen, carbon, water, and the energy cycle. These researchers also invoke constructivism and constructionism, positing "the expression of mental models as objects that can be inspected and handled offers powerful advantages for solving problems and building understanding."

Three workshops prepared students and teachers for the 6 to 10 week period of project planning, modeling, programming, and experiencing. Project staff did most of the programming. Projects included:

  • Tree World: make a sick tree healthy with sunlight, water and nutrients

  • Space Station (recycling)

  • Castle;

  • Rain Forest;
  • Endangered Species;
  • Washington State

15% reported some degree of motion sickness. Students who relied on simplistic metaphors in their designs seemed to be limited by the metaphors. They tended to undergeneralize principles to fit the metaphor. The authors suggest that a sense of presence contributes to enjoyment and to the ability to move around in a VE. Helping other students aided learning for the helper, but not for the helpee. Low ability students improved more than high ability students did.


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