Prompting Connections Between Content and Context: Blending Immersive Virtual Environments and Augmented Reality for Environmental Science Learning

  • Amy M. KamarainenEmail author
  • Meredith Thompson
  • Shari J. Metcalf
  • Tina A. Grotzer
  • Michael Shane Tutwiler
  • Chris Dede
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 840)


Outdoor field trip experiences are a cornerstone of quality environmental science instruction, yet the excitement and distractions associated with field trips can overwhelm learning objectives. Augmented reality (AR) can focus students’ attention and help them connect the concept rich domain of the classroom with the context rich experiences in the field. In this study, students used an immersive virtual pond, and then participated in a field trip to a real pond augmented by mobile technologies. We are interested in understanding whether and how augmenting a field trip with information via handheld mobile devices can help students connect concepts learned in the classroom with observations during the field trip. Specifically, we are curious about how augmentation allows students to “see the unseen” in concepts such as photosynthesis and respiration as well as apply causal reasoning patterns they learned about in the classroom while using an inquiry-based immersive virtual environment, EcoMUVE. We designed an AR supported field trip with three different treatments: (1) a ‘visual’ treatment in which students were prompted to consider content or perspectives from EcoMUVE using videos and animations (2) a ‘text’ treatment in which students were prompted to consider content or perspectives from EcoMUVE using text and images, and (3) a ‘control’ treatment that did not specifically prompt students to think about content or perspectives from EcoMUVE. We used a mixed-methods research approach and collected data based on pre, mid, and post surveys; student responses to prompts captured in the notes and log files during the field trip; a post-field-trip survey; and performance on an in-class written assignment. On the field trip, we found that students in all three treatments more frequently referred to visible factors and direct effects than to invisible factors and indirect effects. There were few discernible differences between the text and visual prompted treatments based on responses in the notes and log files captured during the field trip. After the field trip, students exposed to the prompted treatments were more likely to describe invisible factors such as wind, weather, and human impacts, while students exposed to the control treatment continued to focus on visible features such as aquatic plants. These findings provide insights to designers who aim to support learning activities in outdoor and immersive learning environments.


Immersive learning Augmented reality Outdoor education Science learning Field trip Environmental science Ecosystems Design Scaffolding 



We would like to express our appreciation to Lindsay Evans, Jared B. Fries, Ihudiya Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, Shruthi Lakshmi Saravanan, and Mayer Chalom for their assistance in coding the data. EcoMOBILE research was supported by National Science Foundation grant no. 1118530 and by Qualcomm Wireless Reach Initiative. AR activities were developed using FreshAiR by MoGo Mobile, Inc. TI Nspire graphing calculators with Vernier probes were provided by Texas Instruments, Inc. All opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy M. Kamarainen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Meredith Thompson
    • 2
  • Shari J. Metcalf
    • 1
  • Tina A. Grotzer
    • 1
  • Michael Shane Tutwiler
    • 3
  • Chris Dede
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.University of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA

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