3D virtual geology field trips: opportunities and limitations

Minocha, Shailey; Davies, Sarah-Jane; Richardson, Brian and Argles, Thomas (2014). 3D virtual geology field trips: opportunities and limitations. In: Computers and Learning Research Group Annual Conference 2014, 10-11 Jun 2014, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, UK.

URL: https://sites.google.com/site/calrg14/


As a part of The OpenScience Laboratory (http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/open-science/), we have developed a virtual Geology field trip in a three-dimensional (3D) environment (https://learn5.open.ac.uk/course/format/sciencelab/section.php?name=skiddaw_1), using the Unity 3D software (https://unity3d.com/). The learning activities within this 3D application are designed to mirror the experience of a field trip in the Skiddaw mountains of UK’s Lake District.

The primary objective of developing an authentic 3D avatar-based interactive environment has been to provide an immersive experience to the users through sense of space. The application is based around a 10km x 10km low to medium detail model of the terrain around Skiddaw with overlaid photogrammetry-derived mesh and textual imagery, and augmented with in-built Unity terrain and flora. The virtual embodiment in the form of avatars and the multi-user environment give a sense of co-presence and provides opportunities for collaborative learning.

In this presentation, we will reflect on the design and development process of the 3D App: how the pedagogical aspects of Geology and fieldwork were integrated with the affordances of 3D environments and the capabilities of Unity 3D, the development platform. We will discuss the interaction design of the 3D App including its navigation and wayfinding aspects that provide a sense of presence, sense of place, and an immersive learning experience for the students. We will analyse the pedagogical design of the 3D App to highlight the spatial and contextual learning opportunities for the students.

With this Virtual Skiddaw App as an example, we will reflect on the following: a) opportunities offered by 3D virtual field trips for science education in both schools and higher education; b) comparisons (advantages and obstacles) of the 3D experience with 2D field trips (for example, via the websites or DVDs) – for example, the real-time multi-user interactions offered by a 3D environment and their impact on learning and student engagement; and c) limitations of 3D virtual field trips with respect to real world field trips.

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