Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Faith Anne McCreary
Title:Adult-child Differences in Spatial Learning in an Immersive Virtual Environment as a Function of Field-of-view
Degree:Master of Science
Committee Chair: Robert Williges
Committee Members:Katherine Cennamo
Woodrow Barfield
Keywords:Virtual Reality, Virtual Environments, Head-mounted Displays, Age-related Differences, Gender-related Differences, Spatial Awareness, Route Learning, Simulator Sickness, Presence
Date of defense:October 3, 1997
Availability:Release the entire work immediately worldwide.


Despite the potential of immersive virtual environments (VEs) as educational tools, little is known about how VE system parameters impact a child using the environment. Designers of VE applications targeted at children must rely on studies done with adults to guide their design decisions. The failure to understand how children differ from adults in their responses to VEs poses a serious obstacle to the design of effective learning environments for children. The main goal of this research was to quantify the impact of varying one VE system parameter, field-of-view, on large-scale, spatial learning in middle elementary schoolchildren and the incidence of side-effects in that population in an immersive VE. The other goals of this research were to identify 1) how, and if, middle elementary schoolchildrenís responses to this environment differ from that of adult participants, and 2) how, and if, gender changed participant performance and responses. Adults and 7-9 year old children were taught a U-shaped route through a six room virtual house, while wearing a helmet mounted display (HMD). Participants viewed the environment under monoscopic conditions with the horizontal field-of-view (HFOV) of the display set at either 30 or 48 degrees. Head tracking was not enabled as the children were unable to maintain a normal head position while wearing the HMD. After the learning period, participants performed tasks designed to assess spatial knowledge of the space: 1) locomotion efficiency was measured by the number of collisions with objects, 2) landmark knowledge was measured by the participantís ability to recognize photos of objects found in the environment 3) route knowledge was measured by the participantís ability to correctly re-trace the route and name the sequence of landmarks along the route, 4) configuration knowledge was measured by the participantís ability to point to occluded landmarks, make spatial inferences, and construct a model of the environment. Participants also completed a simple questionnaire which assessed the incidence of equipment difficulties and side-effects, general enjoyment, and the sense of presence in the VE. Additionally, the participantís vision and balance was checked before and after immersion in the VE. Locomotion, route knowledge, and configuration knowledge efficiency increased significantly with both age and FOV. At the smaller FOV, both adults and 7-9 year olds developed a significantly lesser degree of spatial knowledge, with the effect being amplified in the 7-9 year olds. In general, the more sophisticated the level the spatial knowledge required by a task, the greater the impact of FOV and age, with configuration knowledge being achieved significantly less frequently than route knowledge. Gender also significantly impacted the development of configuration knowledge. Only landmark knowledge did not change with age, FOV, or gender. Also, the incidence of VE balance side-effects decreased significantly with age and was impacted by gender. The incidence of equipment difficulties also decreased with age,with significantly more, and longer, breaks being taken by 7-9 year olds than by adults. Further, general enjoyment of VE immersion and presence decreased significantly with age.

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