Global Warming and VR

In regards to phenomena associated with global warming, we believe that VR has the potential for overcoming two factors that make complex environmental processes hard to understand. The first factor is what Spiro (for example, Spiro et al., 1992) has called "reductive bias" in teaching complex subjects. Much science teaching involves simplifying the content to make it easier for beginning students to learn. However, as they advance through the grades, students rarely get a chance to learn about the true complexity of phenomena. This means that students never come fully to understand the highly complex physical, chemical and environmental interactions that affect them every day. The second factor is the difficulty many students have learning the symbol systems used in science and relating those symbol systems to phenomena they observe around them. By learning the procedures to manipulate symbols, a student may "pass" a subject without ever really understanding it. Additionally, students are often tested on the symbol systems rather than the basic concepts of a science; mastery of the symbol systems is often wrongly equated with understanding the content. As a result, children develop many misconceptions about science and the phenomena it describes that are difficult to expunge (Chinn & Brewer, 1993).

Global Warming World demonstrates that VEs can present complex sets of concepts and principles in learnable ways, thus obviating reductive bias. Moreover, Global Warming World illustrates how VEs can allow students to learn scientific concepts and principles directly, without first needing to learn a difficult symbol system. In Global Warming World, students are able to manipulate environmental variables directly, such as how the atmosphere is affected by the amount of carbon-based fuels that are burned or the number of trees that may be harvested from the forest, and then observe the consequences first hand.

For an interesting paper on this subject, read A Conceptual Basis for Educational Applications of Virtual Reality by William Winn.

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