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Abstract

Students' opinions about the opportunities and the implications of VR in instruction were investigated by administering a questionnaire to humanities and engineering undergraduates. The questionnaire invited participants to rate a series of statements concerning motivation and emotion, skills, cognitive styles, benefits and learning outcomes associated with the use of VR in education. The representation which emerged was internally consistent and articulated into specific dimensions. It was not affected by gender, by the previous use of VR software, or by the knowledge of the main topics concerning the introduction of IT in instruction. Also the direct participation in a training session based on an immersive VR experience did not influence such a representation, which was partially modulated by the kind of course attended by students.
Education and Information Technologies 5:4 (2000): 317±327
#2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers, Manufactured in The Netherlands
The Representation of Virtual Reality in Education
ALESSANDRO ANTONIETTI*
Cognitive Psychology Laboratory, Catholic University of Sacred Heart, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milano (Italy).
E-mail: antoniet@mi.unicatt.it. Address correspondence to: Alessandro Antonietti, Ph.D. Professor of Psychol-
ogy, Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Sacred Heart, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milano (Italy).
* Corresponding author. E-mail: antoniet@mi.unicatt.it
CHIARA RASI
Cognitive Psychology Laboratory, Catholic University of Sacred Heart, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milano (Italy).
E-mail: chiara@dr.com
ERNESTO IMPERIO
Institute of Industrial Technologies and Automation, National Research Council, viale Lombardia 20=A, 20133,
Milano (Italy). E-mail: imperio@itia.mi.cnr.it
MARCO SACCO
Institute of Industrial Technologies and Automation, National Research Council, viale Lombardia 20=A, 20133,
Milano (Italy). E-mail: sacco@itia.mi.cnr.it.
Students' opinions about the opportunities and the implications of VR in instruction were investigated by
administering a questionnaire to humanities and engineering undergraduates. The questionnaire invited partici-
pants to rate a series of statements concerning motivation and emotion, skills, cognitive styles, bene®ts and
learning outcomes associated with the use of VR in education. The representation which emerged was internally
consistent and articulated into speci®c dimensions. It was not affected by gender, by the previous use of VR
software, or by the knowledge of the main topics concerning the introduction of IT in instruction. Also the direct
participation in a training session based on an immersive VR experience did not in¯uence such a representation,
which was partially modulated by the kind of course attended by students.
Keywords: virtual reality; representation; attitudes toward computer; technical instruction; post secondary
education.
Introduction
Opportunities of Virtual Reality in instruction
Virtual Reality (VR) offers a large number of possibilities in instruction (Helsel, 1992;
Wexelblat, 1993). VR helps students both to experience directly some physical properties
of objects and events and to realise the actual implications of such properties. VR favours
also the discovery of features which are often, in traditional educational tools, perceptually
`hidden' because it permits users to look at elements which cannot be seen (Osberg, 1995;
Pantelidis, 1993); on the other hand, VR prompts students to conceptualise experience at
an abstract level (Antonietti & Cantoia, 2000). Moreover, VR allows users to change one's
point of view in a continuous and ¯exible manner by accessing new, unusual perspectives
(Ferrington & Loge, 1992), or to make transformations that would otherwise be impossible
in the real world (Larijani, 1994). Furthermore, VR permits one to vary the values of some
given variables in order to verify the consequences of these changes. In other words, VR
provides a ®eld where students may attempt to carry out `mental proofs', and also free and
imaginative elaboration of the inputs (Austakalnis & Blatner, 1992; Kruger, 1991). Finally,
VR helps learners to realise some critical issues involved in knowledge construction since
they can grasp important epistemological implications (Mantovani, 1996); for instance,
VR experiences induce students to assume spontaneously a meta-perspective, namely, to
think not to `what' they face to, but to `why' or `how' something is in front of them
(Antonietti & Cantoia, 2000).
The importance of the representation of VR
The educational opportunities of VR need to be recognised by students in order to become
effective. This leads us to consider the representation that students have of what VR
involves when it is employed in instruction. However, whereas students' general attitudes
toward the computer have been extensively investigated (e.g., Francis, 1993; Gardner,
Dukes & Discenza, 1993; Smith, Caputi & Rawstorne, 2000), little is known about
students' opinions about the impact that the computer can have on learning processes
(Perry & Perry, 1998; Wilson & Whitlock, 1998); and as yet no data is available about
what students think about the speci®c impact of VR in instruction.
