The Affordances of 3D Mixed Reality in Cultivating Secondary Students' Non-Cognitive Skills Use and Development in the Engineering Design Process

The Affordances of 3D Mixed Reality in Cultivating Secondary Students' Non-Cognitive Skills Use and Development in the Engineering Design Process

Rebecca Hite (Texas Tech University, USA) and Andrew McIntosh (South Orangetown Central School District, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3250-8.ch009

Abstract

Ascribed as skills of the 21st century or soft skills, non-cognitive skills include the ‘4Cs' of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity as well as persistence, resilience, and grit: requisite abilities for engineers of today and the future. This chapter presents a single illustrative experimental case study of 16 seventh grade students who designed boats using the engineering design process (EDP) and 3D mixed reality (a combination of virtual and augmented realities) to understand students' non-cognitive skill use and perceived growth. Qualitative data converged to suggest that critical thinking, creativity, and grit were the most salient skills used (observed) and developed (reported). Further, findings indicated that the MR technology (zSpace) was easy to use and helped students with enhanced 3D visualization (immersion) and control (interaction) of designs. Collaboration and communication were perceived as skills that had decreased and were less observed. This research provides insight to how MR elicits secondary students' non-cognitive abilities in STEM.
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Introduction

Emergent technologies have been ascribed to revolutionize K-12 teaching and learning, foretelling how people will conduct business, socially interact, and be educated in the 21st century. Such promising educational technologies include those that leverage hyper-realistic interactive Three-Dimensional (3D) user controlled environments as well as immersive aspects of augmented, virtual or mixed reality (MR). As an instructional tool, 3D MR technology has evidenced cognitive affordances in secondary teaching (Hite et al., 2019b) and learning (Hite, Childers, & Jones, 2019a) in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. Rightfully, the lions’ share of prior research has addressed cognition or students’ learning of STEM concepts. However, cognition addresses only half of students’ learning needs to become successful future scientists, technologists, and engineers of the 21st century (Bybee, 2010). This 'other half' are non-cognitive skills, known as soft skills or 21st century skills. Within the scope of STEM education, they are most discussed as the '4Cs' of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity (Bybee, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Learning [P21], 2019). Non-cognitive skills have become more nationally recognized in their importance, especially in the policy space (Garcia, 2016), as a means to more effectively prepare K-12 learners for competitive STEM futures (English, 2016). Another area of developing interest in STEM education research has been studying students’ affect or emotional states related to STEM learning. Per Zollman (2012), affect includes motivation, self-confidence, attitudes and beliefs. The affective domain is of great interest as it may mediate “whether a student seeks to engage in learning or to avoid it, such goals are affectively charged. Emotion is important not only as an outcome of experience but also because it [provides] context... competence…and incentive for performance…[all due to] positive affect” (Schweinle, Meyer, & Turner, 2006, p. 271). Such traits like resilience, perseverance, and grit have been noted as particularly important to STEM education, provided the challenges of rigor and duration of study needed to be successful in STEM careers (Stoffel & Cain, 2018). Yet, the ways students acquire non-cognitive skills and cultivate positive affect towards STEM education is generally understudied and largely unknown when examining STEM learning using emergent technologies. Moreover, provided growing use of emergent technologies in the K-12 classroom and documented affordances in its ability to aid in cognition, it calls into question if and how emergent technologies (i.e. 3D MR) build 21st century skills in users (K-12 students) and cultivate beyond the short-term positive affect in STEM like interest and motivation and can foster longer-term affective constructs like grit, perseverance and resilience; this question is significant as 21st century skills and the latter affective qualities have been empirically linked to enhanced, short-term learning (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Non-Cognitive Skills: Non-cognitive skills in education context refer to as the ‘soft’ skills of related to interpersonal interactions and affective qualities. These are often tested through elicitations or performances of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, persistence, resilience, and grit.

Engineering Design Process: The engineering design process (EDP) is a series of steps that engineers and engineering learners use in creating a functional prototype. The steps of the EDP may vary across engineering disciplines, but generally have some relationship to background research (ask and imagine), synthesis and analysis (plan), building and testing, and evaluation (improve).

Augmented Reality: Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that generates a computer image that is overlaid with the user’s real world environment. Often visual, AR can also include auditory, haptic, and sensory information to enhance apparent realism that improves immersion for the user and is able to be manipulated by the user’s actions to enhance interaction.

Twenty-First Century Skills: Twenty-first century skills refer to the non-cognitive or ‘soft’ skills that have been identified as necessary for successful employment in 21 st century society and work through a consortium of academics, education practitioners, business leaders, and governments.

Mixed Reality: Mixed reality (MR) is a technological hybrid of virtual and augmented realities where computer generated images share both a virtual context and extend into the real world. MR includes visual, auditory, haptic, and sensory information to enhance apparent realism that improves immersion for the user and uses hardware-based controls (e.g., motion controllers, button, stylus) to allow the user to manipulate objects in the mixed reality setting to enhance interaction.

Virtual Reality: Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that generates a computer environment that is contained within a virtual world or environment. Often visual, VR can also include auditory, haptic, and sensory information to enhance apparent realism that improves immersion for the user and uses hardware-based controls (e.g., motion controllers, button, stylus) to allow the user to manipulate objects in the virtual world to enhance interaction.

Cognitive Skills: Cognitive skills in education context refer to as the ‘hard’ skills of content-based knowledge and learning. These are often tested through assessments of academic achievement in established domains such as science, engineering, and mathematics.

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