Tertiary Educational Uses of Partially Immersive Virtual Reality
Lawrie M Schafe and Rodney J Clarke
Department of Business Systems
University of Wollongong
While the evidence for and against the belief that the use of multimedia can improve learning accumulates at an ever increasing pace compared to 30 months ago and researchers in the field argue about the interpretation of this new data, we look forward to adding some empirical data of own next year, once our CAUT pilot project is complete. This project involves a multimedia approach to depicting the use of 'Information Systems in Organisational Contexts' in which one of the media to be exploited is Apple's QuickTime VR technology, which surprisingly seems to have attracted very little attention in the tertiary education sector. Perhaps this is due in part to the apparent complexity of the process and the expensiveness of the photographic gear apparently needed to exploit this technology. Our work suggests things aren't as difficult/costly as Apple suggests in its software documentation (Apple Computer, 1995a) or its 'promotional' video on how to photograph QTVR scenes (Apple Computer, 1995b). We urge academics to think about how to exploit this fairly amazing technology and try out possible uses, since very acceptable quality is achievable using modest equipment and the investment of some time to plan and shoot the scenes.
One of the main problems in teaching introductory information systems subjects is conveying the context of use of information systems in organisations. While the best textbooks describe the functions of general types of information systems, (eg. transaction processing systems and management information systems), they generally over emphasise the hardware and system software aspects of these systems. These textbooks tend to pay little more than lip service to the issue of the context of use of information systems: some provide case studies, typically described in 100-500 words! Thus student comprehension of information technology and information systems use is relatively shallow, biased toward the technology, and disconnected from its context of use.
This is a systemic problem, particularly at undergraduate levels, given the generally widespread lack of student experience in organisations. This problem could be addressed by the provision of extended text-based case studies, but many of our students come from non-english speaking backgrounds and this would disadvantage them in comparison to local students.
Thus, in a CAUT project application in 1995 (Schafe and Clarke, 1995) we suggested that the problem might be usefully addressed by the use of a multimedia approach, despite the fact that at that time we found very little published empirical support for the widely held belief that a multimedia approach was beneficial to learning. This strong belief in the value of multimedia to student learning gains its support mainly from the constructivist theory of learning (Tergan, 1997) which suggests that multimedia, via its ability to provide multiple representations of differing conceptual views, formats and contexts of the material to be learnt, can and will actively engage the learner in constructing their own understanding of the material to be learnt. There seems to be more evidence in support of this belief now (eg, Najjar, 1996; Relan and Smith, 1996; Yaverbaum and Nadarajan, 1996) than there was when we wrote the CAUT project proposal. However, the accumulating evidence is neither unequivocal in its support nor without need of qualification in its applicability (Najjar, 1996; Tergan, 1997). We look forward to the prospect of evaluating our product next year and adding some empirical evidence of our own to this debate.
CAUT Project Setting
In order to obtain an industrial/business site of perceived relevance and importance in which to set our multimedia CAUT pilot project, we approached the BHP IT group and following lengthy discussions and negotiations, determined that we and they would be happy for us to investigate some aspects of the BHP Supply System. This gave rise to circumstances in which a set of possibly appropriate educational uses for Apple's QuickTime VR technology suggested themselves within the context of bringing this industrial case study of the use of 'Information Systems in Context' at the BHP Port Kembla steelworks in Wollongong to our students. In support of this possibility, we note that Ainge (1997) argues:
There have been specific proposals for ways of using VR, including: visiting inaccessible places or historical scenes (Newby, 1993); manipulating simulations of the real world, without the danger, expense or time consumption of doing the real thing (Pantelidis, 1993); exploring places and things more effectively because of alterations in scale and time (Stuart and Thomas, 1991) ... Underlying such proposals for using VR in schools are a number of assumptions about potential educational benefits which are either unique to VR , or less evident in other media. Three assumptions in particular are prominent, and they focus on VR's positive impacts on spatial thinking, interest level and individual learning.
The physical and logistic difficulty of organising computer centre site visits for about 650 undergraduate and 150 postgraduate information systems students in introductory classes suggests that we might try to bring the computer centre (and other relevant organisational settings having limited capacity to handle such large numbers of visitors safely) to the students via the use of VR and other media. It must be noted however, that our purpose was not solely to bring the computer centre to students, but rather to bring an integrated and linked set of material settings to the students in order to illustrate to students how organisations use information technology and information systems to assist them carry out their day to day business.
