The Development of a Virtual Farm for Applications in Elementary Science Education

The Development of a Virtual Farm for Applications in Elementary Science Education

Wernhuar Tarng (National Hsinchu University of Education, Taiwan), Mei-Yu Chang (National Hsinchu University of Education, Taiwan), Kuo-Liang Ou (National Hsinchu University of Education, Taiwan), Kein-Fu Yu (Lin Sen Elementary School, Taiwan) and Kuen-Rong Hsieh (Ralink Technologies, Taiwan)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/jdet.2012040101
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Abstract

The goal of this study is to develop a virtual farm for educational applications. Users can play the role of a farmer by planting vegetables and raising poultry on the virtual farm to observe their growth through online learning activities. The virtual farm possesses educational and entertaining functions, and it is designed by simulating the real situations of being a farmer to enhance users’ interest and motivation in learning agricultural knowledge. It also provides an alternative way for city people to experience interesting farm life. The virtual farm is highly interactive with 3D visual effects and the attractive features of distance learning, and thus it can be used as an assistant tool in elementary science education. A teaching experiment was conducted and the results showed that the virtual farm could enhance students’ learning effectiveness and motivation.
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Introduction

The goal of science education is to guide students to learn by studying and doing to improve the ability of dealing with matters and solving problems. The guidelines of Science and Technology in Grade 1-9 Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2003) also emphasized on developing students’ interest and motivation in active learning and doing research. Thus, schools and teachers should arrange proper learning contents and environments to conduct effective teaching activities for increasing students’ knowledge.

Taking 3rd grade students for example, teachers may choose some kinds of plants and animals for students to observe their growth and keep track of special events when studying the major features of common creatures. In this way, students can discover the growth of plants and know that plants need soil, sunshine, and water to grow up. Only under suitable environments and being taken care of properly will they become well-developed plants. Students could also learn to raise small animals to find out what they eat, how they eat and what they do, and observe their changes at different growing stages. It is convenient to have these activities and environments in the countryside. However, experiencing farm life will take some time, which may not be easy for busy people in the city to do.

As the advance of computer and network technologies, digital contents have become the major resources for humans to obtain knowledge. Students can download teaching materials from networks, and study by themselves according to their interest and abilities (Chen, Liu, & Chang, 2006; Collis, 1996). That’s why most contents on learning websites are designed to meet the requirements of easily accessed, understood and motivating (Lin, 2005). Because online learning is getting more convenient and mature in recent years, it has become a popular and important learning method widely accepted by young people (Yu, Hsiao, Hong, & Tsai, 2004; Porter, 1997).

To provide youths with an opportunity to learn basic agricultural concepts, a website called 4-H Virtual Farm was designed for young students to obtain information about agriculture (2005), which gives an insight into potential vocational directions in agriculture. The website is also informative for the general public with primary emphasis on targeting students and vocational counselors associated with the agricultural sciences. The website has some interactive features (designed by Flash Animations) including videos and quizzes, giving students incentive to learn and excel in each section.

Another educational virtual farm called IlMioNido (http://www.ilmionido.com/eng/) was developed to teach how farm animals live and grow to children and kids. Different from 4-H Virtual Farm, it shows some pets and animals with live web cams, through which one can see brooding hen that make born chicks by eggs and bunnies to be born from their mother. The web cams were turned off during night time to prevent disturbing the biological cycle of animals. Although the observation can be made in real time, there is no direct interaction with these animals.

Virtual reality is a technology to create interactive environments to simulate the real world through our sense organs. One can see, hear, and feel in the created scenes as if situated in the real world, and even interact with the objects and characters in the virtual world (Lányi, Geiszt, Károlyi, Tilinger, & Magyar, 2006). Virtual reality is an active area of research in science, engineering, education, entertainment, etc., since a virtual environment can reduce the danger and costs in real situations while satisfying the major requirements (Tarng, 1996; Hirose, 2006). Nowadays, there are many learning websites and applications of virtual reality providing 3D visual effects and interactive user interfaces to simulate real situations for educational and entertaining purposes (Burdea & Goiffet, 1994; Tarng & Liou, 2007; Tarng, Chang, Ou, Chang, & Liou, 2009).

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