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Pilot Desktop and Immersive Virtual Reality Field Trip Study of Coastal Maine Indicates Equivalent Student Learning Outcomes and High Engagement
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  • Jaclyn Baughman,
  • Matthew Donnelly,
  • Adaobi Nebuwa,
  • Stacy Doore
Jaclyn Baughman
Humboldt State University

Corresponding Author:jaclyn.baughman@humboldt.edu

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Matthew Donnelly
Bowdoin College
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Adaobi Nebuwa
Colby College
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Stacy Doore
Colby College
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There is an increased interest in geoscience virtual field trips (VFTs) coinciding with an expansion of online learning and growing concerns about the lack of diversity, inclusion, and equity in many STEM fields. Motivated by this interest, we built a VFT of Coastal Maine using Unity software, traditionally a game development platform, and piloted a web-based desktop VR (dVR) and headset immersive VR (iVR) version of the VFT in an introductory physical geology class (total n=25, dVR=14, iVR=11) at a small liberal arts college in spring 2021. Our primary goals of the pilot study were to assess if students would demonstrate (1) learning outcomes within an accessible virtual environment as they would in a real-world geology field site lab experience and (2) equivalent proficiency in lab goals in dVR and iVR conditions as measured by response accuracy. Within the VFT, participants were shown a series of overview maps across several spatial scales to help them geolocate the field site. They were then placed in the model at ground level and asked to perform several tasks to learn to navigate the environment and use the compass for orientation and spatial reasoning tasks. Participants observed prompted geologic features and answered multiple choice and short answer questions with the aid of augmented information (i.e., real-world site images, photomicrographs) embedded within the VFT. There was no statistically significant difference in response accuracy between the dVR and iVR conditions, which suggests the potential for VFT access and scalability without requiring iVR equipment. However, there was a marked decrease in accuracy on lab responses (i.e., identifying rocks, assessing rock orientation, and interpreting collision processes) when compared to previous in-person field experiences. We hypothesize higher resolution images and more realistic field site rendering could address this issue in the future. Encouragingly, when compared to in-person field experiences, we qualitatively observed an increase in independent exploration and reasoning and an increase in student comfort using the augmented compass within the VFT environment. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive regardless of VFT condition and 100% of participants indicated they wanted access to more VFT experiences.