Cegep de Saint-Jerome
Sébastien Wall-Lacelle (Cégep de Saint-Jérôme)
Simulations are used in many domains and the literature contains countless studies showing a significant increase in learning when simulations are compared to traditional pedagogy. Therefore, this project proposes to purchase three virtual reality devices to study the effects of virtual laboratory activities on learning, motivation, and engagement in biology CEGEP classes. By exposing students to these simulations and conducting individual and group interviews, we hope to gain insights on the experience of students in a VR simulation that will be invaluable to building pedagogical scenarios around these simulations.
The devices have arrived! We now are in the final phase, about to select the students who will participate and conduct the interviews.
As the reflection on those interviews went on, the focus of the interviews changed a little bit, with the group interview being more focused on the difficulties that science students face than we first anticipated. We hope that this insight will be able to orient us in the future when we will put together classroom scenarios that involve such simulations.
We also took quite a little bit of time to investigate the side effects of immersive reality, to make sure that we take every precaution to keep our participants from experiencing them.
The Next Step
All that is left is to conduct the simulations and the interviews…and analyze them!
For now, we are still waiting to receive the VR devices. In the meanwhile, we are currently in the process of obtaining the institutional and ethical certifications for the project. As soon as this is completed, which should be in the next two weeks, we will make short presentations in biology classes in order to solicit participants for the study.
Depending on when we receive the devices, the experimentation should begin before the end of November. The interviews will be conducted during the following week.
Various pedagogical strategies have emerged from the active learning paradigm, among which simulations and educational gaming have shown great potential. Simulations are used in many domains and the literature contains countless studies showing a significant increase in learning when simulations are compared to traditional pedagogy (Rutten, van Joolingen, & van der Veen, 2012). Activities based on a game-related framework have also shown a significant increase in learning, and positive effects on motivation and engagement (Wouters, van Nimwegen, van Oostendorp, & van Der Spek, 2013). Their efficacy has been shown to increase when coupled with other active learning strategies.
Virtual reality (VR) simulations, situated at the junction of simulations and educational gaming, offer some interesting possibilities, such as allowing students to view and experience various phenomena that are invisible and abstract or giving them the opportunity to work virtually with expensive or dangerous equipment that would not be available otherwise (Potkonjak et al., 2016). Although there is a growing consensus that these simulations have a positive effect on learning (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014), the literature contains several contradictory conclusions concerning motivation and engagement. Moreover, very few studies have been conducted in the context of more advanced classes, such as the cegep level.
Therefore, this project proposes to purchase six virtual reality devices to study the effects of virtual laboratory activities on learning, motivation and engagement in chemistry, physics and biology cegep classes. The company Labster, from whom we have obtained a research license, has developed many virtual simulations that target central concepts in these disciplines. By exposing students to learning scenarios that include these simulations and comparing their results and feedback to students in lecture-based activities on the same concepts, we hope to gain insights on the effects of immersive VR simulations on learning, motivation and engagement.
A grant for a project on virtual reality has been awarded last year to a group of teachers at College Lasalle for the purchase of 40 Utopia 360 Goggles. Although very few details are available concerning their project, we believe our project to be significantly different in several major aspects. The project we propose is specifically aimed at science classes, whereas the Lasalle project seems to gather several technical programs that are not related to natural sciences. Although virtual reality can be used in a wide variety of situations and domains, the pedagogical target of its usage should certainly be linked to the domain in question. For example, using a VR simulation in a tourism class, as has been done in College Lasalle, is significantly different from using VR in physics class.
Given that the level of abstraction required to understand the phenomena that are being taught in science classes has been shown to be an important cognitive obstacle, the opportunity to view and interact with these objects will presumably help students in forming mental representations that are essential to the cognitive process. The second aspect in which our project distinguishes itself from other domains is how virtual reality can open the doors to countless new experiments with devices and materials that are either too costly or too dangerous to be manipulated in real life by students.
It is also worth mentioning that the simulations that we will be using are already produced by the company Labster. These simulations have been developed and tested within the context of postsecondary science teaching. Many of them are undergoing a translation process.
The Utopia 360 goggles purchased by College Lasalle require a cellular phone to be inserted into them to be used as a screen. However, the Labster simulations are not compatible with every type of cellular phone. Since the Utopia goggles imply using the devices that the students own, it would be practically impossible for the entire class to take part in the activity. Instead, we propose to purchase a set of the recently announced Oculus Go helmets, which are low cost standalone devices compatible with the Labster virtual simulations.
In this regard, this project would consist of an exploratory phase in which virtual game-based simulation activities would be tested with a small number of students. After this exploratory phase, we intend to submit a PAREA grant proposal, in which it is difficult or impossible to buy technological tools. More helmets could then be purchased by our respective institutions to extend our study to a class-wide context.
Finally, we believe that the combined expertise of the three applicants has the potential to lead to rigorous and quantifiable results that will contribute to the study of the many potential uses of virtual reality in classrooms.
As mentioned in the previous sections, the goal of this project is to gain insights into the effects of virtual reality simulations on learning, engagement and motivation.
The first component of this study is linked both to the simulation aspect of the activity as well as its educational gaming component. Several studies have shown that these techniques have significant positive effects on learning.
By allowing students to visualize certain quantities and objects that are normally invisible (such as atoms, molecules, fields and waves), we believe that we will be able to observe significant improvements in conceptual learning for the various subjects targeted by the simulations in biology, chemistry and physics. Since the literature is quite unanimous when it comes to the positive effects of virtual reality simulations on learning, we are confident that the activities that will be developed throughout this project will lead to enhanced learning for the students that will take part in it.
Although the positive effects on learning seem to be a consensus across the literature, the effects on motivation and engagement have been less clear to this day. While some studies have observed positive effects of virtual reality simulations on these parameters, others have not been able to observe a significant gain in motivation and interest. Since both simulations and educational games have been shown to increase engagement and motivation, this lack of results is surprising. Therefore, a great amount of efforts will be devoted to building scenarios around the Labster simulations that exploit the aspects of educational games and simulations that have been shown to generate motivation and engagement.
This project is an exploratory phase in which the effects of learning activities, centered on a virtual laboratory simulation, on learning, motivation and engagement will be explored.
The effect of these simulations on learning will be assessed quantitatively through conceptual tests. The effects on motivation and engagement will be assessed qualitatively through interviews with the students that will have taken part in the activities. All the evaluation tools have either already been validated in various studies or will be validated by a group of teachers of each discipline.
Through the various insights that will be obtained from these conceptual tests and interviews, we hope to gain a first idea of the potential that virtual reality simulations have in cegep science classes. The results of this project will be used as a framework on which a future PAREA project will be built. These results will not only give a first idea of the feasibility of such a project but will also provide valuable insights for the development of the learning scenarios that will be built around these simulations.
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