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Education and Information Technologies 5:4 (2000): 277±289 # 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers, Manufactured in The Netherlands

Perfect presence: What does this mean for the design of virtual learning environments?
DENISE WHITELOCK* Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. * Corresponding author. E-mail: DANIELA ROMANO Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds. E-mail: ANNE JELFS Behavioural Studies, University College Northampton, Boughton Green Road, Northampton NN2 7AL. E-mail: PAUL BRNA Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds. E-mail: One of the advantages of building a virtual reality system is that it allows students to enter new worlds which in these instances include trips to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a ®eld visit to an Oak Wood and a close encounter in a 3D maze. In all these environments the factors affecting a sense of `being there' or presence was investigated. Enhanced audio feedback increased a subjective sense of presence but did not increase students' conceptual learning scores. We have also found that a sense of social presence enhanced the notion of `being there' together with measures of collaboration. However `being there' can take its toll on students and our ®ndings suggest it imposes a cognitive overload. Where students have a choice, they try and reduce this overload by asking for conceptual tools to assist them in their learning tasks. The studies reported in this paper provide some benchmark data about these issues which deserve further investigation if we are to design effective virtual environments for conceptual learning. Keywords: virtual reality; presence; conceptual learning; collaborative virtual environments; conceptual tools.

Introduction Virtual Reality systems offer users exciting opportunities to enter new worlds. They no longer have to be passive spectators but can experience and manipulate these virtual worlds in a number of novel ways. For software designers, these worlds can mean constructing anything from a games environment which can be placed on a mountain slope or located on an imaginary island inhabited by some rather strange creatures, to the implementation of a more serious training system. Indeed Virtual Reality systems that have been designed to represent `real' environments, such as the British Aerospace virtual cockpit (Kalawsky, 1991a; Kalawsky, 1991b), have a proven successful track record for training pilots. Multimedia specialists have also been called upon to design more educational worlds;

while the Leeds team have more recently focused on producing software to train professional ®re-®ghters. Brna. 1999). Presence does not just refer to one's surrounding as they exist in the physical world. A well designed piece of software makes the interface transparent. To lessen the awareness of the interface. 1992). organised by our perceiving systems. at the same time. rather than the immediate physical environment. exploring the North Atlantic Ridge (Whitelock. 1999). 1999. For Virtual Reality systems the more an individual is aware of the interface then the harder it will be to achieve a high level of telepresence. such as to the bottom of the ocean ¯oor. but to the perception of those surrounding (Steuer.278 WHITELOCK ET AL which transport students to some rather exotic ®eld trips. However another bonus for students working with these Virtual Reality systems is that they can provide a more stimulating and motivating teaching environment where learning can be both challenging and. fun. The role of presence and conceptual understanding In the case of the ¯ight simulator. Romano & Brna. This point has important rami®cations for interface design success. It has been argued that the tasks then become more authentic and better training outcomes can be realised. there needs to be increased level of presence. But in other educational settings it might not be possible or . So what is presence? Presence is where we are immersed in a very high bandwidth stream of sensory input. The Open University group has concentrated on producing Virtual Reality environments for Undergraduate Science students. Applying this course of action should provide an obvious means of applying knowledge about perceptual processes and individual differences in determining the nature of virtual reality (Steuer. a conceptual or `theory world'. Jelfs & Whitelock. The instrument and commands used in ¯ight simulations are a perfect replica of those applied in the real world. This means that the dependent variables of virtual reality must all be measures of individual experience. Whereas Steuer refers to telepresence as the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment. there is as true a sense of being in the real thing as is possible. One of our main objectives has been to create a comprehensive sense of presence in the worlds we have created. (Whitelock. 2000. and out of this `bath' of sensation emerges our sense of being in and of the world. We have all been involved in the design and evaluation of a number of Virtual Reality systems. together with how this factor impinges upon the user's conceptual understanding of the contents of these Virtual Reality systems. 1992). Creating a sense of presence The notion of `presence' is considered to be an important conceptual component of any Virtual Environment whether it is immersive or desktop. 1999. but also to give the users access to another world. One of the driving forces behind the building of these types of Virtual Reality environments was to create a strong sense of presence or of `being there' for the user. This Paper discusses the ®ndings from both our projects with respect to creating a sense of presence of being there and how this affects the user.

