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Paper: Going Virtual… or Not: Development and Testing of a 3D Virtual Astronomy Environment
Volume: 473, Communicating Science
Page: 255
Authors: Ruzhitskaya, L.; Speck, A.; Ding, N.; Baldridge, S.; Witzig, S.; Laffey, J.
Abstract: We present our preliminary results of a pilot study of students' knowledge transfer of an astronomy concept into a new environment. We also share our discoveries on what aspects of a 3D environment students consider being motivational and discouraging for their learning. This study was conducted among 64 non-science major students enrolled in an astronomy laboratory course. During the course, students learned the concept and applications of Kepler's laws using a 2D interactive environment. Later in the semester, the students were placed in a 3D environment in which they were asked to conduct observations and to answers a set of questions pertaining to the Kepler's laws of planetary motion. In this study, we were interested in observing scrutinizing and assessing students' behavior: from choices that they made while creating their avatars (virtual representations) to tools they choose to use, to their navigational patterns, to their levels of discourse in the environment. These helped us to identify what features of the 3D environment our participants found to be helpful and interesting and what tools created unnecessary clutter and distraction. The students' social behavior patterns in the virtual environment together with their answers to the questions helped us to determine how well they understood Kepler's laws, how well they could transfer the concepts to a new situation, and at what point a motivational tool such as a 3D environment becomes a disruption to the constructive learning. Our founding confirmed that students construct deeper knowledge of a concept when they are fully immersed in the environment.
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