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Virtual Learning Environments

As part of his Masters of Education, in 2006 Chris completed a research project about how computer game technologies can be used by students to explore ancient wonders. He created a virtual learning environment (VLE) of the Parthenon using the Unreal Engine.

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The Parthenon
A virtual learning environment

Built almost 2 500 years ago, the Parthenon is a testament to the cultural, scientific and artistic sophistication of the Ancient Greeks. Although the building has been damaged in war and stripped of many of its features, the architectural magnitude of the Parthenon is still clear.

To genuinely appreciate the grandeur of the Parthenon, one needs to explore the Acropolis. Regrettably, this opportunity is unavailable to most people, making the development of a genuine appreciation difficult. VLEs provide a valuable, alternative experience.

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Computer Game Technology
Recreating the Parthenon

‘Exploring Ancient Wonders: The Parthenon’ used computer game technology (version 2 of the Unreal Engine) to recreate the Parthenon in its original form. It allowed users to engage with this ancient wonder through self-directed exploration from a first-person perspective. Information about the history and architecture of the Parthenon was accessible to users at information markers and via a fly-by cinematic.

The technology used and the level of detail included in the environment allowed the VLE to run on computers that were available for student use in 2006.

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Interactive and Immersive
Freedom to explore

Interactive markers were distrubuted throughout the environment. When activated, information about the particular feature was displayed. The VLE gave the students freedom to view the features of the Parthenon from any angle.

As part of the activity, students completed an Explorer’s Journal worksheet. It included images of actual artefacts from the Parthenon. Students used thier learning to write an information statement for each artefact. 

For the purposes of the pilot study, the subjects were divided into two gender- and number-balanced groups using a treatment-control methodology. The treatment group used the VLE. The control group used a WWW site containing all the information from and screenshots of ‘Exploring Ancient Wonders: The Parthenon’ for one hour. The pedagogical context was the same for both groups, making the environment in which the learning took place the independent variable. Pre- and post-test questionnaires were utilised to assess participants’ knowledge of the historic and architectural information presented, and their appreciation of the respective learning experiences and technologies.

The findings indicated that the VLE was more effective in the development and retention of short-term knowledge than the WWW site. Males using the VLE demonstrated greater improvement in and level of knowledge, as well as greater confidence than males in the control group and females in both groups. The VLE and the WWW site had a similar level of benefit for female participants.

The VLE demonstrated a similar level of effect for visual and multi-sensory learners (data for auditory and kinaesthetic learners was too limited). The self-guided, non-sequential nature of the constructivist learning experience promoted high levels of engagement for both groups, though subjects using the VLE demonstrated higher levels of appreciation for and engagement in the activity.

Findings were presented at the 2007 QSITE Conference.

Published: 17 April, 2018
Copyright 2018 by Christopher Blundell

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