does this sense of being there or presence promote conceptual understanding? Since in education we are primarily concerned with teaching students to look beyond their senses to more scienti®c predictive models of the world. This raises a set of questions. Brie¯y. representational ®delity is subdivided into: technical ®delity. immediacy of control (a measure of the perceptionaaction loop) and presence. 1999). for example. One way which apparently evokes a greater level of presence. However. and representational reality. motion etc. textures. that allows it to be generalised to real world simulations as well as to two dimensional desktop ones. That is why the present authors. Technical ®delity is the degree to which the technology delivers realistic renderings. At the other end of the spectrum. have proposed an abstract framework of these properties from which to evaluate Virtual Reality systems (Whitelock et al. 151. It is in part because Whitelock et al's approach is person centred. One way of extending Whitelock's Cube is to take into account the social space in which people are `immersed'. Understanding how to create this balance is one of the goals of educational media production. the ocean ¯oor. One of these is how can one maximise a sense of being there for students working with desktop virtual environments? Secondly. Immediacy of control is affected by the medium through which control is channelled. communicating instructions through a command line interface is an example of low immediacy. Whitelock and Brna together with Holland. Intermediate positions are possible depending. In initial work. Whitelock. We also need to motivate them to enter this `theory world' by building teaching environments that are fun to use and where time seems to pass quickly. is through the use of sound. An unfamiliar world might be a simulation of the `surface' of Jupiter. notwithstanding the quality of the graphics. whereas Rheingold (1991) refers to sound as valuable for feedback. particularly 3D acoustics. Laurel (1993) refers to the use of sound to evoke emotional responses.PERFECT PRESENCE 279 economical to use a perfect replica of the environment. Sound gives feedback to the user and offers greater levels of reality. Brna and Holland developed a `cube' of person-centred properties ± representational ®delity. will an emphasis on sound be important for conceptual learning? Learning and `sense making' is such a complicated process that one could not argue that an increased sense of presence per se in a Virtual Reality system world in itself offers a conceptual advantage. This in turn requires the development of a way of describing the interactions with other participants (Brna.. colours. As he says: `there's nothing like the sound of footsteps behind you to help convince you that you are in a dark alley late at night in a bad part of town ± sounds have the ability to raise the hairs on the back of our neck' p. for example. One of the important components of presence stressed by a number of researchers appears to be good sound feedback. on how much of the hand's ¯exibility is supported for control purposes. Representational familiarity is the extent to which the environment that is simulated is familiar to the user. Representational reality is the extent to which the world is possible. . Together with providing `learning as fun' environments since Virtual Reality systems offer students trips to wild and exciting areas of the world. representational familiarity. 1996). The use of hand motions close to those used in the real world to achieve a corresponding `real' effect illustrates an aspect of near perfect immediacy ± provided that the system is not subject to excessive latency.

