VEST-Lab : a virtual environment for instruction and research
Information location and interactivity are two attributes of Desktop Virtual Environment (DVE)
design that can be exploited to enhance the ability of people to acquire information and skills that
transfer to real world environments and objects. This thesis presents the results of the research
conducted to identify the effects of information location and interactivity in a DVE for teaching
declarative and procedural knowledge in the domain of laboratory safety training using a virtual
chemistry laboratory (VEST-Lab). The term 'information location' refers to the spatial relationship
between linguistic information (text and sound) and virtual reality objects. 'Interactivity'
refers to the actions by the learner that are afforded by the DVE (i.e., object manipulation, navigation
and user-system interaction). The thesis also describes the design process (requirements
analysis, implementation, prototyping and evaluation) of VEST-Lab as an instructional training
environment and research tool.
Two ways of presenting information (co-located and non co-located) and two levels of interactivity
(passive and active) were compared in a fully crossed, factorial design. The effects of these
factors were assessed via pre, post and retention measures of knowledge of laboratory precaution
(declarative knowledge), and spatial memory and object location memory (spatial knowledge)
using a paper-and-pencil test. Results indicate that co-located information produced a greater positive
effect upon the learning and retention of declarative knowledge amongst passive learners.
However, active learners with co-located information revealed superiority for spatial knowledge
acquisition. Two levels of interactivity (passive and active) were compared to evaluate the effect
in emergency procedures acquisition (procedural knowledge) in two modalities, learning by 'reading'
and learning by 'doing'. There was no difference in the former modality, however, passive
participation resulted in better performance for learning emergency procedures in the latter form.
Although interactivity was beneficial for spatial knowledge acquisition, the additional tasks
during active learning interfered to some degree with the cognitive processes or resources required
to learn factual and procedural knowledge. The findings indicate that co-located information provides
perceptual cues that facilitated an association between linguistic information and location of
object in the virtual environment, a three-dimensional spatial contiguity effect.