Digital Dome Versus Desktop Display: Learning Outcome Assessments by Domain Experts

Digital Dome Versus Desktop Display: Learning Outcome Assessments by Domain Experts

Jeffery Jacobson
DOI: 10.4018/jvple.2013070104
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In previous publications, the author reported that students learned about Egyptian architecture and society by playing an educational game based on a virtual representation of a temple. Students played the game in a digital dome or on a standard desktop computer, and (each) then recorded a video tour of the temple. Those who had used the dome recited more facts in their videos (P < 0.05). In this study, the author reports reanalysis of the video tours by two expert Egyptologists, who found an even stronger main effect for conceptual learning (P = 0.000) and better integration between the abstract concepts and the visuals (P < 0.002). The author describes the experiment in the context of digital domes for education, surveying the field and discussing relevant theory.
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This study is a continuation of our effort to develop guiding theory and methods for the effective use of visually immersive displays in education (Jacobson, 2011). These displays surround the user or audience with a panoramic view of some virtual place or thing. It can be a landscape, a human heart, the night sky, a jet engine, or anything else the authors may devise. In this study, we used the panoramic display shown in Figure 1. We devised an educational game, Gates of Horus, based on a virtual representation of a formal cult temple from Egypt’s late period (Jacobson, 2009).

Figure 1.

The Virtual Egyptian Temple in the Earth Theater at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The game, Gates of Horus is based on it. See for more updated versions of both the game and temple.


In Jacobson (2011) and his collaborators showed that students who played the game in an immersive display (Figure 1) learned more than students who played the same game on a standard desktop computer. After students completed the game, we had each one record a tour of the same virtual temple, displayed on a screen in a separate testing room. All of the doors for the temple were open, and the student could navigate by means of a controller. The student was given 20 minutes to present a documentary tour of the temple, which was recorded for evaluation. We provided no other constraints, simply asking the students to tell everything they knew about the temple in their own way. Educators who evaluated the recordings scored each video, listing how many facts the student mentioned in the video. We had randomly assigned the students to the desktop or immersive condition, and evaluators were unaware of which interface each student had employed. Students who used the immersive display recited more facts (P < 0.05), and evaluators tended to give them a higher subjective rating for providing a better presentation overall (P < 0.01).

In this paper, we describe a follow-on analysis of the same data, but with expert evaluators, Egyptologists Robyn Gillam and Lynn Holden. We found that students playing the game in the dome developed a better grasp of the basic concepts around the temple, not just the facts (P < 0.001). They appeared to use their visual memory to organize the information around the virtual artifact/space (Table 4). Finally, the experts’ overall judgment of student performance provided an even stronger statistical difference in favor of the immersive condition (P < 0.0004). It appears that the content experts are more sensitive to differences in learning than general educators schooled in this particular lesson, whose results are reported in Jacobson (2011).

Our work addresses the larger question of whether the communication medium makes any difference in education (Clark, 2010). We contend that every medium provides different affordances, which can be employed in the instructional design. Success depends on the quality of the instructional design and its appropriateness to the topic for the medium. In addition to our Gates of Horus, there are many examples of educational games for topics in history and cultural heritage (Anderson, 2010). See Jacobson (2011) for a full discussion.

To put the project in context, we will begin by defining the terms, go on to describe digital dome technology and learning with immersive displays. Next, we will briefly describe Gates of Horus and the original study, and then detail the protocol for expert evaluation and our findings.


Defining Our Terms

A Digital Dome is any full or partially spherical display that shows imagery on its interior surface produced in real-time by computers. Digital Domes began with the electromechanical planetaria and later the IMAX theaters and similar technologies. They are an important subset of Giant Screen displays, which also include very large flat screens, 3D (stereographic) projections, and other displays that really surround the viewers. They are almost always intended for groups and usually large audiences. See the next section for detail on the technology and its use in education.

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