a set of issues relating to the manner in which the self and others in the environment are represented.) and the social relationships that hold (classmate. The social factors described by Brna parallel the axes of Whitelock's Cube. collaborator.). These axes are named social ®delity. team leader etc. The term social factors is taken to refer to the interactions with a group of fellow participants in the environment which includes both communicative acts (speech. and to the degree to which the dialogue between participants is interlocked. It is closely related to the effectiveness of the dialogue between participants. It too can be subdivided into: social familiarity. The hypercube covers issues connected with both the physical environment and the social environment but one element has been neglected: the affectiveacognitiveasensorimotor aspects of the individual participant. Social presence is taken to be a measure of `social richness' along with a sense of being a `social actor within a medium' (Lombard & Ditton. It took students to the bottom of the ocean ¯oor while the piece of software known as the Oak Wood allowed students to participate in a ®eld trip to an ancient woodland site. touch etc. These investigations assess the role of physical presence and social presence for the advancement of conceptual learning with virtual reality systems. Social ®delity parallels the notion of representational ®delity. Whitelock's Cube provides a way of examining VLEs with a view to testing a number of hypotheses about interactions between the three different fundamental properties and the suitability of a VLE for conceptual learning. One of the environments that was produced was known as the North Atlantic Ridge. This is not taken further here. Both these programs were developed by the BBC to give the students as much a feeling of `being there' as possible. writing. Immediacy of discourse is affected by the social medium (voice. where evaluations of two different desktop virtual reality environments have taken place. The extension to include social factors provides a way of examining the effectiveness of CVLEs for conceptual learning. gestures. Social richness is related to the number and degree of saturation of human ± human communication channels. pointing etc.) through which human communication is channelled. Investigating Undergraduate Science Field Work At the Open University we have concentrated on producing a number of desktop virtual reality environments to assist undergraduate science students in their ®rst year of study. 1997). social reality and embodiment. immediacy of discourse and social presence.280 WHITELOCK ET AL Social factors need to be included in a hypercube if we wish to use the resulting framework both to guide the design of Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments (CVLEs) and to examine the use of a CVLE. . It was thought that this condition should enhance the students motivation to continue working with the conceptual notions embodied in these virtual reality environments. The paper continues with a discussion of the empirical work undertaken at the two centres of the Open University and Leeds. student-teacher.

PERFECT PRESENCE 281 Software: The North Atlantic Ridge The North Atlantic Ridge was developed in MTropolis. when they found allocation. (n ˆ 20). Two experimental conditions were arranged. aged between 16 and 17 y. one . we wanted to see how the enhanced audio condition affected learning outcomes. East and West. The students were then paired so that prior experience was controlled as a variable. Secondly. The study was designed ®rstly to see if the enhanced audio condition did increase the participants' sense of presence. the following investigations were undertaken to test whether audio feedback enhanced the students feeling of presence in a virtual learning environment. It did this by taking them in a submarine down to the Ridge itself at the bottom of the ocean. The students were literally steering the submarine and could choose what to investigate and. As we are still building virtual reality systems. One was the view from the submarine which ®lled most of the screen. It allowed the students to explore the terrain of the North Atlantic Ridge. The latter vista was designed to aid the navigation around the Ridge ± a terrain which was indeed interesting and compelling to understand. Prior to the experimental session which took place in the school. while the other comprised of a plan view of the submarine itself and where it was located presently in the Ridge. This meant they could look more closely at the geology or the ¯ora and fauna by viewing movies which were accompanied by a short written text. The students were grouped under two different conditions. South. it became important to understand what parameters actually enhance a sense of presence and whether in turn how changes to so called presence parameters effect how students learn with these systems. Therefore. Speed of travel varied in how quickly one moved the mouse across the screen and there were two views of the proceedings. Investigating the effect of audio on a sense of presence using the North Atlantic Ridge software The preliminary investigations undertaken with the North Atlantic Ridge suggested that more audio feedback would enhance a sense of presence with this software. students were asked to complete a brief questionnaire concerning their previous computing and game playing experience. The submarine could move in all four major directions of the compass. North. This virtual environment introduced the student to an unfamiliar terrain and hence on the scale for representational ®delity would have a low rating. Students experienced high immediacy of control with a low to medium value for presence (as this was a desktop system). One where there was enhanced audio feedback and the other where there was limited audio feedback. Students could move around the Ridge in the submarine to explore the terrain for geological structures and biological life in seven major locations along the Ridge. where to stop. Participants and task The empirical study involved Year 12 students. but very unfamiliar. These video clips were taken by the Alvin Dive Team and illustrate the probes used to gain samples of geological material and shots of the ¯ora and fauna that thrive on the different mounds.

