virtual reality

Document Sample
virtual reality Powered By Docstoc
					      Educational Research
      Educational Research
        Virtual environments in
        biology teaching
        Tassos A Mikropoulos, Apostolos Katsikis, Eugenia Nikolou and Panayiotis
        Department of Primary Education, University of Ioannina, Greece

          This article reports on the design, development and evaluation of an educational virtual environment for biology
          teaching. In particular it proposes a highly interactive three-dimensional synthetic environment involving cer-
          tain learning tasks for the support of teaching plant cell biology and the process of photosynthesis. The envi-
          ronment has been evaluated using a sample of 37 in-service teachers. Their attitudes towards virtual reality
          for educational use were positive. Almost all the teachers managed to integrate the process of photosynthesis
          inside the virtual cell and answer the relevant questions. One problem was that the teachers were unable to
          answer questions beyond the certain learning tasks, indicating that any educational software should also
          involve an integrated approach to the subject under study.
          Key words: Educational virtual environments, Photosynthesis, Plant cell.

Introduction                                                           their complexity, abstract nature and/ or contrast to common
By its nature, biology and most of the structures and procedures       sense and experience (Flick and Bell, 2000). When students come
it involves are interconnected and complicated, and thus very          across new information, they adapt it according to their prior
demanding and difficult to teach and comprehend (Eidson and            knowledge. Retained misconceptions interfere and skew the
Simmons, 1998; Barack et al., 1999; Buckley, 2000).                    knowledge acquired (Jensen et al., 1996). It is quite apparent,
   Humans perceive reality and their surroundings using their          therefore, that if we are concerned about effective teaching and
senses, with the sense of vision representing the most diverse         learning, students’ misconceptions should be taken into consider-
source of information of the world around us (Amory et al.,            ation. New approaches for the construction of knowledge and
1999). Visualisation, as well as the manipulation of objects, has      alteration of misconceptions have to be developed.
tremendous value in teaching and learning. Fifty percent of our           In order to develop new approaches to biology instruction
neurons are related to vision and visualisation aims to put them       and to fulfil the increased needs, the teaching process requires
to work (Pang, 1995). Human senses are quite powerful tools            educators to have at their disposal a variety of teaching tools. By
but they have certain innate limits. The ability, for example, to      using these tools students have a medium that expands and
perceive and comprehend complex and dynamic biological                 enriches their experiences, takes an effective role in the teach-
concepts and processes especially at microscopic level is              ing process and finally constructs knowledge. Each teaching tool
limited (Karr and Brady, 2000). Concepts whose content deals           has its own characteristics and virtues and according to them
with processes call for more than traditional teaching methods         contributes to the revelation of the subject matter’s different
can offer.                                                             facets and to the learning process as a whole. Using pictures,
   Biology teaching and practice, as in all the domains of science     videos, models, microscopes and experiments, many aspects of
teaching, mainly relies on visualisations of the relationship          difficult biology concepts and phenomena can be revealed.
between anatomic structure and biological functions (Camp et           Although biology efficiently exploits these tools to illustrate
al., 1998). Visualisations as a result of simulations help learners    important concepts, a major disadvantage of conventional
to perceive abstract concepts, complex processes and to create         teaching tools is that they limit self-action. Students often
mental models. This underlies Gross’s words ‘from the cellular to      remain passive receivers of information and have no direct inter-
planetary scales, understanding of key biological concepts relies in   action and feedback, as they acquire knowledge as the third per-
part on students abilities to group quantitative concepts and the      son and not with direct experiences.
qualitative means of displaying and using data’ (Gross, 1994).            Since the advent of Information and Communication
   Students come to class already with their own ideas and beliefs     Technologies (ICT), large amounts of research is being con-
against which they comprehend reality; these are usually naïve         ducted for the integration of technology into classrooms with
and erroneous. Misconceptions are held on many subjects, such as       the purpose of supporting science teaching and learning. A set
photosynthesis (Cañal, 1999; Barak et al., 1999) and cellular res-     of new teaching tools has emerged exploiting simulations and
piration (Songer and Mintzes, 1994). Prior knowledge and ideas         visualisations that play an important role in constructing visual
play a key role for the understanding of science. Many scientifi-      and/ or mental representations and in problem solving
cally accepted ideas are difficult for students to understand due to   (Newton, 1997; Flick and Bell, 2000; Eichinger et al., 2000).