The ®rst goal of this study was to analyse students' representation of some psycholo-
gical correlates which are usually associated with the use of VR for educational aims. The
second purpose was to assess whether such a representation was affected by gender, a
factor that literature suggests to be a relevant variable in studying attitudes toward
computer (e.g., Colley, Gale & Harris, 1994; Shashaani, 1993). Thirdly, we were interested
in identifying possible links between the representation considered here and the kind of
study attended. Furthermore, the study was aimed at verifying whether the previous use of
any VR package and=or the competence acquired about instructional issues involved in
computer use in¯uence the representation. Finally, we wondered whether the direct
experience with a VR educational tool can modify the representation of VR in education.
As far as the last question is concerned, we engaged a subsample of students in an
instructional session devised to teach, by means of a VR package allowing an immersion
into a virtual workshop, some principles of machining.
An instrument to study the representation of VR in education
In order to study what students think about the use of VR in instruction, a questionnaire
was devised. It consisted of 24 items concerning various psychological aspects. In each
item a statement was reported. The respondent was asked to rate on a 5-point scale
(1 minimum; 5 maximum) his=her agreement about what was expressed in each
318 ANTONIETTI ET AL
statement. The items of the questionnaire are listed in Table 1: the ®rst column reports the
number of the item (in the table items are listed in an order which corresponds to the
decreasing values of the means recorded, whereas in the questionnaire they were listed in a
different order corresponding to the number of the items); the second column reports the
statement (the subject of the sentence was always `Virtual Reality ...').
Items were focused on the psychological correlates of using VR in instruction and
concerned these issues: motivational and emotional aspects of learning (e.g., attraction,
involvement, boredom, tiredness), behaviour during the learning process (active participa-
tion, effort), mental abilities required (attention, language, motor control), style of thinking
preferred (intuition, visualisation, re¯ection), cognitive bene®ts and learning results (better
understanding, memorisation, application, immediate feedback, overall view), metacogni-
tion (planning). Statements were designed by following two approaches. Firstly, the review
of literature about VR in instruction suggested some relevant topics to be included in the
questionnaire: claims about the opportunities that VR opens in education and alleged risks,
skills and processes involved, learning outcomes, and so on were converted into state-
ments. Secondly, ®ve secondary-school teachers employing VR in their professional
activity were asked to list what, in their opinion, characterises the use of VR in education.
Lists produced following the ®rst and the second approaches were collapsed into a general
Tab le 1. Mean scores and standard deviations of all the items of the Questionnaire listed in decreasing order
# ITEMS: `VR ...'MSD
20 IS ATTRACTIVE 4.37 0.97
24 ALLOWS AN IMMEDIATE CHECK OF WHAT HAS BEEN STUDIED 3.99 1.04
5 FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE A VISUAL THINKING STYLE 3.96 1.16
1 INDUCES PERSONS TO BE ACTIVE 3.90 0.95
8 HELPS PERSONS TO HAVE A GLOBAL OVERVIEW 3.87 0.98
14 MAKES THE COMPREHENSION EASIER 3.74 0.94
10 MAKES NOTION APPLICATION EASIER 3.57 1.06
16 REQUIRES CONCENTRATION 3.57 1.08
12 MAKES THE MEMORIZATION EASIER 3.43 0.99
11 ALLOWS TO LEARN FAST 3.42 0.95
13 REQUIRES TO PLAN ACTIONS 3.31 1.06
18 FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE AN INTUITIVE THINKING STYLE 3.24 1.12
9 ALLOWS TO LEARN WITH NO EFFORT AND=OR IN AN IMPLICIT WAY 3.17 1.08
6 IS SUITABLE FOR PERSONS WHO ARE BORED IN A SHORT TIME 3.14 1.32
7 FACILITATES PERSONS LACKING OF LINGUISTIC ABILITIES 3.01 1.23
21 FACILITATES PERSONS WHO TEND TO THINK SCHEMATICALLY 2.99 1.01
23 FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE QUICK REFLEXES 2.68 1.08
17 IS SUITABLE FOR LOGIC PERSONS 2.68 0.92
22 REQUIRES MANUAL ABILITIES 2.55 1.19
2 IS SUITABLE FOR THOUGHTFUL PERSONS 2.54 0.96
3 IS TIRING 2.49 1.21
19 MAY BE TOO INVOLVING 2.41 1.21
15 MAY BE CONFUSING 2.19 1.08
4 IS NOT SUITABLE FOR PRECISE PERSONS 2.02 1.14
REPRESENTATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY 319
list by avoiding repetition of the same issues and by integrating similar issues into a unique
statement.