4 No Sound 4. then they were given a series of tasks to complete and a post-test was administered.8 and 5. Students were requested to move around the environment to become acquainted with the location and the movements of the submersible. Their conversations were recorded for later transcription. It is apparent that without sound the visual representation appeared more realistic when in fact the model terrain was not an exact replica but an academic representation of the ocean ¯oor of the North Atlantic Ridge. At the outset.9 7. it is still important to check whether students are learning with these programs. After a brief session of `getting to know' the environment. It also contributed to a better on task performance. students were asked to complete a pre-test on their cognitive understanding of the geology of the ocean ¯oor. The enhanced audio condition did not affect the students' perception of control since this was rated as 5. The visual representation appeared more real and exact when it was a silent one. Findings We found that enhanced audio feedback increased the students' sense of presence from their subjective ratings of presence in the sound and on sound conditions (see Table 1 below).5 .282 WHITELOCK ET AL group had audio feedback and the other had no audio feedback. Control and Representational Fidelity by students in the sound and no sound conditions Sound Presence Control Representational Fidelity 6. as is the case with the undergraduates at the Open University.9 respectively.9 5.3 5.and post-test was administered to ascertain what the students had learned. Other ®ndings from our work suggest that a high level of Presence provided a motivating environment in which students can explore conceptual notions. But what is apparent from this study is that the visual input is dominant when audio feedback is low. but the variable of Presence was enhanced by sound. It is certainly a primary aim for educational technologists to provide stimulating and motivating materials for students. The tasks involved using the virtual environment of the North Atlantic Ridge. This enhanced sense of presence contributed to notions of engagement and time passing quickly when using the environment. Mean ratings of Presence. However what is interesting. especially for those who work alone at home. students were presented with a printed list of locations and biological life which they had to look for and comment on.8 6. Therefore students' on task performance measures were recorded. How well did students understand the concepts introduced by the software? A pre. where students explored the environment via a submersible. The mean score on a Table 1. It is questionable as to whether the value of representational ®delity needs to be very high for conceptual learning. However. is a change in representational ®delity which was noted in the two conditions.

food chains and energy transfer levels can be appreciated. With the Oak Wood evaluation (Whitelock 1999) some surprising ®ndings were uncovered. it takes the leaves from one whole oak tree to successfully pass through the food chain. for example. Developing conceptual tools that assist understanding yet support an increased sense of presence In our development of another virtual reality environment which introduced students to the ecology of an Oak Wood the students took part in a ®eld trip to an actual Oak Wood. identify geological features in The North Atlantic ridge. p ` 0.05.3 for the enhanced audio condition and 2. The task was equivalent to that in The North Atlantic Ridge where ®rstly they had to ®nd their way around the environment and identify species. The second part asks them to create a mini food web with respect to the life cycle of the sparrow hawk. With the Oak Wood the task was to construct a mini food web. The program presents the user with a large number of species to investigate and. here ®nd the various species in an Oak Wood and then to carry out a conceptual task. Hence we need to obtain more data about the balance of these salient variables that facilitate conceptual learning. improvement of 8 points than for the enhanced audio condition with an improvement of 4 points. to raise a sparrow hawk chick. What is more surprising is that students experienced more dif®culty understanding the conceptual content in the different areas when an audio track is present.PERFECT PRESENCE 283 ®ve point scale for the pre-test was 3. This was a signi®cant difference (F ˆ 4. In fact more students stated it was neither easy nor dif®cult to locate various regions when an audio track was played when they used the program. This program used Quicktime VR to allow the students to search an authentic Oak Wood and hence there was a high degree of presence recorded by the students. This location had been ®lmed for over a year to obtain the appropriate footage in order to create this particular virtual reality system. These students were not familiar with the ¯ora and fauna of the North Atlantic Ridge and were approximately all at the same starting point with respect to prior knowledge of this domain. There was however more of an improvement in the posttest scores for the normal audio group. one way ANOVA of cognitive change score versus audio condition). One inference could be that `being there' is very motivating but could well take up too much of the users attention and produce a cognitive overload when it comes to understanding conceptual notions. concepts such as ecosystems. It is a surprising ®nding when one considers how students worked through the tasks when using the software. and in so doing appreciate that in the grand order of things. The ®rst part of the program introduces the students to a number of species in the wood and provides them with a ®eld guide which was used as a resource for further study.9 for the normal audio condition. Increased presence and its effect on understanding The students reported less dif®culty in ®nding the different active sites when an audio track was present. from their inter-relationships. These ®ndings are described in the section below. .

