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The value of being there: toward a science of immersive virtual field trips


With immersive experiences becoming a medium for mass communication, we need pedagogies as well as scientific, evidence-based design principles for immersive learning. To foster evidence-based designs of immersive learning, we detail an empirical evaluation of a geosciences field trip, common in undergraduate education across numerous disciplines. The study builds on a previously proposed research framework in which we detailed a basic taxonomy of virtual field trips distinguishing between basic, plus, and advanced immersive virtual field trip experiences. The experiment reported here expands the original evaluation of basic field trips into the realm of plus versions using pseudo-aerial \(360^{\circ }\) imagery to provide embodied experiences that are not possible during the actual field trip. We also refined our original experimental design placing a stronger focus on the qualitative feedback elicited from the students. Results show an overwhelmingly positive response of students to virtual field trips with significantly higher-valued learning experience and enjoyment. Furthermore, the introduction of pseudo-aerial imagery (together with higher image resolution) shows a significant improvement in the participants spatial situation model. As contextualizing and spatially grounding is essential for place-based learning experiences, plus versions of virtual field trips have the potential to add value to the learning outcome and immersive virtual field trip experience. We discuss these encouraging results as well as critical feedback from the participants, such as the absence of touch in virtual experiences, and lay out our vision for the future of immersive learning experiences across environmental sciences.

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Modified from Klippel et al. (2019a)

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(Source: Google Maps) (colour figure online)

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The authors would like to thank students of Geosc 001 for their participation, the instructor, Peter Heaney, for his support, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their deeply insightful comments. This study was funded through a Penn State Strategic Planning award. Dr. Klippel would like to additionally acknowledge funding through the National Science Foundation Grants #1617396 and #1526520.

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Correspondence to Alexander Klippel.

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Klippel, A., Zhao, J., Oprean, D. et al. The value of being there: toward a science of immersive virtual field trips. Virtual Reality 24, 753–770 (2020).

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  • Immersive learning
  • Virtual field trips
  • STEM
  • Place-based learning