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Immersive Learning: Will it Change Math Pedagogy Anna-Marie Robertson Boise State University


Abstract This paper synthesizes the research of many studies completed to look at the potential of using virtual worlds as a tool in educational settings. The taxonomy of this paper starts by providing a general overview of current learning theories and the way in which these theories have been applied to emerging technologies. Then it narrows to a discussion of learning in immersive virtual environments. This is followed up with the advantages and disadvantages of learning immersively as it applies to educational technology. Finally the paper discusses the problems with current math pedagogy and how it might be enhanced with the inclusion of exploration in an immersive 3D world.

Introduction Over the past five decades, education has undergone many transformations through a maze of differing learning theories and pedagogies. These transformations seem to coincide with the onset of rapidly evolving technology. Mathematics education is no stranger to controversy and hails for change. In this paper I will synthesize research to answer four basic questions: 1) Can established learning theories be applied to emerging technologies? 2) What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning in an immersive virtual environment? 3) Can virtual worlds affect learning, motivation, and pedagogy? 4) What are the ramifications of three dimensional (3D) learning for math education and pedagogy?



Applying Established Learning Theories to Emerging Technologies In a report authored by Catheryn Cheal (2007) about the emergence of virtual worlds, she runs through the gamut of learning theories that affected her as a college student in the late 1960s and later as a faculty member at a university from the 1970s through the 1990s. She opens her discussion with her experience as a university student in the late 1960s where she learned that lessons delivered by lecture make learning needlessly hard and boring (Cheal, 2007, p. 207). She remembers using programmed workbooks that provided stimuli, instant feedback, and rewards (Cheal, 2007, p. 207). She defined this instructional design as programmed learning, and states that, the educational theory behind the workbooks was based on behavioral psychology (Cheal, 2007, p. 207). She classified this type of learning as remembering and understanding in Blooms taxonomy. It is interesting that later, when she went on to become a teacher, she began teaching the same way she was taught - largely through lecture (Cheal, 2007, p. 207) even though at this time much of the other faculty had begun to be influenced by cognitive psychology. She states that the more progressive faculty began using Socratic dialogue through questioning (Cheal, 2007, p. 207). This method of questioning would cause students to analyze and apply knowledge. This educational practice had taken students to the next higher level of Blooms taxonomy - at least for the students that actually answered the questions, which were usually the ones that sat towards the front and seemed to be more interested. (Cheal, 2007, p. 207) The 1980s brought about the change from lectures to group work. The Socratic Method was still in use, but now the students were put into groups where they were forced to participate and could no longer hide in the back of the room. The advent of the Internet in the 1990s brought about the use of discussion boards, where the group discussions could now be housed online. By the end of the 1990s, entire courses were migrated to online status Cheal (2007). Now students



produced most of the content in forums and chats. This new wave of technology was the beginning of Constructivism Cheal (2007). Cheal (2007) defines this new type of learning theory as, a theory of knowledge acquisition that occurs by learners interacting with the world and building upon their own knowledge. (p. 208) Cheal (2007) makes an interesting comment about the relationship between the technology and the learning theory behind the pedagogy being utilized with these new online courses,
I dont believe it was the technology for technologys sake that was the cause of the online courses success or even the convenience that it allowed, but the constructivist activities that were generated by the technology. (p. 208)

Dickey (2003) explains this shift from an objectivist learning theory to a constructivist learning theory as a shift in paradigms of learning. She says that learners must have opportunities to explore and manipulate within their learning environment to aid in the construction of new knowledge. But more than that, constructivist environments must support conversation and discourse among learners. This pattern of communication will allow learners to share information, test understandings, and reflect on learning (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996, as cited in Dickey 2003). It appears that a new theory of learning has surfaced with the emergence of new technologies that were not available twenty years ago. There seems to have been a shift from teacher-centered learning theories to a more student-centered theory of learning. Will this force a shift in pedagogies as well, or will teachers continue to teach as they have been taught? Peter Twining (2009) started The Schome Park Programme (SPP) as an alternative form of education. The programs aim was to bring about a radical rethinking of current education systems (p. 498). He believed that the best way to keep teachers from teaching the way they were taught was to put them into a radically different educational setting where current


