This pilot project seeks to explore our hypothesis that VR technology can play a transformative role in student learning by immersing students in interactive “hands-on” explorations ranging from manipulation of minute molecular 3D structures of DNA to the large scale of macrobiology in ways that are beyond the reach of current educational technologies.
Our designs incorporate, from their inception, both practical limitations and pedagogical opportunities of the classroom context for which these activities are intended. Our project explores best practices for leveraging a meaningful role for teachers as collaborators during the design phase and practical considerations of teachers as facilitators during the implementation phase of the project. Additionally, the learning activity will be designed with substantive, real-time collaborations with co-located peers. Given short-term limitations on the likely number of VR sets per classroom, our designs exploit opportunities for deeply synergistic activity between VR and non-VR equipped students.
VR has tremendous potential in many educational domains, from the ability to manipulate 3D models in mathematics to the development of visual and spatial ability that is essential to engineering and design. VR is uniquely suited for teaching students about the challenging yet essential topic of scale, a critical construct in the domain of science. Many of the concepts, systems, and processes in science operate at vastly different scales, from atomic to galactic, and from picoseconds to eons. We have chosen the topic of scale in molecular biology as the proof-of-concept topic for our prototype, and we will focus on a core topic, such as the central dogma in biology: the translation of the code written in the nucleotides (DNA and RNA) into the amino acids that comprise proteins.
In preparation for creating the learning environment and assessing learning, we have investigated current research into the content area of students’ conceptions of cells.
From the beginning of the project, we have sought the input from biology experts and researchers who have done work in the field. We are in contact with cell biologists, other science education specialists, and experts in visualization in biology. We have shared the cell environment that we have built with a subset of these experts, and will continue to seek input throughout the process.
This proposal focuses on two primary research questions:
RQ1. How can we design VR environments that utilize the unique affordances of the medium to enhance student engagement and learning outcomes specifically relating to the concept of scale?
RQ2. What are the essential elements of successful educational VR experiences and curricula that effectively leverage the resources available in the classroom (e.g., teacher facilitators, peer interactions, pedagogical choices) to maximize the effectiveness of VR as a pedagogical tool?