Date of Award

8-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

School of Computing

Committee Member

Dr. Sabarish V. Babu, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Larry F. Hodges

Committee Member

Dr. Donald H. House

Committee Member

Dr. Alison E. Leonard

Abstract

Virtual reality is on its advent of becoming mainstream household technology, as technologies such as head-mounted displays, trackers, and interaction devices are becoming affordable and easily available. Virtual reality (VR) has immense potential in enhancing the fields of education and training, and its power can be used to spark interest and enthusiasm among learners. It is, therefore, imperative to evaluate the risks and benefits that immersive virtual reality poses to the field of education. Research suggests that learning is an embodied process. Learning depends on grounded aspects of the body including action, perception, and interactions with the environment. This research aims to study if immersive embodiment through the means of virtual reality facilitates embodied cognition. A pedagogical VR solution which takes advantage of embodied cognition can lead to enhanced learning benefits. Towards achieving this goal, this research presents a linear continuum for immersive embodied interaction within virtual reality. This research evaluates the effects of three levels of immersive embodied interactions on cognitive thinking, presence, usability, and satisfaction among users in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Results from the presented experiments show that immersive virtual reality is greatly effective in knowledge acquisition and retention, and highly enhances user satisfaction, interest and enthusiasm. Users experience high levels of presence and are profoundly engaged in the learning activities within the immersive virtual environments. The studies presented in this research evaluate pedagogical VR software to train and motivate students in STEM education, and provide an empirical analysis comparing desktop VR (DVR), immersive VR (IVR), and immersive embodied VR (IEVR) conditions for learning. This research also proposes a fully immersive embodied interaction metaphor (IEIVR) for learning of computational concepts as a future direction, and presents the challenges faced in implementing the IEIVR metaphor due to extended periods of immersion. Results from the conducted studies help in formulating guidelines for virtual reality and education researchers working in STEM education and training, and for educators and curriculum developers seeking to improve student engagement in the STEM fields.

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