pedagogies would not work. These settings, Twining labeled, lived experiences (Twining 2009, p. 498). One of these radically different educational settings is the virtual world. The Schome Parke Programme was built totally in a virtual world. As the Schome Park Programme progressed, its developers became aware of the shift in paradigms from the constructivist theory of learning to a more socio-cultural atmosphere where knowledge was distributed among the learners (Twining, 2009). This initiative was one of the first to allow us to begin to see and experience the advantages of learning in a virtual environment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual World Learning Blascovich describes a virtual environment (VE) as synthetic sensory information that leads to perception of environments and their contents as if they were not synthetic (as cited in Bailenson et al., 2008, p. 103). Going one step further, an immersive virtual environment (IVE) is one that perceptually surrounds the user, increasing his or her sense of presence or actually being within it (Bailenson et al., 2008, p. 104). Dickey tells us that Immersive 3D virtual worlds generally include three basic features: the illusion of space, avatars as visual representatives of users, and an interactive chat tool for users to communicate with one another (as cited in Hew & Cheung, 2010, p. 34). While researching for this paper, five immersive virtual environments were reviewed: The River City project (Ketelhut & Nelson, 2010), Whyville (Bailenson, et al., 2008), Active Worlds (Dickey, 2003), the Schome Park Programme (Twining, 2009), and Second Life (Cheal, 2007; Baker, Wentz & Woods, 2009; Dreher, Reiners, Dreher, & Creher, 2009; Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, 2009). The advantages and disadvantages of each of these virtual worlds were found to be similar.



From an educational technology standpoint, the advantages of using virtual worlds for learning outweigh the disadvantages. One big advantage is the potential to reach students wherever they are making the educational process more flexible. For students who are reluctant to speak up in a physical environment, the virtual environment provides a safer place to interact with the instructor, other students, and their environment at the same time. When a student does speak up, the virtual world makes a recording of the conversation. This recording allows users to view a record of the discussion and then the discussion can be archived and shown to other students who may not have been there or used for later review (Baker, Wentz, & Woods, 2009, p. 61). Virtual worlds can also provide an affordance to be more experimental. Many physical limitations are non-existent in a virtual world where the avatar can fly, fall without feeling pain and live forever (Cheal, 2007, p. 206) thus encouraging greater playfulness and testing of boundaries (Twining, 2009, p. 498). Virtual learning can bring about experiential, active learning, which, according to Cheal (2007), is what is needed from instructional technology now (p. 209). She believes this shift in pedagogy will have a greater impact on the learning style of the net generation (Cheal, 2007, p. 209). Oblinger states that the net-generation has different learning styles as compared to the baby boomers (as cited in Cheal, 2007, p. 209). They rely more on social networking, blogs, YouTube, Flickr and other Web 2.0 tools. This shows their focus on finding information from personal sources rather than from subject-matter experts. These students are accustomed to living their life more in the public with their cell phones, public surveillance, and GPS. They havent experienced the private form of life as did their baby-boomer counterparts. They expect multimedia and are comfortable with multi-tasking. The virtual world is their new horizon



(Cheal, 2007, p. 209). As Cheal (2007) states, Why would such students what to listen to 50 minute lectures in order to learn?(p. 209). This is the biggest reason for teachers learning to use the virtual environment - to learn to change the pattern of teaching the way they have been taught. These students do not need nor like to use the newest platform for learning as a lecture replacement (Cheal, 2007, p. 209). Although the use of immersive virtual learning environments seems to be the answer to our educational woes, there are disadvantages to using this newest medium of educational technology. Time is probably the biggest hurdle of implementing learning in virtual worlds (Baker, Wentz, & Woods, 2009; Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, 2009; Cheal, 2007). There is time involved in downloading the software, which involves certain technological requirements, creating a totally customizable avatar, and learning the operations of navigating in an IVE (Baker, et al., 2009, p. 61-62). There is also a steep learning curve for the instructor or tutor (Pfeil, et al., 2009, p. 233). It is mentioned that many teachers will not implement this technology because of current time constraints and the amount of time it takes to get up to speed with this new technology. This, they say is because the more immersive the online environment gets the more complex it becomes to use (Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, (2009, p. 233). Another disadvantage of using an IVE is the issue of the cost of conducting this teaching and learning. The most obvious cost is the purchase of the virtual land, which in Second Life belongs to the founding company - Linden Labs, who has control of fee increases. Other costs associated with this new platform for learning include the maintenance of the island, training for tutors, technological support, and in order for students to continue to meet and use the space, the island would need to be sustained after the course or module concluded (Pfeil, et al 2009, p. 234).



