Evaluating the Use of Virtual Reality and Multimedia Applications for Presenting the Past

Evaluating the Use of Virtual Reality and Multimedia Applications for Presenting the Past

Maria Economou (University of the Aegean, Greece) and Laia Pujol Tost (University of the Aegean, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-044-0.ch011
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Virtual reality applications offer various possibilities for cultural heritage interpretation, such as giving users the feeling of immersion and appealing to all their senses, making their experience lively and memorable. In order to test their effectiveness for assisting learning and successful integration in exhibitions, the authors carried out an extensive evaluation study using three case studies: the exhibition “Immaginare Roma Antica” at the Trajan Markets, Rome; the permanent displays at the Ename Museum, Belgium; and the VR displays at Hellenic Cosmos, Foundation of the Hellenic World, Athens. The chapter analyses how the applications were used, the type of learning different systems supported, how this was affected by the conditions of use, and their suitability for different groups. It also offers guidelines on evaluation methodology when studying the use of ICT in cultural settings. The study contributes to the construction of a substantial body of empirical and methodological knowledge aimed at guiding future designs and evaluations of ICT tools in exhibitions.
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The Evaluation Study: Aims And Approach

The wider aim of the research programme was to understand the particular role of ICT in cultural heritage settings and to evaluate their effectiveness. More specifically, the programme aimed to investigate the effect of ICT applications on the visitors’ experience and on their learning in informal settings. It also wanted to compare the effect of different types of ICT applications and investigate the role of the particular conditions of their use, such as the role of a human mediator and the effect of particular types of interfaces.

The study started with a critical review of existing research in museums and formal learning environments (Economou & Pujol, 2007), from which we outline very briefly here the summary of main findings. Previous studies in museums have shown that new technologies can trigger an interest and motivate visitors to examine more carefully displays and exhibition themes. On the other hand, they create problems as they:

  • do not always support group interaction (as they usually follow the one-to-one communication paradigm of the personal computer.

  • often conflict with the other exhibits (as they are a medium within another medium) but also with the other original objects (digital surrogate compared to original), while

  • sometimes, their communication and learning objectives are compromised due to usability problems (related with their design and with the users’ experience).

On the other hand, research studies in formal learning environments (schools, universities, etc) have shown that in cases of discovery learning, ICT applications allow self-evaluation and testing and increase motivation, attention and memorisation, while they can often encourage social interaction. They are also suitable for presenting complex, abstract, not visible phenomena or subjects and can encourage the adoption of a wider perspective.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Augmented Reality (AR): A type of Virtual Reality that uses different interfaces (sometimes wearable) in order to superimpose an interactive simulated 3D environment on a view of the surrounding physical environment.

Cultural Heritage settings: Places such as museums, archaeological sites, interpretation centres, theme parks and natural or urban environments that have been purposefully preserved in order to disseminate knowledge of historical and cultural importance.

Multimedia applications: Computer applications which combine different content forms (e.g. text, images, graphics, sounds, video), which can be explored in an interactive and usually non-linear way.

Museography: The methods and techniques related to the practical function of museums. It often refers to the way objects are displayed in exhibitions.

Museology: The discipline which studies and reflects about the museum, its historical evolution, its role in society and the activities linked to it, such as management, conservation, research and communication.

Virtual Reality (VR): An interactive and usually immersive computer-generated environment which simulates real or imaginary worlds.

Informal learning environments: A variety of places (e.g. museums, zoos, home) where learning occurs through the contact with the environment and therefore is non-structured, non-systematic, spontaneous, sometimes even involuntary and does not result in a formal qualification.

Immersive Virtual Reality: A variant of Virtual Reality that creates an environment within which the users can completely immerse themselves, having the impression that they have ‘stepped inside’ the artificially created world.

Formal learning environments: Educational or training organisations (like schools or universities) where learning is the main goal and therefore activities are structured, systematized, chronologically and/or hierarchically organized and leading to some form of recognised certification.

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