Simulated Ecological Environments for Education: A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments
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- Maria C.R. Harrington
thesis / dissertation description
While there are many studies on collaborative or guided scientific inquiry in real, virtual,and simulated environments, there are few that study the interplay between the design ofthe simulation and the user interface. The main research aim was to decompose thesimulation and user interface into the design parameters that influence attention,curiosity, inquiry, and learning of scientific material and acts of creation for children.The research design investigates what tools support independent exploration of a space,enhance deep learning, and motivate scientific or creative inquiry. A major interest is inthe role that ecological context plays in the perception of spatial information.None of the prior work on learning in virtual environments considered a child-centriccomputer interaction framing, independent of pedagogy and focused on the impact ofuser interface parameters, such as image quality and navigational freedom. A majorcontribution of this research is the construction of the Virtual Trillium Trail, as itrepresents one square mile of biologically accurate scientific plot study data. It is avirtual environment based on statistical data visualization, not fantasy. It allowed for ahighly realistic simulation and scientifically true-to-life visualization, as well as for aplanned orthogonal contrast with exceptionally high internal validity in both system andstatistical research design.Of critical importance is evidence in the pilot study, that virtual reality field trips forstudents may be used to prime before and to reinforce after a real field trip. Thisresearch also showed transfer effects on in-situ learning activity, in both directions.Thus, supports the claim that virtual environments may augment educational practices,not replace them, to maximize the overall learning impact. The other large contributionwas in the activity analysis of the real field trip, where the Salamander Effect is observedas an environmental event, which opened a Teachable Moment event for the teacher, andwhich was then translated into a system design feature, a Salient Event in the userinterface. A main part of this research is the importance of such events, as ways tosupport intrinsic learning activity, and leverage episodic memory.The main empirical contribution to the design of educational virtual environments wasproduced by the 2 x 2 ANOVA with the factors of Visual Fidelity and NavigationalFreedom, set to high and low levels, and the evidence of different effects on KnowledgeGained. The tool has an impact on intrinsic learning, which is measured here by a pretestand a post-test on facts and concepts. A two-factor analysis of variance showed asignificant effect of Visual Fidelity on Knowledge Gained, F(1,60) = 10.54, p = 0.0019.High Visual Fidelity condition has a greater impact on Knowledge Gained (M=30.95, SD=14.76), than Low Visual Fidelity condition (M=19.99, SD = 13.39). Photorealistic has astronger impact on learning than cartoon versions. There was significant interactionbetween Visual Fidelity and Navigational Freedom, F(1,60) = 4.85, p = 0.0315, with thelargest impact in the combined conditions of High Visual Fidelity and High NavigationalFreedom on Knowledge Gained (M=37.44, SD = 13.88). Thus, photorealistic, freenavigation virtual environments double learning, when compared to cartoon versions,ceteris paribus.The next major contribution to the design of the user interface in educational virtualenvironments is the design and use of Salient Events as components to augment thevirtual environment and to facilitate intrinsic inquiry into facts and concepts. A two factoranalysis of variance showed a significant effect of Visual Fidelity on Salient Eventcounts, F(1,60) = 4.35, p = 0.00413. High Visual Fidelity condition has a greater impacton Salient Event counts, (Μ = 14.46, SD = 6), than Low Visual Fidelity condition,(Μ =11.31, SD = 6.37). Using High Visual Fidelity with High Navigational Freedom(showing a strong trend of F(1,60) = 3.23, p = 0.0773) to increase Salient Event countsare critical design features for educational virtual environments, especially since SalientEvents are moderately positively correlated with Knowledge Gained (r = 0.455, N = 64, p= 0.000).Emotional, affective, aesthetic, and subjective attitudes were investigated in the post-experience assessment of the main study on system and learning experience. TotalAttitude is strongly positively and significantly correlated with Awe and Wonder (r =0.727, N = 64, p = 0.000). Also important is the strong, positive, and significantcorrelation of Beauty with Awe and Wonder (r = 0.506, N = 64, p = 0.000). And the onlysignificant subjective emotion or attitude variable correlated to Knowledge Gained, wasAwe and Wonder with a slightly positive statistic: (r = 0.273, N = 64, p = 0.000).Future research will investigate the complexity and causality of such interactions betweenthe child's mental model, the virtual environment, and the user interface in the form ofregression equations, partial differential equations, and Markov models.