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Development of an environmental virtual field laboratory

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Computers & Education Volume 45, Number 1, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


Laboratory exercises, field observations and field trips are a fundamental part of many earth science and environmental science courses. Field observations and field trips can be constrained because of distance, time, expense, scale, safety, or complexity of real-world environments. Our objectives were to develop an environmental virtual field laboratory to study environmental properties and processes that stimulate the higher-order cognitive skills of students. We considered the following criteria for our virtual field laboratory: (i) global access, i.e., web-based implementation; (ii) simulation of a variety of learning mechanisms; (iii) interactivity to engage students; (iv) compartmentalization and hierarchical organizational structure; (v) abstraction of 2D and 3D geographic objects (e.g. soils, terrain) and dynamic ecosystem processes (e.g. water flow) using geostatistics and scientific visualization techniques. Cognitive science was considered during the design of our computer-aided instructional tools to enhance the effectiveness for learning. Our virtual field laboratory mimicked the students' learning processes that operate during real field trips and/or field observations; and provided students with a simulation environment to study environmental processes in space and time that cannot be provided on a real field trip. We implemented the following learning mechanisms: (i) exploration-based learning; (ii) analogy-based learning; (iii) science inquiry learning; (iv) abstraction-based learning. To engage students in our environmental virtual field laboratory, we implemented multiple interactivity functions including the exploration of 3D models and adaptive selective simulations. We used Virtual Reality Modeling Language, Java, Java Script, and External Authoring Interface to develop the environmental virtual field laboratory for a 42-ha flatwood site in Florida for which extensive datasets existed. Our digital learning environment offers potential to enhance existing on-campus courses and/or distance education courses.


Ramasundaram, V., Grunwald, S., Mangeot, A., Comerford, N.B. & Bliss, C.M. (2005). Development of an environmental virtual field laboratory. Computers & Education, 45(1), 21-34. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved July 16, 2019 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on January 30, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

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