Learning About Environmental Issues With A Desktop Virtual Reality Field Trip

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Bodzin, A., Araujo-Junior, R., Schwartz, C., Anastasio, D., Hammond, T., & Birchak, B. (2022). Learning About Environmental Issues With A Desktop Virtual Reality Field Trip. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 7(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/learning-about-environmental-issues-with-a-desktop-virtual-reality-field-trip/
by Alec Bodzin, Lehigh University; Robson Araujo-Junior, Lehigh University; Chad Schwartz, Lehigh Gap Nature Center; David Anastasio, Lehigh University; Thomas Hammond, Lehigh University; & Brian Birchak, Lehigh Gap Nature Center


This article describes a design partnership with university faculty and informal environmental educators that developed a desktop virtual-reality field trip (dVFT) to learn about the environmental changes that occurred during the past two centuries because of a zinc smelting plant operation in the Lehigh River watershed. Our watershed is historically significant because it was a driving force of the industrial revolution in the United States during the 19th century. We provide background on place-based learning and the affordances that virtual reality (VR) and VR field trips can provide for learning. We describe our design and development approach and present the resulting dVFT. We discuss how the dVFT was used in an environmental education course during a global pandemic. The course included preservice and inservice secondary science teachers. The students experienced both immersion (i.e., sensory fidelity) and presence (i.e., subjective psychological response) when using the dVFT. The dVFT served two main purposes in the course. First, it provided students who were unable to attend the optional field trip with a meaningful experience to learn about an important environmental issue and remediation process. Second, the dVFT served as a valuable foundational learning activity for students to familiarize themselves with the actual field site prior to going to the physical site location. Implications for science teacher educators interested in developing a dVFT are discussed.

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