These two species had been carefully camou¯aged as they would be in real life. Users did have a zoom in and zoom out facility in the Oak Wood and this was an environment with a high representational ®delity. such as an adder and the deer. perceptual ®delity in order to concentrate more on the cognitive issues in command and control situations.e. Therefore designing a Virtual Environment for training ®re-®ghters we have to consider both aspects of training. the students did not want this virtual reality system to be like the real thing. can lead to the neglect of the role of re¯ection in the training experience. This desire for representing exactly the objects of the world. Summary Increased audio feedback gave students an increased sense of presence. it required students to search out the animals in a way which is similar to that experienced in a ®eld trip. They became frustrated when trying to ®nd the specimens in the Oak Wood. However. Hence we have two interesting sets of ®ndings that suggest going for a high degree of presence per se in an educational virtual reality system should be looked upon with caution. In a sense they wanted some conceptual tools which would not have been available to them in the real life situation and in fact in the ®nal version of the software we did provide a tool that would highlight specimens that could not be easily found. as well as `pen and paper' exercises where the world in not represented with physical. or their accepted abstractionsametaphors. However it surprisingly did not enhance the conceptual learning for these students. They requested more conceptual tools and aids to help them ®nd things in a much quicker way than they would do on a ®eld trip in real life. This in turn assisted them in navigating around the North Atlantic Ridge and also provided a motivating learning experience. The second half of this paper continues to the discussion of the role of presence but with respect to collaborative virtual reality systems.284 WHITELOCK ET AL However. In fact they wanted to use `the magic of the computer' to assist their discovery of specimens. Will the picture that emerges here throw some more light on the advantages of `being there'? Investigating the features required by a Training Program for Professional Fire-®ghters Most virtual environments give a representation with a level of physical ®delity that matches the requirements for the world's purposes. . Some clues to this ®nding can be found in the second study which used the Oak Wood as the virtual reality environment. The standard way of providing team training in ®re includes physical training dealing directly with a real ®re. but the program produced an impatience among the subjects that would not have been experienced in the ®eld. our subjects did not want to search in the same way as they would in real life. Here the high degree of presence was not what the students wanted at all. i.