Another problem that has far reaching implications for educational technology is that this new technology affects current teaching pedagogies. It was discovered by Peter Twining (2009) in the implementation of the Schome program that teachers find it almost impossible to break free from established conceptions of education (Twining, 2009, p. 497) He believes that Second Life and other similar virtual worlds will offer the ideal opportunity for exploring educational alternatives (Twining, 2009, p. 498).

Can Virtual Worlds Affect Learning, Motivation, and Pedagogy? In an article written by Bailenson, et al (2008), they focused on the ability of virtual environments to enable transformed social interaction (TSI) which was defined as the teachers and students ability to change the way they represent their online presence and content to improve learning. Specifically, they used evidence from several empirical studies to show that breaking the social physics of traditional learning environments can increase learning in VEs (Bailenson, et al, 2008, p. 103). Many have found that virtual worlds offer a medium where learners can create, pickup, drop, alter, and view course material from multiple perspectives in a life-like environment (Bailenson, et al, 2008; Dickey, 2003; Dreher, et al, 2009; Hew & Cheung, 2010). Hew and Cheung (2010) realized that this new ability to manipulate course material makes it possible for students to learn by doing rather than simply learning by listening to the instructor or reading text (p. 34). Learning in a virtual environment also allows the learners the chance to learn in a protected and privileged real world-like environment (Dreher et al., 2009, p. 221 ) that offers immediate, life-like feedback on their work without penalty associated with making errors and yet with the benefit of intrinsic reward for success (Dreher et al., 2009, p. 221).



The ability to use a hands-on approach while learning in an immersive virtual environment has its advantages, but does it produce results? Does it make a difference? Hew and Cheung (2010) reviewed five studies that covered these questions. They found two types of results: Student self-reports or surveys and actual test results. In one example of the student survey results of the effectiveness of a Second Life-based nutrition course, which used a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), 65% of students reported a 4 or 5, and 94% answered with a 3, 4, or 5 (Cooper, 2007; as cited in Hew & Cheung, 2010, p. 42). In another of the studies reviewed by Hew and Cheung (2010), student tests scores were compared on two projects completed in a graphics design course. One set of students completed the course through the use of a virtual environment and the other set completed the course in a physical classroom. It was found there was a 14% increase of the mean examination mark from the physical learning to the virtual learning (Sourin, et al., 2006; as cited in Hew & Cheung, 2010, p. 43). What causes this difference in students attitudes and resulting examination scores? Is this learning being enhanced by motivation? Does motivation play a part in learning? Have motivational aspects of learning theories changed over the past few years? In the Schome Park Programme (SPP) debut at the end of 2006 in Second Life, it was discovered that people have different expectations concerning behavior in physical versus virtual worlds. From the beginning of the project it was clear that students behaved radically different from what teachers had come to expect of student interactions on collaborative projects conducted in their physical classrooms (Twining, 2009, p. 505). In the report, Twining (2009) describes an interesting phenomenon:
The students avatars would duly arrive on Schome Park at the appointed time and in the location where the induction session was taking place. A member of staff would start to explain the purpose of the induction session and how it was



organised, only to find that all the avatars had flown off to explore the island on their own, only returning if they had a specific (technical) problem that they needed help with. We have never experienced students in physical world settings behaving in this way! (Twining, 2009, p. 506)

