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A 3D Virtual Learning System for STEM Education

Abstract. A recent boom has been seen in 3D virtual worlds for entertainment, and this in turn has led to a surge of interest in their educational applications. Although booming development has been seen, most of them only strengthen the traditional teaching methods using a new platform without changing the nature of how to teach and learn. Modern computer science technology should be applied in STEM education for the purpose of rising learning efficiency and interests. In this paper, we focus on the reasoning, design, and implementation of a 3D virtual learning system that merges STEM experiments into virtual laboratory and brings entertainment to knowledge learning. An advanced hand gesture interface was introduced to enable flexible manipulation on virtual objects with two hands. The recognition ability of single hand grasping-moving-rotating activity (SH-GMR) allows single hand to move and rotate a virtual object at the same time. We implemented several virtual experiments in the VR environment to demonstrate to the public that the proposed system is a powerful tool for STEM education. The benefits of this system are evaluated followed by two virtual experiments in STEM field.

Keywords: 3D virtual learning, Human machine interface (HCI), hand gesture interaction, single hand grasping-moving-rotating (SH-GMR), STEM education.

1 Introduction

Digital virtual worlds have been used in education for a number of years, as the common use of which, the issues of providing effective support for teaching and learning arouse continuing discussions. Considerable limitation exists in the modern pedagogies and their practices. According to Mohan, students are presented with the final results of knowledge but not with data and experience to think about [1]. Many current educational tools, instead of enhancing the notions of interaction and studentcentered learning, only strengthen the traditional teaching methods using a new platform without changing the nature of how to teach and learn. The functions of computers in online learning environments and the existing interactive systems are far from what is desirable. Examination based teaching assessment, although widely being used, always has difficulty in revealing teaching effect and instructing the succeeding action of teachers and students [2]. If technology can give timely feedback to players in the process of learning activity, learners would timely adjust their understanding, behaviors, and implementation. Computer games are much attractive to young people, which provide a possible breakthrough to push forward new instructive technologies. Playing games in virtual worlds with educational purposes, students are not only able to learn knowledge, but also explore new experiments on their own [3]. The fast development of Internet-based communication technologies, e.g. online video chat, portable devices, mobile platforms and cloud computation, allows instructors and learners to be connected and get access to knowledge anytime and anywhere such that they can have "face-to-face" talk and "hands-on" educations even if they are not in the same classroom.

A recent boom has been seen in 3D virtual worlds for entertainment, and this in turn has led to a surge of interest in their educational applications. We will focus on the reasoning and the design of a 3D virtual learning system that merges real experiments in virtual laboratory and brings entertainment to knowledge learning. The design of the system aims at improving teaching and learning efficiency and interest by introducing advanced human machine interface and VR interactive teaching software into classroom and online learning. We will discuss the benefits of applying hand gesture interface and VR environment into e-learning and also give a design of the system with two examples.

 
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