Here.PERFECT PRESENCE 285 A Virtual Environment for training ®re-®ghters should be a true 3D reproduction of the high-risk dynamic environment to provide a high level of cognitive load with opportunities for highly situated decision making. Each . Materials Two multimedia personal computers with 1500 monitors were used with the game installed on each computer. A video camera was placed in a ®xed position with an overview of the subjects and the screen on which the game is played to record activity for later examination. The players have to ®nd their way out of a 3D maze while surviving the attack of other humans and animals represented in the 3D world. where the player has to breathe if swimming. If this is associated with a strong sense of presence it will lead to knowledge recallable in the real world as a consequence of an engrossing experience acquired in the `virtual world'. we should support a sense of presence through both individual perception and group awareness. owing to the need for a shared environment in which team members can re¯ect together and collaborate in resolving the problems that arise in the ®re ®ghting task and acting out their decisions. They were all familiar with the use of multimedia desktop personal computers and some with the game itself. Our research issue is therefore to identify the features needed to optimise such a training process. varying in age from the mid twenties to the mid thirties. should also support various ways of re¯ecting on the relationship between the elements of the dynamically changing situation and the learner's goal which has been de®ned as situation awareness (Bass. A well-known multi-participant desktop virtual game was used to observe to what extent the participants feel `present' in an environment with visual and auditory information. presence and the cognitive issues of a command and control situation are all achieved. we studied how collaborative decision-making takes place in a shared dynamic desktop VE. dies if shot by the hostile creatures and so on. and whether collaboration in a CVLE improves the sense of presence or degrades it. Since we are in a team-training context. immediate feedback. seven female and ®ve males. The game represented a world with constraints similar to reality. 1998). we are concerned with issues connected with the use of desktop VR to engage the learner. The problem with a training system for ®re-®ghters is to engineer it in a way such that situation awareness. and a strong sense of presence. and how a sense of both physical and social presence in¯uences this collaborative process. Preliminary training on the basic features of the game was given to the subject that had never played before. Participants There were twelve participants in the experiment. As part of our work on naturalistic decision making in high risk dynamic situations. But we believe that the virtual environment as well as providing a close physical resemblance.

and are:  The teacher-pupil role. Those also waited for the partner to join them during movements around the virtual world. They did not report more concentration than when playing alone. Therefore the roles undertaken in the collaborative exercise were examined. guiding them to the location describing what they could see. and found the game more enjoyable. despite the knowledge of the other player. while he can see the overall body of the other players and of the creatures in the environment.286 WHITELOCK ET AL player has a limited number of `lives'. Different game modalities were utilised. A combination of mouse and arrow keys was needed to move and interact with the game. This was considered to be a case of non collaboration.  Dominant behaviour where one of the two players. keeping his distance so that he could enjoy playing the game on his own while monitoring the ®rst player's behaviour. guides the other through the maze and looks after him as he kills all the hostile entities and takes decisions considering the other player's needs. The other would follow the teacher as happens in reality and perform what is requested with a better competence and con®dence than it is likely he would have done when playing on his own. The pairs of players for each session of the experiment were selected based on their being used to working together in real life. The validity and reliability of it need to be established. The one used in the collaborative experiment had two participants ®ghting together to ®nd the way out. that share all the resources and come to decisions by reaching a consensus. In this case the teacher also reported that this way of playing was more stressful and required more concentration than playing alone. Results Burton. The two players could not harm one another. Also team performance was far superior to the single performances demonstrated. ignored his suggestions most of the time and took decisions for both players. but it suggests that 92% of the subjects in the experiment felt they were in the place they were looking at on the screen always (58%) or . In this case the second player followed the ®rst player. The only visual perception that each participant has of himself is the representation of his gun on the screen. A post event questionnaire was completed by the participants. Brna and Treasure-Jones (1997) suggest that roles peoples adopt within a group are strictly related to the effectiveness of their collaboration and to the learning gains. We noticed that the behaviours in the virtual environment resembled those of the real world and we have categorised three types of behaviour. Each of these was shown by two different couples.  The equal contribution players. where one player does most of the talking. showing both team members bene®ted from the form of the collaboration. The dominant player's performances were not improved and the second player reported that he would have done better playing on his own.

