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Saturday, May 22 • 8:00am - 9:00am
Nature & Environmental Sciences - Oral Presentations 2

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The Lehigh Gap Story: A Design Partnership for Developing an Immersive Virtual Reality Field Trip
Alec Bodzin(1), Robson Araujo Junior(1)
1: Lehigh University, United States of America
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We established a designed partnership that includes Lehigh University faculty, students, and Lehigh Gap Nature Center staff to design and develop an immersive virtual field trip (iVFT) to enable people to understand the environmental changes that occurred in the Lehigh River Watershed in Pennsylvania during the past two centuries as a result of the zinc smelting plant operation at the Lehigh Gap. A green mountainous ridge became a barren “moonscape” as a result of zinc smelting activities that began in the 1890s. The smelting plant emitted approximately 3,450 pounds of sulfur per hour from 1918 to 1970, along with heavy metals, into the atmosphere. These pollutants produced acid rain and spread over the surrounding landscape. Five years after the smelting plants ceased operations, a comprehensive and laborious revegetation project was initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a local community group. The Lehigh Gap is revitalized today through a mixture of warm season grasses that have trapped the heavy metals in the soil. Today, the site includes a 756-acre wildlife refuge and the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, which is used for education, research, and outdoor recreation. Our iVFT tells this story through immersive experiences. Our design includes a virtual hike in the refuge through a series of 360° photospheres, animations, and assets to allow learners of all ages to experience historical events and geographical landmarks that are difficult to access or are no longer readily available. In addition, users learn about the construction and operations of historical transportation systems in the area (railroads and canals along the Lehigh River). Our session presents the iVFT and discusses important considerations for creating effective design partnerships among non-formal educators and university faculty.

Please Remain Seated: Large Classroom Virtual Field Trips with and Without 360° Headsets
Paul Mensink
Western University, Canada
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Field trips are a pedagogical cornerstone of the natural sciences and are particularly effective at developing deep learning skills (e.g., critical thinking). They promote student enjoyment and as such, facilitate long-term knowledge retention. However, field trips require considerable logistical planning, present significant health and safety concerns and are often associated with prohibitive financial costs for students. The concept of “virtual” field trips has emerged as an alternative option to traditional site visits. Virtual field trips can provide a more inclusive experience for students that are financially burdened or physically disadvantaged and can also provide some of the same benefits of field trips themselves. More recently, 360° imagery has gained popularity for virtual tours and educators can use specialized camera equipment (e.g., GoPro Fusion) to record the entire panoramic view of an environment. Inexpensive headsets can be coupled with user smartphones to provide a more immersive experience that responds to a student’s gaze as they journey through virtual tours. Here, I explored student perceptions and opinions about viewing virtual tours using immersive reality headsets (e.g., Google cardboard) versus less immersive technologies (e.g., laptops and projectors) in a controlled study of over 300 environmental science students. Virtual tours were popular with the students and helped provide context to learning material; however, when immersive reality headsets were used students reported a significant decrease in their understanding of the course content. The potential causes for this decrease along with recommendations for the appropriate use of both virtual tours and immersive headsets will be discussed in the presentation.

avatar for Alec Bodzin

Alec Bodzin

Professor, Lehigh University
I am a Professor in the Teaching, Learning, and Technology program and the Lehigh Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, USA. My research interests include: design and development of virtual reality learning environments; the design of Web-based inquiry learning... Read More →
avatar for Paul Mensink

Paul Mensink

Western University
Dr Paul Mensink is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Western Ontario. He teaches environmental science at both the undergraduate and graduate level. His pedagogical research focusses on the use... Read More →

Saturday May 22, 2021 8:00am - 9:00am EDT
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