176                                                                                            Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)
     Virtual environments in biology teaching                                                                         Mikropoulos et al.

ICT supports knowledge construction using various technolo-             Buckley used simulations and multimedia resources to study
gies and different contexts (Boyle, 1997).                           model-based learning in science classrooms (2000). The educa-
   Computer assisted instruction and learning (CAI/ CAL) pro-        tional material on the circulatory system, given to a single tenth
jects for biology are limited in comparison to other disciplines.    grade student of a biology class, showed that model-based learn-
Hypermedia applications, combining hyperlinked text with pic-        ing could occur in a technology-rich biology classroom, with the
tures, video and sound offer a multidimensional perspective in       student being the creator of his/ her own learning goals, gains
information mining, retrieval and presentation. The Osmosis          and activities, with particular attention to interactions with rep-
Program is a hypermedia application involving simulations con-       resentations.
cerned with diffusion and osmosis phenomena. It was designed            The results of all the above studies show that ICT encourages
to challenge students’ misconceptions and promote situations         learning in a constructive context, but the learning outcomes
under which students were stimulated to create more accurate         are still under consideration and are limited in case studies.
conceptions. Those students who used the application com-               Virtual Reality (VR) has emerged as a promising teaching
bined with laboratory activities performed better than those         tool since it seems to involve many key characteristics crucial for
who attended traditional lectures and lab activities.                knowledge construction (Ihlenfeldt, 1997).
Understanding improved, but it was still far from optimal               VR can be defined as a combination of high-end computing,
(Jensen et al., 1996).                                               human-computer interfaces, graphics, sensor technology and
   The Internet can be a reservoir of resources, a gateway to        networking. This allows the user to become immersed in and
educational material such as electronic microscope pictures,         interact in real time, with an artificial 3D environment repre-
instructions for constructing three-dimensional (3D) models          senting realistic or non-realistic situations. VR technologies
using everyday materials, etc. (Hayne, 1994; Brickley, 1994).        comprise a powerful tool for modelling, simulations and visual-
Email, newsgroups, discussion lists and video conferencing           isations. Their strong key-point is the first person experiences
facilitate learning providing synchronous and asynchronous           the user undergoes in places, phenomena and situations where
communication (Peat, 2000). E-Rat was a web-based interactive        their physical presence is impossible or extremely difficult.
rat dissection that was developed in response to ethical concerns       Winn has compiled the main characteristics of VR which,
of using live animals to teach. It proved to be an effective tool    when properly exploited, may lead to learning outcomes. He
across all grades of first year undergraduate biology students.      proposed science learning in virtual environments exploiting the
Possible reasons reported for the increase in students’ marks was    following features (Winn, 2000):
the flexibility of time using the computer-based instruction, the
ability to see all structures clearly and the absence of smell and   • Interaction. The user interacts with the virtual environment
blood. This study showed that computer-based instruction               acting on and manipulating virtual objects using controls sim-
could be an alternative to the use of animals in biology class-        ilar to those on real objects, takes different viewpoints at will
rooms (Predavec, 2001).                                                and hence operates with intuitive immediacy with the envi-
   CAI/ CAL packages come in several forms and offer varying           ronment (Camp et al., 1998).
levels of interactivity, providing collaborative or one-on-one       • Size. The virtual environment gives the user the ability to
activities. In an empirical study, university students who found       ‘change’ their physical size, so that they can navigate and
slides an unsatisfactory teaching medium rated a number of             interact in macro and micro worlds. The student may shrink
CAL packages positively, referring to them as ‘interesting’, ‘get-     to the size of a cell organelle and navigate inside it, getting
ting your attention’, ‘giving instant feedback’ and ‘permitting        experiences impossible to acquire, even with a real micro-
you to work at your own pace’. The authors did not report on           scope (Nikolou et al., 1997).
learning outcomes, but they highlighted the need for a range of      • Transduction. This refers to the perception of non-percepti-
teaching approaches (Wharrad et al., 2000).                            ble signals such as ultrasounds or infrared light.
   Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) is a tool that          • Reification. Meaning the transformation of abstract ideas into
provides realistic — to a certain extent — 3D representations of       perceptible representations.
models that can be manipulated and viewed from all sides and         • Autonomy. Refering to the independence of the virtual envi-
many perspectives. A number of topics are covered, such as the         ronment on the user’s actions. The laws of physics apply in
human eye and ear, membrane channels, peptide model,                   space and time inside the virtual environment (Kameas et al.,
myosin-actin interaction, etc. (Amon and Valencic, 2000; Rourk,        2000). The process of photosynthesis still goes on, even if the
2000). These authors proposed their 3D representations for             user is not observing it.
biology education without giving results from empirical studies.     • Presence. Users feel that they are present in the virtual envi-
   Simulations create authentic experiences and encourage dis-         ronment and are navigating in the 3D space having six degrees
covery learning (Peat and Fernandez, 2000; Eichinger et al.,           of freedom.
2000). Eidson and Simmons conducted research with CATLAB,
a simulation on cat genetics, with high school students. They           Quite a few virtual environments have been developed for
wanted to elicit whether different modes of data presentation —      the support of biology teaching. Cell Biology was developed at
graphics compared to alphanumeric mode — play a decisive role        the Computer Museum in Boston and dealt with the topics of
in students’ performance and understanding. Their findings           structure of muscular, intestinal and nerve cells. The environ-
showed that students using the graphics representation enhanced      ment was highly interactive and used full immersion VR tech-
their ability to form relationships between task elements, but       nology (Gay, 1994). Camp and his associates have developed
they still had not improved regarding the stating of hypotheses or   virtual environments on subjects such as prostate microvessels,
interpretation of data (Eidson and Simmons, 1998).                   neurons, corneal cells and virtual endoscopy using fish tank

Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)                                                                                        177
      Virtual environments in biology teaching                                                                                  Mikropoulos et al.

immersive technologies for medical students (Camp et al.,
1998). At the University of Chicago Karr and Brady used virtual
reality to present a fertilised drosophila and trace a single sperm
inside a Drosophila wassermani egg for university students (Karr
and Brady, 2000).
   The above references report on the design and development
of educational virtual environments, without reporting on learn-
ing outcomes resulting from teaching interventions. In order for
a virtual environment to become an item of educational soft-
ware and support knowledge construction, it has to involve spe-
cific didactic goals, integrated educational scenarios, metaphors
with pedagogical meaning, and induce didactic and learning
outcomes. This is the goal for the design, development and eval-
uation of our educational virtual environments.
   This article proposes the use of educational virtual environ-       Figure 1 A view of the internal structure of the plant cell.
ments for the support of biology teaching. In particular, virtual
environments for plant cell biology have been designed and             et al., 1999). The user has to carry out the procedure step by
developed for knowledge construction concerning cell structure         step, in order to accomplish the desired objective, which is the
and the phenomenon of photosynthesis. These environments               production of glucose. To achieve this goal the user has to know
have been used in an empirical study with in-service teachers          that light is necessary for photosynthesis. So, they start by
and the results are presented in this article.                         switching on the virtual light, grasping a light wave and bringing
   The goal of our research was to investigate whether our vir-        it together with chlorophyll. The immediate result of this action
tual environments are effective tools with which teachers can          is the ionisation of the chlorophyll molecule — the ion changes
support biology teaching and learning.                                 colour — and the production of two electrons, which the user
   The research axes were as follows:                                  has to drive up to the water molecule in order to break it up into
                                                                       oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen, represented by blue spheres, is
1. To investigate the in-service teachers’ attitudes towards the       immediately released from the cell. The user has to bring the
   virtual environments and educational VR environments in             hydrogen molecule together with the cofactor nicotinamide
   general.                                                            adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) to the carbon dioxide
2. To investigate the learning outcomes of the educational vir-        molecule. These substances react and produce glucose, the final
   tual environments for the support of plant cell biology.            product of photosynthesis (see Figure 2).

