Collaborative Research: Advancing Ocean Literacy through Immersive Virtual Reality

Thursday, August 1, 2019 to Saturday, July 31, 2021
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Games, Simulations, and Interactives, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits, Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Geoscience and geography | Life science
Access and Inclusion: 
Low Socioeconomic Status
Stanford University, The Hydrous

The project will develop and research how an emerging technology, immersive virtual reality (IVR) using head mounted displays (HMDs), can enhance ocean literacy and generate empathy towards environmental issues. Recent advances in design have resulted in HMDs that provide viscerally realistic and immersive experiences that situate participants in underwater or other remote environments. IVR can provide many people with virtual access to these environments, including persons with disabilities, people living away from coastal areas, or those who lack access for other reasons (e.g., low-income families, underserved/underrepresented communities, persons untrained in diving). The project will develop a high quality 360-degree underwater film that includes live action footage, animation, and interactive elements. The IVR experience will take the participant through an immersive underwater journey of a Pacific reef, using realistic visualizations, narrative, and a compelling story to engage participants in learning the ecology and biology of coral reefs, as well as the impacts of climate change and human disturbances on ocean ecosystems. In addition to the IVR ocean journey, the project will integrate interactive functionality of being on a reef during mass coral spawning, an annual natural phenomenon through which coral reefs replenish their populations. With hand-held controllers, participants will be able to "swim" through the water, watch the degraded reef recover and grow and will have the ability to change the rate of coral recovery and learn how increases in temperature impede coral recovery. While research has been conducted on early, desk-top versions of IVR, the potential impact of IVR on learning is still unclear. The research findings will help guide the development of IVR for use in informal STEM environments such as aquariums, zoos, science museums, and others. The IVR experience will be shared on online platforms for home viewing, at film festivals and conferences, and in informal learning environments.

The project addresses the need for research on the impacts of IVR devices as it become more affordable and more widely used at home and in other informal and formal environments. Few studies have investigated how design elements impact the user in IVR, in which the increased immersion affects the stimuli perception and cognitive processing. The research will assess the learning affordances and impacts of the IVR experience on participant ocean literacy (adapting items from an existing ocean literacy survey), environmental empathy/feelings of presence (naturalistic observations and post-experience interviews), and perceived self-efficacy (pre-post survey, post-interview interviews). In addition, the project will research how segmentation (i.e., a continuous experience vs. an experience with breaks), generative learning tasks (hands-on experiences and interactive during IVR), and gender of the narrator in an IVR experience supports learning about ocean environments. Researchers will collect data from students attending high schools with predominantly minority student enrollments. Research findings will be widely shared through peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, and publications for educators and designers.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.

Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 
Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Jeremy BailensonJeremy BailensonPrincipal Investigator
Erika WoolseyErika WoolseyPrincipal Investigator

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