A Virtual Reality System for Learning Science in a Science Center

A Virtual Reality System for Learning Science in a Science Center

Sharlene Anthony (Singapore Science Centre, Singapore), Leo Tan Wee Hin (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) and R. Subramaniam (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch639
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Current trends in informal science learning tend to place more emphasis on science centers as tools to bridge the technological gap for their visitors (Salmi, 2003; Sandifer, 2003). In line with compelling evidence in the multimedia literature, which shows that technology-based environments do provide good instructional support for meeting learning needs (Kim, 2006; Lim, Nonis, & Hedberg, 2006), it would be useful to investigate the potential of technology-based exhibits at science centers to create new multisensory experiences for learning science topics in a way that is different from traditional methods of teaching. This can provide pointers for schools to see how such attractions can be used to assist or complement the formal science learning in schools. The principal objective of this research is to investigate the effectiveness of technology-based exhibits in promoting affective learning outcomes among students of mixed ability visiting a science centre. The chosen exhibit is the CAVE (cave automated virtual environment), a supercomputerbased multimedia system.
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The CAVE is basically a virtual reality system. Its genesis can be traced to the need to develop compact virtual reality systems that can overcome the inconvenience of using head-mounted display sets and the limitations of single-user interaction at a time, both of which have plagued earlier versions. The ideas of Thomas DeFanti and Don Sandin of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Chicago, in 1991, provided the basis for the development of the first working model of the CAVE by Carolina Cruz-Neir in 1992 (Cruz-Neir, Sandin, DeFanti, Kenyon, & Hart, 1992; Defanti, Sandin, & Cruz-Neira, 1993).

Relying on the use of computer-generated graphics and multisensory digital data, the CAVE provided, for the first time, the relishing of virtual reality as immersive and interactive experiences for a group of people in a specialized setting. Soon, the scope for using the CAVE as a platform to simulate complex scientific phenomena, as well as for generating walkthroughs in a range of virtual environments, was recognized. Over the years, several applications have been modelled to exploit the unique features of the CAVE. Some of these include

  • a.

    Exploration of a sprawling virtual plains inhabited by diverse vegetation (Moher, Johnsoon, Yongjoo, & Ya-Ju, 1999)

  • b.

    Collaborative construction, cultivation, and tending of a healthy virtual garden by young children (Roussos, Johnson, Leigh, Vaslakis, Barnes, & Moher, 1997)

  • c.

    In-depth probing of an ant, the inside of the Earth, an iceberg, a volcano, the solar system, and the human heart (Johnson, Moher, Ohlsson, & Gillingham, 1999)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Supercomputer: A very powerful computer that can process large amounts of data at enormous speeds

Stereo Glasses: A kind of goggles that is necessary to see images on a screen in 3-D.

Multimedia: A term used to denote the combination of image, sound, and graphics.

CAVE: An abbreviation for c ave a utomated v irtual e nvironment.

Edutainment: A term formed by the fusion of education and entertainment, and used to denote experiences that are both educational and entertaining.

Virtual Reality: A technology for creating interactive and immersive experiences in cyberspace.

Science Center: An institution for the popularization of science and technology.

3-D: An abbreviation for three dimensions.

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