The virtual environments
                                                                                                                                       Light Wave
Our virtual environments were developed with the Superscape
VRT software package and deal with the structure of the plant
cell and the process of photosynthesis.                                                                                                H2O
   Exploration and interaction inside the virtual plant cell starts                                                                    Glucose
by navigation through the external plant tissue of the virtual cell.
The internal cell structure is visible and the user can freely navi-
gate, observe and study how the organelles are organised in the                                                                        Chlorophyll
3D space inside the cell and how they work together in order for       Figure 2 A screenshot of virtual photosynthesis.
the cell to function (see Figure 1). The organelles’ interior can be
also studied, as well as their functions and adaptations to            Methodology
environmental changes. Concerning the realism of the repre-            37 in-service primary school teachers participated in this study,
sented cell organelles, we have tried to represent them as closely     24 males and 13 females. 12 teachers (32.4%) were aged
as possible to the real ones since these are objects unknown to        between 25 and 34 years, 18 (48.7%) were between 35 and 44
most people who need to have visual experiences, as in the real        and 7 (18.9%) were over 45 years old. A total of 34 (91.9%) of
world. Consequently, we used pictures from microscopes as the          the teachers had graduated before 1984 from the Primary
basis for the design of the 3D virtual organelles.                     School Teachers’ Academy and only three participants were
   The process of photosynthesis is covered by an activity in          graduates of a University Department. 19 teachers (51.4%) had
which the user has to ‘create’ by themselves the chemical reac-        a second University degree in a similar or different field. 27
tions to complete the process of photosynthesis. Different             (73%) had also attended other kinds of training seminars. All of
colour and size spheres represent all the necessary particles such     the teachers were taking part in a further education programme
as electrons, atoms and molecules, which are required for the          in pedagogy and had lived in Ioannina, Greece (approximately
process. A problem we faced was the representations of these           130 000 inhabitants). Five (13.5%) of the subjects had 0 – 6
particles. Following the general tendency in science learning, we      years of teaching experience, 11 (41.7%) had 7 – 12 years expe-
have designed them as spheres of different colour and size, noti-      rience, 12 (30.4%) had 13 – 18 years experience, 8 (21.6%) had
fying the users that these do not represent the reality (Salzman       19 – 25 years experience and only one (2.7%) had more than 26

178                                                                                                Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)
     Virtual environments in biology teaching                                                                             Mikropoulos et al.