Thus, in our CAUT pilot project (Schafe and Clarke, in press) we used a number of Apple QuickTime VR movies to provide students with a partially immersive virtual reality environment in which they can explore and interact with via hot-spots in the VR movie. For example, the 30 node VR movie of the computer room allows the student to 'walk through' a large computer centre, opening some of the computer cabinets to see what they contain and being given an explanation, via graphics and/or text, of what they do and how they do it.
Producing QuickTime VR Movies
From a design and data collection point-of-view, the processes involved in producing a QuickTime VR movie of a scene involving multiple nodes are as follows (Apple Computer, 1995a, 1995b).
Planning the Scene to be Shot
If you are not familiar with the site and the scene(s), as was the case with our project, arrange a visit and tour of the site. Fortunately, our site guide was in charge of the computer room and was able to answer most of our questions and to provide us with a floor plan for the site we were interested in. In particular we noted that the false or floating floor in the computer room was composed of square removable floor 'tiles.' Having obtained a clear visual and conceptual image of the site and the scenes, we then addressed the following planning issues.
The location of the nodes was determined by where the key pieces of computing equipment relevant to our supply system were, and then we determined the 'in-between nodes' so that we would have a fairly smooth transition from one node to the next. Having the computer room floor divided into 20 sq. in. tiles made it much easier to locate the nodes on the floor. We decided that the in-between nodes would be 60 in. (3 tiles) apart where possible, otherwise 40 in. (2 tiles) apart. Apple (Apple Computer, 1995a) recommends they be between 3 and 7 ft. apart. The further they are apart the quicker and 'jumpier' are transitions between nodes. Since all the nodes were to be photographed at the same height and at the same horizontal pan angle, there was no need to distinguish between key nodes, entry nodes, special nodes and in-between nodes as suggested by Apple. We just marked the nodes on the floor plan of the computer room and numbered them sequentially.
Shooting a Multi-node Scene
According to Apple Computer (1995a) you need the following type of equipment to photograph a QuickTime VR node panorama:
Apple (Apple Computer, 1995a, 1995b) then recommend a very detailed procedure for setting-up the camera rig (as specified above) at a node. It emphasises the need to get the camera exactly level, precisely above the axis of rotation, as well as accurately above the node marker. While the caution and precision they advise is understandable and would undoubtedly yield excellent results, we have found from experience that it is not necessary to be so precise and yet still achieve quite reasonable results. Also clearly evident from the above details is that it is not necessary to use the highest quality equipment to achieve acceptable results. The equipment we used was that owned by a keen amateur photographer. Hopefully, camera equipment of this quality or better should be available for use in most Universities.
Some Practical Issues in Shooting and Processing Multi-Node Scenes
In doing the shoot of our scenes and getting the resulting films developed and transferred to Kodak Photo-CD, we found the following issues needed attention:
Ainge, D. 1997 Virtual reality in schools: The need for teacher training, Innovations in Education and Training International 34(2), 114-118.
Apple Computer, Inc. 1995a QuickTime VR authoring tool suite, vol.1, Cupertino: Apple Computer Inc.
Apple Computer, Inc. 1995b Photographing QuickTime VR scenes, [PAL Videotape], Cupertino: Apple Computer, Inc.
Najjar, L.J. 1996 Multimedia information and learning, Journal of Multimedia and Hypermedia 5(2), 129-150.
Newby, G. 1993 Virtual reality. In Williams, M.E. (ed) 1993 Annual review of information science and technology, 187-229.
Pantelidis, V.S. 1993 Virtual reality in the classroom, Educational Technology 33(4), 23-27.
Relan, A. & Smith, W.C. 1996 Learning from hypermedia: A study of situated versus endemic learning strategies, Journal of Multimedia and Hypermedia 5(1), 3-21.
Tergan, S. 1997 Multiple view, contexts and symbol systems in learning with hypertext/hypermedia: A Critical review of research, Educational Technology, July-August, 5-18.
Schafe, L.M. & Clarke, R.J. 1995 Information systems in organisational contexts, [CAUT Project application, April 1995] University of Wollongong.
Schafe, L.M. & Clarke, R.J. In press Final Report on the CAUT Project: Information Systems in Organisational Contexts, University of Wollongong.
Stuart, R. & Thomas, J.C. 1991 The implications of education in cyberspace, Multimedia Review 2, 17-27.
Yaverbaum, G.J. & Nadarajan, U. 1996 Learning basic concepts of telecommunications: An experiment in multimedia and learning, Computers and Education 26(4), 215-224.
(c) Lawrie M Schafe and Rodney J Clarke
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