forwards and sideways movements were related to the legs of the player. While it is always possible in VEs that there is signi®cantly less perceived risk than in real life. On the other hand. which allowed the player to look around. which allow backwards. was described in terms of the players' head movements. while 67% felt that he was sometimes in the environment. even subjects not generally interested in video games once trained and con®dent. it did appear that the game playing context selected was effective in engaging the participants. Also players with a greater experience reported a higher sense of personal presence. as with other forms of ICT. Also the behaviours observed during the experiment reproduce those of real life. In addition. However. Similarly one person (8%) reported that despite feeling sometimes that he or his partner was in the virtual environment. This result leads us to believe that the construction of a shared dynamic VE with similar settings of the analysed game could be used for training collaborative naturalistic decision making skills. This is good news for desktop VR's potential to engage the learner. This was reported in one of the couples where dominant behaviour was noticed. we should have regard . As for shared sense of presence 33% of the players felt that their partner was always in the environment presented by the game. The post event questionnaire after the training revealed that 92% of the subjects felt a sense of personal presence at least sometime. found it very dif®cult to stop playing. it does support the notion that social presence can be effective in maintaining a strong sense of physical presence. This game had been chosen since it seemed to us that its popularity was due to a strong sense of presence being felt by the players of the game. It is also interesting to report that in the post event questionnaire the mouse. the implication is that. where collaboration was effective a strong sense of shared presence was reported and performances were improved. 58% felt that they were both in the environment and that collaboration was possible even if they did not see their partner on the screen. he never felt both together. While 33% felt that collaboration was enhanced when they could see their partner and sometimes they both felt themselves to be in the environment. Did the Sense of Presence Improve the Training? The game scenario is strongly analogous to team training in a high risk dynamic environment.PERFECT PRESENCE 287 sometimes (33%). but she reported feeling a sense of shared presence sometimes when her partner was on the screen and always when both together in the environment. In fact. Also it was noticed that most of the trainees that felt present on the screen only sometimes. While this is a preliminary result that could bene®t from a more thorough analysis of the data. while the arrow keys. Nobody reported that he never felt the partner in the environment on the screen. Only one person (8%) reported that she never felt a sense of personal presence during either training or the collaborative experiment. changed their answer to a complete sense of presence after the collaborative experiment.

the notion of affordance is a key issue.288 WHITELOCK ET AL for what we already know about small group learning. convection etc. On the other hand the more super®cial visual clues of the terrain did not give the students enough information to complete the tasks. This could have contributed to their increased cognitive change scores. This was experienced by the students as a greater sense of `being there' at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ridge. This social presence enhances a feeling of team work and co-ordination is. more importantly. 1999). We can use them to bringing concepts `into play' within a rendering of a physical world in a CVLE where we want `affordances that trigger a need to satisfy educational goals which have a theoretical content. when it comes to understanding conceptual notions. where students asked the designers to decrease the cognitive overload of `being there' and to provide them with tools to help them locate the hidden specimens in the wood. The implications for concept learning are indirect. the students thought the time passed more quickly using this version of the software. Whitelock and Brna have coined the term `handles on the theory world' to describe those affordances that provide an individual with the `entry point' into a theoretical world. From an educational perspective on CVLEs. a desire for understanding certain abstract concepts. Altogether the enhanced sound version appeared to be a more motivating venue for exploration. Enhanced sound made navigation around the environment easier but. These ®ndings suggest that sound does contribute to a greater sense of presence for the user but it interferes with the cognitive processing tasks. This was because they could complete the tasks more easily and a joint strategy did not have to be constructed in order to solve a problem. the structure of materials. conduction.). Later work will need to add these `handles' to provide a conceptual learning experience for novice ®re-®ghters. an interest in theoretically signi®cant actions' (Brna. They had to explore the individual sites in more detail to understand and construct in `mental maps' of what they were doing. However more work in designing conceptual tools to support learning in these environments has still to be done. and take some care in forming teams of students to work together in a CVLE. Hence `being there' is very motivating but could well take up too much of the user's attention and produce a cognitive overload. The subjects worked in pairs and appeared to argue less in this environment. an important consideration in the design of real life training systems. exploring the terrain in their own submersible. . The work with teams of ®re-®ghters does have an interesting but implicit conceptual structure (the nature of ®re. of course. In fact this seems to be the case with the Oak Wood software. concepts of heat and temperature. The studies undertaken in a collaborative working environment suggest that another factor that enhances a sense of presence is that of social awareness. the way it spreads. Conclusions A feeling of enhanced presence was induced by an augmented sound system.

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