Multiple Sensorial Media and Presence in 3D Environments

Multiple Sensorial Media and Presence in 3D Environments

Helen Farley (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Caroline Steel (University of Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-821-7.ch002
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This chapter will begin by unraveling the relationship between ‘immersion’, with a special emphasis on ‘sensory immersion’, and ‘presence’ in relation to MulSeMedia. In addition, it will look at the nature of the sensory stimulation provided by MulSeMedia in relation to the amount of immersion it engenders. For example, sound that is directional will have a positive effect on immersion and sensory feedback that is not conflicting will further enhance the immersive experience.
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For educators, the appeal of virtual environments is enormous. The diversity of educational contexts provides an assortment of experiences that accommodate a range of learning styles. Neil Fleming identified four types of learning styles: (a) visual; (b) auditory; (c) reading/writing; and (d) kinesthetic, tactile, or exploratory, resulting in the acronym VARK (Fleming & Baume, 2006: p. 6; Bonk & Zhang, 2006: p. 250). Beyond recognizing that these learning styles exist, learners born after the mid-1970s expect that learning will be responsive to their preferred style (Bonk & Zhang, 2006: p. 250). Kinesthetic learners are frequently insufficiently catered for and authentic movement in 3D worlds may help to meet this need. Kinesthetic learning activities compel students to move, sometimes requiring significant exertion (Begel, Garcia, & Wolfman, 2004: pp. 183-184). This exploits what Jean Piaget called ‘sensori-motor learning,’ in which physical activity transforms into representative mental symbols (Piaget, 1999: pp. 37-38). The increasing importance of hands-on learning has already been glimpsed in the rising prevalence of realistic and complex simulations, interactive scenarios and commutative news stories (Bonk & Zhang, 2006: p. 251). Given the diversity of students attending university, it seems prudent to seek out an environment where all learning styles can be accommodated.

There are many educators responsive to these needs, endeavoring to give their students the most authentic learning experiences possible. What better way to train an architect than to let him or her design and construct a building; walk around in it when completed and then go back and correct any deficiencies or experiment with alternatives? A prospective surgeon will learn best by performing surgery on a patient that cannot die and a student of history will appreciate and more fully understand historical events if for just an hour or two they could take on a role and wander around a battleground or participate in a significant legal trial. Participation could decrease reaction times, improve hand-eye coordination and raise learners’ self-esteem (Lawrence, 1986: p. 52; Pearson & Bailey, 2007: p. 1). For some disciplines, the educational affordances of a virtual environment such as Second Life are obvious (Salmon, 2009: p. 529). These environments are so appealing to students and educators because the senses are artificially stimulated to evoke emotional responses, introduce new ideas and entertain in new and exciting ways. These computer-mediated environments provide sensory information including visual, audio and haptic information so that a multi-modal understanding of the environment can be constructed (Butler & Neave, 2008: p. 140). The simple presentation of information is arguably not as valid as engaging students in interacting with that information as becomes possible in an immersive virtual environment (Tashner, Riedl, & Bronack, 2005).

There is evidence to suggest that the game technology employed in many virtual environments may improve learner motivation and engagement via immersion (Fassbender & Richards, 2008: p. 1). Engaged students who are responsible for their own learning through an active approach tend to experience a deeper level of learning compared to those who are merely passive recipients of information. Problem-solving, authentic learning experiences, virtual learning, online collaboration and other active methods, will usurp more conventional didactic approaches to learning. Further, Curtis Bonk and Ke Zang (2006) also flag a greater emphasis on reflection for students to ‘internalize and expand upon their learning pursuits’ (Bonk & Zhang, 2006; Sanders & McKeown, 2008: p. 51) and this can be readily facilitated through interaction in and with an immersive virtual environment.

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