Technology Enhanced Learning

Carrie Heeter
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication


2.7.4 Project ScienceSpace: How VR Aids Complex Conceptual Learning

Human Factors and Applied Cognitive Psychology

Graduate School of Education

Virtual Environment Technology Lab

Computer Science

George Mason University and University of Houston [14]

This group is interested in applying VR for envisioning abstract phenomena -- to help students reify or perceptualize abstract models. Specifically in the realm of physics, perceptions and conceptions of physics phenomena are often incorrect. NewtonWorld (nature of mass, acceleration, momentum as well as Newton's laws and laws of conservation) addresses areas of common misconception for physics students, MaxwellWorld and PaulingWorld have been designed to aid users in understanding abstract information spaces.

They focus on three VR features to maximize the learning of abstract models: 3D immersion can support more learning than 2D; multiple and flexible frames of reference (FORs, or, spatial metaphors), and multisensory cues also enhance learning. They posit a model of how VR features impact learning outcomes, mediated by learner characteristics, the particular concept to be learned, and also the characteristics of the learning experience. For example. Flexible frames of reference increase motivation. Simulator sickness and poor usability inhibit learning.

To construct new worlds, these designers rely on a combination of domain expertise, educational research and research with students to identify the concepts they want to teach and to understand learner needs. Within that domain they select the concepts most suitable for the VR environment.

The research included both small and large samples. Nine students evaluated NewtonWorld initially. The prototype testing resulted in revisions to the design including addition of sound and tactile cues, energy cues to represent velocity and energy, and additional points of reference in the scene. They discovered that designing for learning an designing for interaction is not always congruous tasks. Next they conducted a survey of 107 physics educators and researchers who were experts in the field. Teacher feedback resulted in more iterative changes in the design of Maxwell's World. Thirty high school students participated in the next phase of research, using a range of user interface devices to perform a series of typical and critical tasks, thinking aloud as they did them and then completing a questionnaire. The research project began with a model, implemented a learning experience, and tested prototypes iteratively revising after each phase of data collection.

This group analyzed four dimensions: Learner characteristics; Interaction Experience; Interaction Experience repetition and Learning. They considered VR Features and the interaction experience as well as learner characteristics and the interaction experience.


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