Supporting spatial learning in virtual environments
This thesis explores the acquisition of spatial knowledge as a means to support wayfinding in virtual environments. Specifically, the thesis presents an investigation into the potential benefits one might gain through the application of a variety of tools, each of which has been designed to support one of the three stages of cognitive map development - landmark-based representation, route-based representation, and survey-based representation (Siegel & White, 1975). Each tool has been evaluated with respect to improvements in wayfinding, and also in their support for environmental learning. Measures were taken of each tool used in isolation, and also when used together as a complete toolset. The between-subjects evaluation process involved 101 participants, randomly assigned to one of five conditions. Each participant was asked to navigate a virtual environment to locate three specific items. To evaluate wayfinding, participants were asked to perform the same task on six occasions within the same session. After discovering all items, a measure indicating route efficiency was recorded. On completing all six trials participants were asked to produce a map of the virtual environment. It was hypothesised that the presence of tools would improve the acquisition of spatial knowledge, and thus route efficiency and map production. Comparing the 'no-tool' and the 'all tool' conditions, a 2x6 repeated measures ANOVA found that when providing the tools concurrently there was a statistically significant improvement in the efficiency of route taken (F(1,38)=4.63, p<0.05). However, when evaluating the tools in isolation, no significant improvement in route efficiency was found. Also, no significant difference between conditions was identified when comparing the quality of maps produced by participants across conditions. The thesis concludes by arguing that the application of the complete toolset benefits wayfinding, although it is noted that the evidence does not support the hypothesis that this is caused by improved spatial learning.