years. 81.1% (30) of the subjects had little or no computer             Table 1 reveals that the subjects, although they had no or lit-
experience, while only 18.9% (7) had very good experience.           tle experience in computer use, encountered no serious prob-
   The subjects answered two similar questionnaires (pre-test        lems in familiarising themselves with the virtual 3D
and post-test) with closed and open type questions, including        environments. All but two teachers managed to remain oriented
three categories of questions. The first concerned demographic       during their navigation inside the virtual cell. 30 of them
data (pre-test), the second was on the subjects’ opinion and atti-   declared that they had experienced a feeling of immersion,
tudes towards VR (pre-test and post-test), and the third was on      although they were not using special VR peripheral devices.
plant cells and photosynthesis (pre-test and post-test). Each of     Moreover, all the subjects found the representation realistic
the teachers interacted with the virtual environments for            compared with pictures from microscopes. These findings indi-
approximately half an hour in order to complete all the learning     cate that the teachers felt the feeling of presence in the virtual
tasks. Two of the researchers were present, giving the teachers      environment, a key concept for VR.
any technical support, if required.
                                                                     Table 1 Subjects’ opinion on VR experience (no. of teachers).
The subjects were asked for their opinion on VR technologies                                              A                     A       Not
                                                                     Questions                           lot    Enough      little     at all
and their value in education.
   30 teachers (81.1%) declared that they knew what VR is,           1. Have you lost your orientation
with 86.6% (26) of them giving a subjective definition. None of          navigating in the virtual
the subjects gave a complete or detailed description. Most of the        environment                      2           6       16         13
subjects used the phrase ‘real world representation’ in conjunc-
                                                                     2. Did you have the feeling that
tion with phrases like ‘with images’, ‘imaginative’, ‘three-
                                                                         you were inside the cell         7          22         6          2
dimensional’, ‘computer assisted’, etc. 18 of the subjects
declared that their opinion of VR had been formed from TV, 16        3. Did you find the virtual cell
from newspapers and magazines, 10 from books and seminars                realistic in comparison
and seven teachers referred to studies, friends, colleagues, or          with pictures?                  12          21         4          –
other. The majority of the teachers had an idea concerning VR
from mass media that might have given them a distorted picture          All the teachers declared that VR is a powerful educational
of VR and its use in education.                                      tool, giving the students an active and creative role in the teach-
   81.1% of the subjects noted that VR is considered a useful        ing process, promoting student-centred learning. They all agreed
educational tool, while the rest did not answer the question.        that VR supports complex and non-observable elements and
The disciplines declared as being strongly supported by VR           phenomena visualisation, without confusing with real objects
were geography (27 teachers), biology (26), physics (25), his-       and situations.
tory (21), arts (14) and mathematics (13). Other disciplines            Table 2 shows the teachers’ attitudes towards VR as an edu-
mentioned were religion (11), language (9), music (9) and gym-       cational tool, based on their experience in the virtual environ-
nastics (6). This is an indication that the educational process      ment. Concerning the representations and visualisations of cell
needs the support of ICT and in particular of VR in topics           organelles and particles, almost all the teachers found them
where visualisation of different scale and time magnitudes and       helpful for the understanding of cell structure and integration of
abstract concepts play an important role.                            the learning task. Note that none of the teachers believed that
   After having their first contact with the virtual environments,   VR gives a high degree of reality distortion. The answers to
almost all the teachers were enthusiastic about their experience.    questions 1 – 3 indicate that VR and particularly our virtual
Nine of them found the experience very interesting, 25 inter-        environments are effective computer-based environments for
esting and only two found it indifferent. Concerning the main        knowledge construction.
characteristics of VR in the teaching process, 17 teachers              The third part of both the pre- and post-tests concerned the
reported on the interaction with the virtual objects, 11 on free     plant cell and photosynthesis and consisted of seven questions.
navigation in the virtual space and six mentioned the 3D repre-      Four were general questions concerning the process of photo-
sentations of space and objects. The subjects found these attrib-    synthesis. The remaining three had a direct relation to the tasks
utes the most important because they contributed to the              inside the virtual cell for the integration of photosynthesis and
experience of the virtual cell and they found the information        are presented here. Regarding the question ‘Which compounds
they needed for the study of the cell organelles. They also had      are essential for photosynthesis to start?’, the number of correct
to find by themselves, and according to their knowledge, the         answers doubled after the teachers had interacted with the vir-
right chemical compounds, to interact with them and integrate        tual cell (a shift from 10 to 22 correct answers). Seven teachers
the chemical reactions needed for photosynthesis. It seems that      did not change their opinion. 13 of the teachers who answered
the teachers prefer computer-based educational environments          ‘CO2 and chlorophyll’ before the intervention, changed to the
that offer 3D spatial representations and free navigation for the    correct answer after it, i.e. ‘H2O and chlorophyll’. The same
study of objects and phenomena in science education. They also       holds for the teacher who answered ‘glucose and chlorophyll’,
prefer to be able to interact with the objects involved in order     as well as for another one who gave no answer during the pre-
to integrate educational scenarios by themselves, rather than        test. This is because CO2 and H2O were represented in the spe-
retrieve information through hypermedia applications. These          cific virtual environment but the glucose was not, since it is the
could be indications for the exploitation of VR technologies in      final product of the process — it was formatted and appeared at
the educational process.                                             the end of the photosynthesis process. There were only three

Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)                                                                                            179
      Virtual environments in biology teaching                                                                                      Mikropoulos et al.

