Technology Enhanced Learning

Carrie Heeter
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication


      2.7 Virtual environments

The technologies for enhancing learning discussed so far are in some form available already. This last area of virtual environments and telemmersion is still in early research phases. The systems are extremely expensive, some costing millions of dollars. They include immersive virtual reality but also other forms of embodiment in virtual environments such as the Vivid Groupās Virtual Theater system for networked high bandwidth group experiences ( Educational research happens only in a laboratory for a small number of learners. The June 1999 issue of the MIT journal, Presence, featured five research articles on education and immersive virtual reality. Details about each study are abstracted below as a means to generalize to the kinds of research on technologically enhanced learning one might expect for I2 applications.

2.7.1 NICE: Narrative-based Immersive Constructionist/Collaborative Environments

Electronic Visualization Laboratory and Interactive Computing Environments Laboratory,

University of Illinois at Chicago [12]

Funded by the National Science Foundation, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Department of Energy, this high-end demonstration project used a networked CAVE and Immersadesk to immerse fifty-two second grade children in a 3D world where they could "collaboratively plant and harvest fruits and vegetables, cull weeds, and position light and water sources to differentially affect the growth rate of plants." Teams of 7 to 8 students were split into two groups to use the Immersadesk and CAVE. The groups collaborated in the virtual space, lead by a randomly assigned leader for each group. A teacher-avatar also appeared in the world, to offer advice and ask questions.

The immersive VR systems innovated extensibility, moving beyond the limitation of being in the same room with an Immersadesk to being at a computer. They created a Java Applet 2D-environment interface that allowed students to join in the immersive experiences over the web, even if they were at home. This web interface also recorded the entire experience for future learning experiences.

Their evaluation schema looked at Technical issues (usability), Orientation issues (navigation, spatial orientation, presence and immersion, and feedback); Affective issues (engagement, preference and confidence), Cognitive issues (conceptual change/new skill), Pedagogical issues (content general and specific teaching techniques) and Collaborative VR issues (added value of collaborative VR to instruction and learning).

Prototype technologies are less mature than commercial technologies, and laboratory VR systems are rarely used with children. The stereo glasses were too big to fit on children's heads. Most of the children had to hold their glasses with one hand to keep them from falling off while using the other hand to control the wand. When they got tired they would take the glasses off. Only 5% experienced motion sickness.

Like most VR systems, navigation was unfamiliar and somewhat difficult to learn. The researchers felt collaboration was a double-edged sword that got in the way of science learning. Only the leader had a wand to control the experience and wear the stereo glasses. It turned out those who were assigned to be leader did better at getting spatially oriented if they listened to their own idea and ignored the different advice offered by other members of the class.

After collecting data, the authors concluded the most serious shortcoming was the inadequacy of the science model. Including umbrellas, sunglasses and facial expressions on plants and rain got in the way of the concepts. Students learned some things not correct and not intended to be taught.


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