Virtual Reality and Virtual Environments in Education

Virtual Reality and Virtual Environments in Education

Nicoletta Sala (Università della Svizzeraitaliana, Switzerland)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-845-1.ch109
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Abstract

Virtual reality (2007), or VR, is defined in the Encyclopædia Britannica as: the use of computer modeling and simulation that enables a person to interact with an artificial threedimensional (3D) visual or other sensory environment. VR applications immerse the user in a computergenerated environment that simulates reality through the use of interactive devices, which send and receive information and are worn as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits.
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Introduction

Virtual reality (2007), or VR, is defined in the Encyclopædia Britannica as:

the use of computer modeling and simulation that enables a person to interact with an artificial three-dimensional (3D) visual or other sensory environment. VR applications immerse the user in a computer-generated environment that simulates reality through the use of interactive devices, which send and receive information and are worn as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits.

Jaron Lanier, virtual reality pioneer, claims to have popularized this technology in the early 1980s, but the origin of the term “virtual reality” is uncertain. It has been credited to The Judas Mandala, a 1982 novel written by Damien Broderick, where the context of use is somewhat different from that defined above. One of the first applications of this technology was in the military area, especially in 3D interactive computer graphics and flight simulators. Another area of application for VR systems has always been training for real-life activities. A virtual reality system has the following three primary requirements: immersion (which permits to the user the physical involvement, capturing exclusive visual attention, and responding to three-dimensional input. For example, through a data glove, head-tracker, 3D mouse, or fully instrumented body suit); interaction (through the three-dimensional control device to “navigate” in the virtual environment); and visual realism (which is a representation of the virtual world using computer graphics techniques) (Rosemblum & Cross, 1997). VR is usually classified according to its methods of display. We have: immersive VR and non-immersive VR. Immersive VR involves a high degree of interactivity and high cost peripheral devices, for example, the head mounted displays. This kind of VR can generate the “avatar” or “virtual body” (user’s representation of himself or herself, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model). Non-immersive VR, often called “desktop VR,” is in the form of a windows into a virtual world displayed on a computer’s monitor (Earnshaw, Chilton, & Palmer, 1997). This article describes the use of low cost non-immersive virtual reality integrated in teaching path in a faculty of architecture, where this technology can help to define new paradigm in the architectural design.

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Background

Many researchers affirm that virtual reality offers benefits that can support education (Antonietti, Imperio, Rasi, & Sacco, 2001; Byrne, 1996; Gerval, Popovici, & Tisseau, 2003; Mantovani, 2001; Pantelidis, 1995; Sala & Sala, 2005; Shin, 2004; Stangel & Pantelidis, 1997; Winn, 1993; Youngblut, 1998). VR is also a good medium to apply the philosophy of constructivism and for making abstract concepts concrete, for example, to emphasize the physics’ laws or chemistry’s principles (Byrne, 1996; Johnstone, 1991; Jonassen, 1994; Zoller, 1990).

At the Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLab), a part of the Washington Technology Center (University of Washington in Seattle), some pilot studies have been performed to examine virtual reality’s potential in the field of training and education. For example, the Pacific Science Center Studies used 10 to 15 year old students who were attending a week-long summer day camp. Some of these students were novice computer users, while others had a good computer knowledge. In groups of 10 students, they brainstormed virtual world creations. In subgroups, composed by 2 or 3 students, they have created virtual objects for their world using specifications, for example, how the objects should be placed and moved in the virtual world (Youngblut, 1998).

Using the constructivist approach, Byrne (1996) created a virtual environment to stimulate the students to learn the chemistry by exploring and interacting with a virtual world. Instead of staying in a classroom and passively viewing images of the atomic structures, the students can place electrons in the atoms and they can see the atomic orbital appear as the electron buzzes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Web-Based Course Management Systems (WCMS): These are tools that permit the management of asynchronous learning environments. Examples include WebCT and Blackboard.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): An environment that facilitates the management of courses between the instructor(s) and students. It is used to be used to support flexible and distance learning.

Emerging Economy: This term has differing interpretations; however, for the purposes of this study, we used it to refer an economy-type whose socio-economic indicators (e.g., poverty and technological levels) are better than those of developing countries (e.g., Nigeria and Burma), but lower in comparison to richer countries (e.g., Italy and Canada). Examples of emerging economy countries include Estonia and Hungary.

Technology Acceptance Model (TAM): This is a theoretical framework designed by Davis (1989) that proposes a relationship between users’ acceptance of a new IS and the users’ perceptions of the ease of use and usefulness of the IS.

Perceived usefulness: This refers to an individual’s perceptions of the expected benefits from using a particular IS system

Perceived ease of use: This refers to the degree to which an individual believes using a particular information system would be free of effort.

Learning Management Systems (LMS): These are tools that primarily act as electronic registrars and allow the monitoring of various enrollment and related tasks in a virtual learning environment. Examples of LMS include Saba, NetDimensions EKP, and SumTotal.

Usage: This is the dependent variable in the TAM, and it gives an indication of the use of the information system.

Asynchronous Educational Environment (AEE): This is a learning–teaching environment in which there is no timing requirement. Students can access course material any time from anywhere.

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