ARLE’s & VRLE’s: Horizons for Learning

Today’s classroom is so much larger than four walls and a white/chalk board.  The opportunity for the educator to take their students to to new worlds or to help them see new aspects within everyday landscapes is vast.  Virtual reality learning environments (VRLE’s) are 3-D immersive experiences that can be accessed through the desktop or involve more specialized hardware such as goggles.  Augmented reality learning environments (ARLE’s) combine virtual objects (2-D and 3-D) within the actual environment of the user in real time. Often these two are seen as occupying various aspects of the reality-to-virtuality continuum. Each of these presents new opportunities and challenges for educators .

In examining virtual reality environments, Dalgarno and Lee (2010) pinpointed that representational fidelity and learner interaction are key characteristics of VLRE’s which, through interaction with the learner, allows for the “construction of identity, sense of presence and co-presence” within the virtual space (Dalgarno and Lee, 2010, p 14). This creates that sense of immersion which can be impactful to the learner. Representational fidelity relates to environment of interaction. Critical aspects of this include how realistic a display of the environment is presented, how smooth the display of view changes and how motions are handled, how consistent object behavior is within the environment, is their spatial audio, is there tactile force and kinaesthetic feedback and users representation through the construction of an avatar .  Learner interaction is how the user interacts and is displayed within the environment. Aspects of this include aspects of embodied action, verbal and non-verbal communication, object interactions and control of the environment.  These key aspects come together to create the ways in which VRLE’s can potentially impact learning, Dalgarno and Leed (2010) outlined five affordances that VRLE’s facilitate. These include spatial knowledge representation, experiential learning, engagement, contextualized learning and collaborative learning.  However, Dalgarno and Lee (2010) suggested that in order to  assess how to use 3-D VRLE’s in “pedagogically sound ways” that more meaningful research was necessary (p 23).  They offered several recommendations of research to consider including studying basic assumptions held in VRLE’s and linking characteristics to the affordances they outlined. They also argued that research needs to be done to establish guidelines and best practices when it comes to VRLE’s implementation.  They also appropriately recommended that this not be done through comparison of 2-D to 3-D as these would be “contrived examples in inauthentic settings” (Dalgarno and Lee, 2010,p 25). Given that this was more a call-to-arms than a general “what can VRLE’s do for you” presentation, it is not surprising that there is little discussion of the challenges that implementing and using VLRE’s in education. As Salmon duly noted in her five-stage for scaffolding learners into multi-player virtual realities, there is a need to recognize and structure for the challenges that VRLE’s present (Salmon et. al., 2010). This requires recognition of technological and educator interventions needed to support the learner

When it comes to comparing VRLE’s and ARLE’s, Dunleavy et. al (2009) offered that, when considering affordances, there may be greater representational fidelity to ARLE’s due to they natural overlaying into the real world which allows for greater feel, sights and smells in the experience . In addition, the ability to talk face-to-face as well as virtually may allow for easier collaboration between users. However, the authors noted that within VRLE’s each actions by a user is “captured and time-stamped by the interface: where they go, what they hear and say, what data they collect or access” and as such this allows for greater visualization of “every aspect of the learning experience for formative and summative assessment” (Dunleavy, 2009, p 22). When considering the limitations of ARLE’s, the authors recognized that there was need for considerations of hardware and software issues in implementing ARLE’s and that, much like VRLE’s, there is a need for logistical support and lesson management during activities which utilize ARLE’s. In addition, Dunleavy et. al. (2009) found that student’s expressed cognitive overload due to both the newness of the experience and confusion with what was to be done. They recommend than significant modeling, facilitating, and scaffolding is needed when using ARLE’s .

Given my interest in using both AR and VR learning experiences in my courses as a means for providing realistic training opportunities which would otherwise be limited, the affordances and issues outlined by these authors offer consideration of what potentials and problems exist. However as neither article offered much in terms of direct assessment of what specific impacts AR and VR have on student outcomes, social connection and motivation and offer no specifics which link to the specific aspects of design and implementation, these articles represent only a starting point.

Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments. British Journal of Educational Technology41(1), 10–32.

Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R. (2009). Affordances and Limitations of Immersive Participatory Augmented Reality Simulations for Teaching and Learning. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(1), 7-22.

Salmon, G., M. & Nie, P., (2010). Developing a five-stage model of learning in Second Life. Educational Research52(2): 169-182