The Digital Divide: Investigating Technologies That Help Bridge the Gap Between Virtual and Brick & Mortar Learning
Project Timeline: July 2014 – December 2015
Keywords: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, STEM
- Conrad Tucker, Assistant Professor, Industrial Engineering and Engineering Design (Co-PI)
- Star Sharp, Director, Millennium Scholars Program (Co-PI)
- Keith Harmon, Director, Meyerhoff Scholars Program
The objective of this research project was to investigate the adoption of immersive, online learning technologies in online learning platforms and their impact on students’ learning outcomes. Educators often lack predictive models that can inform them about the potential adoption of new online learning technologies, prior to their implementation. These limitations are further exacerbated in the online education environment, where student feedback is primarily in the form of textual surveys (as opposed to visual feedback in a brick and mortar environment), hereby limiting educators’ ability to understand how these immersive, online learning technologies are being utilized (if at all). Immersive systems, such as the Oculus Rift, have the potential to enhance students’ online learning experience by providing them with a more connected visual representation of online content. This is particularly relevant in engineering courses, where 3D design and augmentation are integral to course objectives (e.g., Solid Works). Unlike immersive systems, augmented reality systems are not fully immersive and instead, provide the user with additional visual information overlays onto their existing physical environment.
For this project, Dr. Tucker and his research team planned to investigate the following questions:
- Research Question 1: Do augmented reality (e.g., Google Glass) and immersive systems (e.g., Oculus Rift) enhance student learning in the online space?
- Research Question 2: How does the digital divide impact students from underrepresented groups when it comes to online learning?
Figure 1: Research Study on Advanced Immersive Technologies
Project Implementation and Outcomes
Using a control group (students that were using neither immersive nor augmented systems), the PIs investigated the impact that immersive and augmented systems had on different online learning activities. The undergraduate course, Introduction to Engineering Design (E Design 100) was used to explore the research questions. E Design 100 had over 1000 students enrolled each semester, spanning over 30 sections, providing a rich sample to investigate the differences between students exposed to virtual technologies and a control group. 54 engineering undergraduate students were recruited by advertisement in the University campus, and assigned randomly to one of two groups. Group 1 (29 students) participated in the product dissection activity using immersive VR system – Oculus Rift and Group 2 (25 students) participated in the same activity using a non-immersive VR system. In terms of gender, 47 were male (87%) and 7 were female (13%). Ages ranged from 17-27 years, the mean age being 19.85 years (Standard deviation = 1.62). 50 students (93%) who participated in the study had at least 1-2 years of experience in using joysticks and 24 students (83%) in group 1 were first time Oculus Rift users. Participants could opt out of the study at any time and had the option of what data they provided. The research team collected quantitative data pertaining to the engineering design task, such as the time to complete a given task (as measured in seconds).
The outcomes of the team’s research study revealed that immersive virtual reality systems could potentially be used to make online engineering education and Penn State more immersive. Many online courses at Penn State and beyond are limited in the level of interaction achievable by students. With the help of immersive virtual reality systems, concepts and course topics once unavailable or difficult to communicate in online environments (e.g., engineering laboratories), could potentially be taught. Advancement in this space has the potential to transform education as a whole, ranging from brick and mortar learning to online learning.
Society is at the nascent stage of understanding the impacts of Immersive Virtual Reality systems on online education. The results from this COIL grant were at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the research questions that remained unanswered. Through the pursuit of external funding, Dr. Tucker’s research group aimed to advance discovery and understanding in the domain of virtual reality, towards more scalable modes of distanced-based education, and to establish Penn State as the pinnacle of high quality online education both nationally and internationally. Additional external funding included:
- National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative Grant
- $20K from NSF I/UCRC Center for Healthcare Organization Transformation (CHOT): 1 year project on Gamification using Virtual Reality Systems was funded (September 2015-May 2016). Amount=$20K
Dr. Tucker and his research team also recommended the establishment of a center at Penn State that unifies researchers working in or interested in virtual reality.
As an outgrowth of this RIG, Dr. Tucker presented at Penn State’s 2015 IST Startup Week and the 2015 TLT Symposium. Dr. Tucker is the advisor for Penn State’s Student Virtual Reality Club, and he advised students in the creation of the Penn State VR Classroom in Unity. Dr. Tucker also received additional RIG money for research on Teaching Engineering Concepts in an Immersive Virtual Reality Environment.
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
213-N Hammond Building University Park, PA 16802
Bharathi and C. Tucker, “Investigating the Impact of Interactive Immersive Virtual Reality Environments in Enhancing Task Performance in Online Engineering Design Activities,” in Proceedings of the ASME 2015 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference IDETC/CIE 2015, Boston, MA, 2015.
Dickens, S. Sellers, G. Harms, O. Shartle, and C. Tucker, “A Virtual Reality Approach for Minimizing Information Loss in Multi-User, Scalable Environments,” in Proceedings of the ASME 2015 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference IDETC/CIE 2015, Boston, MA, 2015.
Dickens, B., Sellers, S., Harms, G., Startle, O., and Tucker, C., “A Proposed Virtual Reality Approach for Minimizing Information Loss in Multi-User, Scalable Environments”, Proceedings of the 2015 ASME IDETC/CIE, DETC 2015-47414
Environments in Enhancing Online Engineering Design Activities” (under revision), Proceedings of the 2015 ASME IDETC/CIE, DETC 2015-47388
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