                                                                                  and their exploitation in the educational process through the
Table 2 Subjects’ attitudes towards VR as educational tool (no. of
                                                                                  development of educational virtual environments. The second
                                                                                  was the search for learning outcomes resulting from the use of
                                        A                         A       Not     educational virtual environments concerning plant cell biology
Questions                              lot      Enough        little     at all   and the photosynthesis process.
                                                                                     Regarding the first goal, the results showed that the majority
1. Does the student play an
    active role in the teaching
                                                                                  of the 37 teachers were enthusiastic about their experiences
    process?                            27             9          1          0    interacting with the virtual environments and declared that VR-
                                                                                  based educational software could support knowledge construc-
2. Does VR enhance student-                                                       tion in a number of scientific domains, its strong features being
    centred learning?                   21            13          1          0    interactivity and safety in the educational environment.
3. Does VR allow non-mediated
                                                                                  Moreover, it appears that the users have a sense of presence in
    knowledge acquisition?              16            19          2          0    3D synthetic environments that support free navigation and a
                                                                                  high degree of interactivity, allowing them to integrate certain
4. Is 3D representation helpful                                                   learning tasks. An overall estimation coming from the open
     in comprehending complex                                                     question ‘Did you meet your expectations during your experi-
     processes?                         28             8          0          0
                                                                                  ence in the virtual environments?’ can be summarised as fol-
5. Did the virtual environment                                                    lowing: VR offers an attractive, motivating, interesting, creative
    help you visualise the                                                        and safe educational environment where the user may have
    structure of the plant cell?        22            11          3          1    vivid and realistic experiences and feel free to navigate and
                                                                                  manipulate objects, experiment and construct knowledge by
6. Do you believe that VR
    offers a distorting picture                                                   themselves. It appears that VR technologies are acceptable with
    of reality?                          0             2        14          20    teachers as the technological context for educational environ-
                                                                                  ments for the support of knowledge construction. This indica-
Note 1: 0 means that none of the teachers selected this answer to the specific
                                                                                  tion, coming as a result of our study, is in agreement with the
        question (e.g. nobody selected ‘a lot’ in question 6).
Note 2: The sum of answers received to questions does not always add up to 37     results of other related studies (Mikropoulos et al., 1998;
        (per question), the number of participants in our study.                  Kameas et al., 2000). The subjects’ positive attitude towards
        This is because some teachers gave no answer at all to the specific
        question.                                                                 VR, after their interaction with the virtual environments, is not
                                                                                  obvious under the pretext that everyone would show a positive
                                                                                  response to a new instrument. Computer anxiety amongst
teachers who changed from the correct to an incorrect answer                      teachers and especially those with little or no experience in
(CO2 and chlorophyll) after their interaction with the virtual                    computer use is a serious problem in the introduction of ICT in
cell. These three did not manage to proceed with virtual photo-                   the teaching process, regardless of their positive attitude (Russel
synthesis by themselves, and required the help of the                             and Bradley, 1997; Simpson et al., 1999). The teachers’ interest
researchers.                                                                      in the support of learning in topics where visualisation, different
   The results were almost the same for the second question                       scale and time magnitudes and abstract concepts are dominant,
‘From which substance’s dissociation does oxygen come?’. More                     as well as the teachers’ attitudes after their experience in the
than half the teachers (28) gave the correct answer in the post-                  virtual environment, show that the VR features proposed by
test, while the correct answers were previously 11. 16 changed                    Winn (2000) do play an important role in knowledge construc-
from CO2 to H2O and two from chlorophyll to water after the                       tion. In particular, interaction, size, autonomy and the sense of
intervention. It is clear that interaction with the virtual cell was              presence are key features for educational computer-based envi-
responsible for this shift. Only one teacher changed from the                     ronments for science teaching and learning.
correct to incorrect answer (CO2), probably confusing the rep-                       Regarding the second goal of our study, the results showed
resentations of the two molecules.                                                that an attractive and motivating context is not enough for
   Concerning the question ‘Which chemical compound is pro-                       knowledge construction. It has to be closely related to the
duced by photosynthesis?’ almost all the teachers (35) gave the                   topic under study involving specific didactic goals and learning
correct answer, with a small shift between pre- and post-tests.                   tasks. The three questions used in this study required direct
29 teachers did not change their opinion and six selected the                     manipulation of virtual objects for the integration of the learn-
correct answer after their interaction with the virtual cell.                     ing task and provided significant differences between the pre-
   We believe that the previous three questions are closely                       and the post-tests. These results are similar to those of other
related to the process of photosynthesis as it is simulated and                   researchers studying virtual environments for science learning
visualised through the virtual environment. The dynamic and                       (Dede et al., 1996).
exploratory character of the environment together with the                           The four general questions ‘How would you recognise a plant
attributes of free navigation in the 3D space and interactivity,                  cell?’, ‘What is the result if we replace natural with artificial
gave the opportunity to the teachers to ‘experience’ the chemi-                   light?’, ‘What is the aim of the plant through photosynthesis?’
cal reactions, ‘see’ their results and construct knowledge.                       and ‘Why are photosynthesis and respiration complementary
                                                                                  phenomena?’, gave insignificant differences between the pre-
Discussion                                                                        and post-tests. This indicates that although the users focused on
The present research had two goals. The first was the investiga-                  the specific virtual tasks with positive learning outcomes, they
tion of in-service teachers’ attitudes towards VR technologies                    did not manage to generalise and acquire an integrated approach