This shift in behavior is not hard to understand if you realize that these students are digital natives who value being current with technological advancements such as virtual worlds. These digital natives are prone to explore, participate, discover new knowledge, and develop industry relevant skills with greater intrinsic motivation and autonomy (Dreher, et al., 2009, p. 212). In another virtual world project, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles worked together with the developers of the childrens virtual world Whyville to create a virtual small pox epidemic (Bailenson, et al., 2008, p. 106). They were interested in creating awareness of and learning about epidemics and vaccinations. The epidemic of small pox was spread virtually through avatars with no prior knowledge of what was happening. Researchers found that the event led to a dramatic increase in users exploring the medical libraries in Whyville, and science topics in chat and message boards increased by 2000% (Bailenson et al., 2008, p. 106). These examples show that if innovative pedagogies are applied to learning scenarios in a virtual environment, intrinsic motivation automatically increases (Dreher, et al., 2009). Virtual worlds can provide an environment where the term space can be defined in innovative ways and novel behavior can help define emerging learning theories. Many teachers may find it difficult to understand and implement new pedagogies in this contemporary learning space. This lack of understanding, according to Peter Twining (2009), is in stark contrast with the physical world where there are clearly established and dominant models of education and clear ideas of the sorts of activities that take place within it (p. 506). The Schome Initiative
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(Twining, 2009), brought out the opportunity for pedagogical experimentation, from which emerged a range of dimensions of practice (Twining, 2009, p. 506). This apprehension for the push to develop new pedagogies is echoed by the participants in the global workshop held by Pfeil, Ang, and Zaphiris (2009). The participants agreed that to be able to use 3D virtual worlds for teaching and learning, students, tutors, and educational institutions face a number of pedagogical and technological challenges (Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, 2009, p. 223). One of the challenges discussed was the fact that when utilizing a virtual environment for learning, the pedagogic role of the tutor is necessarily altered as well as the relationship between the tutor and the learner (Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, 2009, pp. 229-230). We have seen a major shift in learning theories in the past fifty years from a strong teacher-centered approach to a much more studentcentered dynamic. This relationship is being shifted even further by the advent of teaching in virtual worlds with the focus becoming more centered on collaborative group work, and exploration that puts the student at the center of teaching (Pfeil, Ang, & Zaphiris, 2009, p. 230). Dickeys research (2003) focused on a 3D object-modeling course, Intro to RWX Modeling, offered through the virtual environment Active Worlds (AW). The virtual instructor and course designer, Magine, used the chat tool as the main means of communication and content dissemination with her students. One of the side effects of this type of pedagogy was the imperceptible shift from total instructor guidance to student-centered teaching. This occurred on many levels. Students arriving late to class would be brought up to date by their peers rather than interrupt the flow of Magines presentation. Also, students would help each other by providing short explanations and technical help both during class and during homework (Dickey, 2003). The Schome Park Programme (Twining, 2009) provides another example of an extreme shift in pedagogical thinking. A student, new to the program, posted a virtual message to the

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community asking for help with a few questions given to him by a teacher about the use of the environment. Within just a few minutes, a more experienced student replied to all but three of his questions. Within just a few more minutes, another experienced student answered the rest of the questions. This interaction started a discussion within the community and among teachers in general, as to whether or not this was cheating (Twining, 2009, p. 510). In the traditional educational setting this view may have held up, but in this innovative arena, pedagogies were being challenged.

Ramifications of 3D Learning for Math Education and Pedagogy According to the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which was prepared by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), only 10% of U.S. fourth-graders and only 6% of U.S. eighth-graders scored at or above the advanced international benchmark in mathematics. There were seven other countries with higher percentages than U.S. fourth-grade students, and a different set of seven countries that scored higher than U.S. eighth-grade students (Gonzales, et al., 2008). According to this data, the U.S. is no longer the leading producer of science and mathematically inclined students. What is causing this trend? Are U.S. students less able to understand and utilize mathematics and scientific data? Is there a growing gap between currently utilized learning theories and pedagogies and student intrinsic understanding of math concepts? If this is the case, can this gap be bridged? Jonassen, and Land (2000) cited research completed by Analuicia D. Schliemann (1985) of Tufts University that compared tradesmen who used mathematical constructs in their everyday life to students learning the same concepts in a formal learning environment. Schliemann found

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that Brazilian carpenters with limited schooling develop better approaches to deal with measurement and computation of volume than do carpenter apprentices enrolled in mathematical classes meant to teach them how to compute area and volume (p. 175). In another comparison conducted by Lave in 1977 (as cited in Jonassen & Land, 2000), it was revealed that Liberian tailors favored using manipulations of quantities to solve arithmetic problems over the symbolic representations taught in schools (p. 176). From these two comparisons, it seems that as people use math concepts in their everyday lives, they learn ways of dealing with math that makes sense in their respective environments. In truth, Jonassen and Land (2000) found from the research of this everyday mathematics that researchers were led to replace conceptions of cognition as an individuals general ability with approaches that conceive of knowledge and learning as part of the social context where cognition takes place (p. 178). Many researchers agree that there seems to be difficulty between learning arithmetic in the early grades and the transition to algebra in the middle grades (Bodanskii, 1991; Jonassen & Land, 2000; Schliemann, et al., 1998; Vergnaud, 1988). Schliemann (1998) explains this clearly when he states,
Much research conducted over the last two decades suggests that arithmetic instruction encourages students to think about mathematical operations as a series of givens which must be transformed through a series of one-way operations into output or answers. When, after years of arithmetic problem solving, students are finally introduced to algebra, the meaning of equivalence, operations, and equations undergoes a paradigm shift (Schliemann, 1998, p. 3).

Bodanskii (1991) suggests that, based on the contrast between the difficulty that students have with algebra in the higher grades and successful attempts at teaching algebra at earlier levels, it is time to seriously consider deep changes in the elementary mathematics curriculum and the

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possibility of having children discussing, understanding, and dealing with algebraic concepts and relations much earlier than is the norm nowadays (as cited in Schliemann, et al., 1998, p. 4). This change in curriculum will involve not only a paradigm shift, but a pedagogical one as well. It has been found that virtual environments can be used to help with the paradigm and pedagogical shift between hands-on learning and symbolic representation (Winn, 1993, as cited in Dickey, 2003, p. 106). In the class conducted by Magine, discussed earlier in this paper, this virtual instructor was in the process of teaching the concept of polygons when she suddenly realized that the students needed a lesson on vertices and their relative position in 3D space. She was able to quickly convert her lesson and shift the learning and resulting discussion in this direction through the use of a 3D representation of a polygon floating in space and a 3D axis placed in close proximity. While she was presenting this concept, it was observed that all of the students avatars remained oriented with their faces directed toward the floating polygon and its axis. It was assumed that the students were busy exploring the polygon and its axis from different perspectives (Dickey, 2003, pp. 110-111). The full potential of virtual environments as an educational tool has yet to be explored and there exist powerful pedagogical uses of VEs that have yet to be fully evolved and utilized (Dreher, et al. 2009, p. 212). Teachers are trained to be teachers in the physical world with matching pedagogies. As virtual worlds become more and more prevalent, teachers will be asked more and more often to step away from the way they have been taught, and move outside of their comfort zones to grapple with the emerging learning theories and shifting pedagogies that are inherent in the educational technology of virtual worlds.

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Conclusion and Future Directions Teachers seem to be comfortable teaching the way they were taught. But as technology rapidly changes the playing field of education and students come to this playing field ready to be multi-taskers, collaborators, and yes, even teachers, will the current education system be able to step aside from the way they were taught and allow pedagogy to evolve and become immersed in new, innovative learning theories? There are still many questions to be answered and much research to be conducted in this contemporary area of education. Are students really more motivated in a virtual environment? Does being able to create and manipulate ones own learning tools provide a more immersive way of learning? Can pedagogies be changed to fit into a virtual environment? Does everything need to change? Can there be a balance struck between physical and virtual learning? Can math be taught effectively in an immersive environment? There is very little research out there concerning this matter. The door is open for future forums of research with math pedagogy and immersive learning.

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Pfeil, U., Ang, C.S., Zaphiris, P. (2009). Issues and challenges of teaching and learning in 3D virtual worlds: Real life case studies. Educational Media International, 46(3), 223-238. Schliemann, A.D., Carraher, D.W., Brizuela, B.M., & Jones, W. (1998). Solving algebra problems before algebra instruction. Paper presented at the Second Early Algebra Meeting, University Of Massachusetts at Dartmouth/Tufts University, Medford, MA. Twining, P. (2009). Exploring the educational potential of virtual worldssome reflections from the spp. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 496-514. doi:10.1111/j.14678535.2009.00963.x

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