Embodied Spatial Learning in Virtual Reality
Thinking Room is an experimental project that explores the potential of learning in immersive environments. With a VR environment designed and developed, every user can map information onto a virtual room. The approach in this project, Embodied Spatial Learning, proposes a note-taking experience in an interactive 3D environment. The design part of the project includes user interactions design for VR, a use case demo, and a broad spectrum of user tests. Thinking Room, as a design experiment of interactive learning, brings up the potential of virtual architecture as a device that provides personalized learning processes and results.
1. Cognitive Map and Embodied Spatial Learning
Cognitive Map theory is a psychological model that people are able to integrate multiple independent locations into one single mental map for navigational use. Besides geolocational inputs, there are also findings published extending the legibility of Cognitive Map to support navigation among more abstract informations. In 2016, Alexandra O. Constantinescu found human brains attempt to “organize informations into a mental map, allowing conceptual knowledge to be navigated in a similar fashion to space.”1
With Cognitive Map as a theoretical basis, we propose Embodied Spatial Learning as a learning paradigm that allow users to organize conceptual knowledge in an immersive environment. Provided with a series of interactions, the users are expected to construct personalized knowledge containers in virtual reality for them to navigation now, and potentially in the future.
2. VR Design and User Results
To implement the concept, a VR environment is designed and developed with multiple ways of interactions for users to map information in the rooms. Every object in the room can be grabbed, moved, scaled, and textured by the user. To test, a sample information set on the topic of art history is provided to different users who are asked to arrange the information given in the virtual room. The users show a broad spectrum of interpretations of the same set of information. To further explore this approach, more user tests are conducted in different virtual architectural scenes, e.g. the Pantheon, a corridor and an igloo; as well as with different information sets, e.g. photos, microscopic images and texts.
3. Conclusion and Future Work
With all experiments and user tests, Thinking Room discloses diverse and rich ways of interpreting information by different users. Moreover, in the process of mapping information, most of the users are inspired by spatial elements or layouts and discover new understanding of the information. Above all, we imagine this project as a way to arouse the awareness of alternative learning methods, and to open up a discussion on the potential of architecture as a cognitive device. For future work, one possible direction can be a further development into a virtual learning common that accommodates multiple users to construct simultaneously. Another possibility lies in creating a digital platform for the users to upload and share their creations.
1 – Alexandra O. Constantinescu, Organizing Conceptual Knowledge in Human with a Grid-like Code. Science. 2016 Jun 17; 352(6292): 1464–1468.