180                                                                                                       Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)
     Virtual environments in biology teaching                                                                                       Mikropoulos et al.

to the subject under study. Perhaps virtual environments rich in            Hayne K (1994) JELLO CELLS.
information, combined with other ICTs such as hypermedia and                   cgi/Virtual/Lessons/ Science/Biology/BIO0035.html, accessed
the Internet, could lead towards this (Kameas et al., 2000).                   25/07/02.
                                                                            Ihlenfeldt W D (1997) Virtual Reality in Chemistry. Journal of
   Educational virtual environments seem to be a valuable tool                 Molecular Modelling, 3, 386 – 402.
for teachers and students, but more research is needed in order             Jensen M S, Wilcox K J, Hatch J T and Somdahl C (1996) A Computer-
to design them for the support of teaching and learning. This is               Assisted Instruction Unit on Diffusion and Osmosis with a
in line with the conclusion of Johnson and associates after hav-               Conceptual Change Design. The Journal of Computers in Mathematics
ing studied teacher-driven VR worlds in an elementary curricu-                 and Science Teaching, 15, 49 – 64.
                                                                            Johnson A, Moher T, Leigh J and Lin Y (2000) QuickWorlds: Teacher
lum (Johnson et al., 2000). The authors installed an                           driven VR worlds in an Elementary School Curriculum. In: Abstracts
ImmersaDesk system in an elementary school, and the teachers                   and Applications of SIGGRAPH 2000 Educator’s Program, pp. 60 –
were responsible for structuring learning experiences and guid-                62. New Orleans, LA.
ing the teaching process. Teachers and students were excited                Kameas A, Mikropoulos T A, Katsikis A, Emvalotis A, and Pintelas P
about this addition to the curriculum and their experience in                  (2000) EIKON: Teaching a high-school technology course with the
                                                                               aid of virtual reality. Education and Information Technologies, 5, 305 –
the virtual environments, but as the authors stated teachers and               315.
students might not be focused on the lesson to be learned. For              Karr T L and Brady R (2000) Virtual biology in the CAVE. Trends in
that reason the authors would like to reach the point where the                Genetics, 16, 231 – 232.
VR system loses its novelty for the users, and the visualisations           Mikropoulos T A, Chalkidis A, Katsikis A and Emvalotis A (1998)
and learning tasks become the focus. We believe that we have                   Students’ attitudes towards educational virtual environments.
                                                                               Education and Information Technologies, 3, 137 – 148.
reached this point and this is the main outcome of the present              Newton L R (1997) Information Technology in biology teaching: chal-
study. It seems that the context of the educational virtual envi-              lenges and opportunities. Journal of Biological Education, 31, 274 –
ronment has to be closely related to its content, the didactic                 278.
goals and the learning activities, in order that learning outcomes          Nikolou E, Mikropoulos T A and Katsikis A (1997) Virtual Realities in
can be realised constructively.                                                Biology Teaching. In: Proceedings of the International Conference
                                                                               ‘Virtual Reality in Education and Training’, ed. Bevan M, pp. 59 – 63.
                                                                               Loughborough, UK.
References                                                                  Pang A (1995) A Syllabus for Scientific Visualisation. In: Scientific
Amon T and Valencic V (2000) VRML – Enhanced learning in biology               Visualisation in Mathematics and Science Teaching, ed. Thomas D A
   and medicine. Future Generation Computer Systems, 17, 1 – 6.                pp. 261– 283. VA, USA: AACE.
Amory A, Naicker K, Vincent J and Adams C (1999) The use of com-            Peat M and Fernandez A (2000) The role of information technology in
