The Virtual Trillium Trail: The value of Freedom and Fidelity in the child-computer-environment interface

Maria Harrington

Adjunct Professor/Visiting Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh

Newell-Simon Hall 1305 (Michael Mauldin Auditorium)
Seminar Video

This talk will present information on a new kind of virtual reality application, one that crosses over into the area of geo-spatial simulation for the young child. This application is called The Virtual Trillium Trial. The talk will also report on the results of the study. These results, based on the voluntary participation of 64 elementary aged children, showed the design factors of Visual Fidelity and Navigational Freedom to have an impact on intrinsic learning, activity in-situ, and emotional reactions.

I will cover the methods and processes involved in the construction of The Virtual Trillium Trail (VTT), as it leveraged the low cost, high fidelity CGI technologies currently available in game technology. The VTT is a prototype application built on the Unreal Tournament game engine. However, VTT it is not a game, as it does not offer points, money or a chance to win. It is a simulation of the real ecology and representative of a real wildflower reserve, totally open to individual exploration and completely under the child’s control. Most importantly, it is based on biological research plot study data. The educational content embedded in VTT, is from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s “Natural Communities,” and the VTT functionality is based on the activity study of the discovery-based learning observed from a fourth grade field trip to the real Trillium Trail.

There will be a presentation of the study’s empirical research on the user interface design parameters, and the impact they had on the intrinsic learner. The results are highlights from my dissertation, “Simulated Ecological Environments for Education: A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments.” Contributions are that Teachable Moments implemented in the user interface with Salient Events and the emotional reaction of Awe and Wonder showed interesting results. The main empirical contribution showed that High Visual Fidelity when combined with High Navigational Freedom has the strongest impact on learning.

I expect a lively discussion of the results, what they mean for HCI, the Learning Sciences, Simulations of Ecologies, and Art. How can we best design for enlightenment, empowerment and creativity?

Speaker's Bio

Maria C.R. Harrington holds a Ph.D. in Information Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. Her major advisor was Dr. Peter Brusilovsky. Since 2000 she has also been an Adjunct Professor/Visiting Lecturer for Human-Computer Interaction, User Centered Design, Human Factors in System Design, and Introduction to Information Science in the School of Information Sciences (SIS), at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a MSIS from SIS, and a BS in Economics with a Minor in Art from Carnegie Mellon University. Her research focuses on Simulated Ecological Environments, a type of spatial cognitive ecology, and the development of quantitative models representing the intersection of the child’s mental model, the virtual environment and the user interface.

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