GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 301-11
Presentation Time: 4:35 PM


WIITABLAKE, Leah M., Engineering and Science Education, Clemson University, 105 Sikes Hall, Clemson, SC 29634, LAZAR, Kelly Best, Engineering and Science Education, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634 and MOYSEY, Stephen M., Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, 101 Graham Building, Greenville, NC 27858

Designing an effective geoscience virtual reality (VR) experience requires a thoughtful balance of learning objectives (LOs), student engagement, and opportunity to practice geoscience skills. Three considerations for designing such an educational VR experience should be interactivity (degree of engagement within the environment), accessibility (degree to which an individual has the opportunity to participate), and presence (individual’s connection within a virtual environment [VE]). Development should first define LOs that reflect course objectives (Step 1) and then choose an appropriate VR modality that balances interactivity required by the LOs with accessibility (Step 2). Virtual actions and formative assessment within the VE should directly address the LOs (Step 3). Careful selection of assets, construction of a compelling narrative, and the path(s) through the VE should be prioritized to maximize presence (Step 4). A successful VR design should also consider four outcome variables: affect, cognition, development of professional skills, and inquiry.

While there are many types of VR experiences, we describe here design choices for creating a low-barrier to entry VR activity using a sequence of 360-degree photospheres powered by a smartphone and experienced through a low-cost headset. An inquiry-based learning model was used to introduce participants to a problem and allow them the freedom to investigate the VE in a non-linear pathway composed of several quests. The overarching theme of the experience asked participants to investigate why sea turtles were disappearing from a local island. Sea turtles act as an engaging mechanism to convey current issues in the world while also developing content knowledge (e.g., relative dating, sediment deposition) and practicing geoscience skills (e.g., interpreting graphs, developing hypotheses using data representing long time scales). Each quest asks participants to collect data to investigate a particular issue impacting sea turtles today (e.g., plastic pollution) that also reflects global twenty-first century challenges. Trials comparing this activity to a parallel experience on the HTC Vive (built with Unity) hope to investigate the interplay of interactivity, accessibility, and presence and their impact on the four VE outcome variables.