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EXP: Social Science Education through Virtual Reality Simulation of an Archaeological Research Site: 1736235

Principal Investigator: Laura Shackelford
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Wen-Hao Huang, Steven Lavalle
Organization: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This project will develop an immersive, interactive, room-scale virtual reality (VR) archaeological site that will achieve two overarching classroom objectives: (1) teach the physical methods of archaeological excavation by providing the setting and tools for a student to actively engage in field work; and (2) teach archaeological concepts using a scientific approach to problem solving by couching them within a scientist’s context. While the specific problem domain is archaeology, this research will provide learning methodology and technology that is widely applicable to other disciplines and subject areas, resulting in the widespread development of VR curricula that promote scientific thinking and problem-solving skills. Archaeology has an inherent physical component and deals largely with three-dimensional objects, making it challenging to present in a traditional classroom or on traditional computer screens, tablets, or smartphones. Having excavation experience is critical, but field opportunities are available to few students for financial and logistical reasons. These challenges are well met by the unique capabilities of virtual reality (VR), computer technology that creates a simulated three-dimensional world, thereby transforming data analysis into a sensory and cognitive experience. The technological results of the research will provide a learning experience that can engage underserved populations who are interested in archaeology and who have previously been unable to participate in similar activities.

This research will provide empirical foundations for immersive, VR-based learning, an approach that is well-suited to various educational settings and scientific subjects, identifying specific features that are associated with student motivation and positive learning outcomes. Using evaluations and iterative refinement of the virtual environment and activities, this research aims to (1) optimize the interaction of the learner with the VR technology; and (2) evaluate learning outcomes to gauge the effectiveness of VR learning within this specific test case. This exploratory project will leverage the ongoing revolution in consumer electronics as a low-cost platform for social science education, beginning with a prototype for a virtual archaeological excavation, that will be broadly applicable across disciplines and subject areas. At the same time, research will assess the efficacy of this technology and its integration into a larger archaeology curriculum. Given the widespread interest in archaeology and cultural heritage, the results of this research are adaptable and applicable to learners of all ages in formal and informal educational settings like museums, science centers, and cultural heritage sites.

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