   puter games as an educational tool: identification of appropriate game      biology education: An Australian perspective. Journal of Biological
   types and game elements. British Journal of Educational Technology,         Education, 34, 69 – 73.
   30, 311 – 321.                                                           Predavec M (2001) Evaluation of E-Rat, a computer-based rat dissec-
Barack J, Sheva B and Gorodetsky M (1999) As ‘process’ as it can get:          tion, in terms of student learning outcomes. Journal of Biological
   students’ understanding of biological processes. International Journal      Education, 35, 75 – 80.
   of Science Education, 21, 1281 – 1292.                                   Russel G and Bradley G (1997) Teachers’ computer anxiety: implica-
Boyle T (1997) Design for Multimedia Learning. New Jersey, USA:                tions for professional development. Education and Information
   Prentice Hall.                                                              Technologies, 2, 17 – 30.
Brickley P (1994) Making Three Dimensional Plant and Animal Cells.          Rourk W (2000) Virtual biochemistry – a case study. Future Generation                Computer Systems, 17, 7 – 14.
   Science/Biology/BIO0039.html, accessed 25/07/02.                         Salzman M C, Dede C, Loftin B R and Chen J (1999) A Model for
Buckley B C (2000) Interactive multimedia and model-based learning in          Understanding How Virtual Reality Aids Complex Conceptual
   biology. International Journal of Science Education, 22, 895 – 935.         Learning. Presence, 8, 293 – 316.
Camp J J, Cameron B M, Blezek D, Robb R A (1998) Virtual reality in         Simpson M, Payne F, Munro R and Hughes S (1999) Using Information
   medicine and biology. Future Generation Computer Systems, 14, 91 –          and Communications Technology as a Pedagogical Tool: who
   108.                                                                        educates the educators? Journal of Education for Teaching, 25,
Cañal P (1999) Photosynthesis and ‘inverse respiration’ in plants: an          247 – 262.
   inevitable misconception? International Journal of Science Education,    Songer C J and Mintzes J J (1994) Understanding cellular respiration:
   21, 363 – 371.                                                              an analysis of conceptual change in college biology. Journal of
Dede C, Salzman M C and Loftin R B (1996) The development of a vir-            Research in Science Teaching, 31, 621 – 637.
   tual world for learning Newtonian mechanics. In Multimedia,              Wharrad H, Kent C, Allcock N and Wood B (2000) Development and
   Hypermedia, and Virtual Reality, eds. Brusilovsky P, Kommers P and          evaluation of a series of CAL modules on cell biology for under-
   Streitz N, pp. 87-106. Berlin, Germany: Springer/Verlag.                    graduate students. British Journal of Educational Technology, 31,
Eichinger D C, Nakhleh M B and Auberry D L (2000) Evaluating                   257 – 259.
   Computer Lab Modules for Large Biology Courses. The Journal of           Winn W (2000) Learning Science in Virtual Environments: The
   Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 19, 253 – 275.               Interplay of Theory and Experience. Themes in Education, 1, 373 –
Eidson S and Simmons P E (1998) Microcomputer Simulation Graphic               389.
   and Alphanumeric Modes: Examining Students’ Process Skills and
   Conceptual Understanding. The Journal of Computers in Mathematics          Tassos A Mikropoulos is Associate Professor in the Department of
   and Science Teaching, 17, 21 – 61.                                         Primary Education, University of Ioannina, Ioannina 45110, Greece.
Flick L and Bell R (2000) Preparing Tomorrow’s Science Teachers to            Tel: 0030 6510 95697; Fax: 0030 6510 95813; Email:
   Use Technology: Guidelines for Science Educators. Contemporary    Apostolos Katsikis is also Associate Professor in the
   Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1, 39 – 60.                    Department of Primary Education. Email: Eugenia
Gay E (1994) Is Virtual Reality a good teaching tool? Virtual Reality         Nikolou and Panayiotis Tsakalis are PhD students in the Department
   Special Report, 1, 51 – 60.                                                of Primary Education. Email: and
Gross L J (1994) Quantitative training for life-science students.   , respectively.
   BioScience, 44, 1 – 2.

Journal of Biological Education (2003) 37(4)                                                                                                        181

Shared By: