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CHCI Members Receive Funding from NSF

September 15, 2021

Sang Won Lee and Abiola Akanmu are each principal investigators on new research projects that recently received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Lee’s project aims to facilitate socially constructed learning through a shared, mobile-based virtual reality platform in informal learning settings. It is funded by the NSF Information and Intelligence Systems (IIS) program. CHCI members Myounghoon (Philart) Jeon and Todd Ogle are co-principal investigators of this research.  

Akanmu received funding for a project to improve students’ computational thinking skills in construction engineering and management. This project is funded by the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education. Sang Won Lee is also a co-principal investigator on this project.

RETTL: Facilitating socially constructed learning through a shared, mobile-based virtual reality platform in informal learning settings

RETTL: Facilitating socially constructed learning through a shared, mobile-based virtual reality platform in informal learning settings

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Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is one of the core learning goals in contemporary education. The use of virtual reality (VR) is one approach to increase the engagement of students in STEM, given that it enables immersive learning that one cannot experience in the real world. However, interactivity using VR head-mounted devices (HMDs) is often a solitary experience, cutting users off from the social and learning context of their physical surroundings—collaborating with other students or communicating with instructors. In addition, certain populations may dislike or be discouraged from wearing HMDs, including children, those who wear glasses, and those prone to motion sickness. Therefore, engaging with STEM content through VR is limited in a public setting, such as a museum, by the restricted social interactivity and accessibility of wearing HMDs.

The overarching objective of the proposed project is to develop a socially-connected VR system, MOVIS (Mobile-based VR in Informal STEM Learning), and educational content with which museum attendees can collaboratively engage with STEM topics using mobile devices (tablets) as a window to a virtual world in a co-located setting. The researchers hypothesize that using mobile devices in a shared space will grant a diverse range of learners access to both the physical world (teachers, peers, and physical surroundings) and a virtual world (educational STEM content) in an inclusive manner, facilitating socially constructed learning using VR.

The Cube
The Cube at ICAT

In collaboration with local museums and schools, the team seeks to answer several questions: How can we create a shared learning context in which non-HMD users can experience shared VR and maintain awareness across the physical and virtual worlds? How do the design factors of a shared, mobile-based VR system affect users’ sense of being present socially, and spatially?  How does a shared, mobile-based VR space facilitate socially-constructed learning and enable novel active learning techniques in informal learning settings? To answer these questions, the researchers will develop and assess an interactive exhibit in which learners can engage with planetary science content by employing pedagogical approaches, such as active learning.

Collaborative Research: Improving Students’ Computational Thinking Skills in Construction Engineering and Management

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The labor force of the construction industry is one of the largest in the United States, with 8% of  the total workforce. Nonetheless, it has long suffered from productivity loss, premature exit of workers, and safety issues. To address these challenges, the construction industry has begun investing in sensing technologies (e.g., laser scanners, camera drones, global positioning systems, and radio  frequency identification) that can enhance access to critical information needed for quick and informed decision making. The need to adopt these sensing technologies is also reinforced by the benefits of  improved performance currently realized by other industry sectors, such as manufacturing. 

Processing and analyzing data from sensors, and presenting the resulting models in formats suitable for decision making, however, requires skills and knowledge in data analytics and computational thinking. Unfortunately, most undergraduate construction engineering and management (CEM) students struggle to understand computational concepts and workflows required, because they need to understand how to translate data into knowledge for supporting decisions. A shortage of skilled workers has been identified as an impediment to the technological growth of the  construction industry.