In the questionnaire the list of statements to be endorsed was preceded by a brief
introduction explaining the aim of the instrument (that is, studying what persons think
about the use of VR in education) and reporting the instructions for completion.
The virtual workshop
The instructional session employed in this study was based on a VR prototypal system
devised to teach the utilisation of machine tools. The prototypal system consisted of an
environment, a virtual workshop, which contained a traditional centre lathe and a milling
machine, and of a hypermedia environment providing technical information and didactic
instructions; a third environment (tutor) had the function of introducing the student into
the system and of allowing them to choose among some proposed alternatives according to
the preferred type of exercise and learning modality.
The VR environment was designed to enable students to learn about the architecture of
the machines (declarative knowledge) and their use (procedural knowledge) within a
realistic situation, performing practical operations, both physical (i.e., piece positioning on
machine tool and cutting tool movement) and conceptual (i.e., choice of cutting tool from
the virtual store, choice of cutting speed). The virtual machines were planned to satisfy
some requirements mentioned above. They were highly interactive because they could
work only if students performed the appropriate operations; each performed operation was
followed by feedback about its correctness. Furthermore, on-line assessment and direct
evaluation were provided because comments about each step of the procedure were given.
Comments consisted either of error messages and hints at consulting the relevant section
of the hypermedia or of prompts to carry out the next operation. Learning paths were
personalised both since students were free to operate on the machine according to different
working styles and since they were allowed to begin from the exploration of the virtual
prototype or from the navigation of hypermedia. This should also facilitate integration of
practical and conceptual ways of learning. During this study we focused only on the
turning lathe.
The virtual lathe was constituted by a set of components (structures, piece supports,
parts for the information transfer, and control) that received power, data, and materials with
the goal to modify their physical characteristic by a sequence of operations. The machine
presented some components that were in relative motion and therefore it was necessary to
de®ne their own kinetics characteristics and their movement synchronisation according to
the speci®c operation to be carried out.
The hypermedia environment represented the knowledge store=manager of the system.
It allowed the student to learn through texts, pictures, movies, graphical simulations, and
VR or real situation demos. It was divided into three parts: glossary, hypertext, and
simulation. The student could access the hypermedia environment on his=her request; the
structure of the student ± computer interaction was open-ended. Five different kinds of
320 ANTONIETTI ET AL
lesson were implemented in the system: theoretical, demonstration, guided practising, free
practising, and examination.
Improvements in learning with the Virtual Workshop
The instructional ef®cacy of the virtual workshop was tested extensively in some
experiments (Antonietti, Imperio, Rasi & Sacco, in press) which showed that the virtual
lathe can be used to teach what a lathe is and how such a machine works. The virtual
workshop allowed students to understand the essential features of the lathe and to update
or to restructure their initial knowledge of this machine. The outcomes showed that the
virtual lathe experience enabled students to construct in their mind a whole model of the
machine in which elements acquired via direct experience and notion presentation were
integrated.
The trends recorded suggested that in naive students learning is enhanced when the
exploration of the virtual lathe precedes the presentation of hypermedia information;
while, for expert students it is better to begin to inspect hypermedia and then to navigate
the virtual environment.
It was argued that the construction of a mental model requires that some separate
elements are integrated into a whole structure (Gentner & Stevens, 1983; Johnson-Laird,
1983). Applying this perspective to the case of learning what a lathe is and what is it for,
we assumed that understanding of such a machine requires students to be able to represent
its parts correctly assembled and to identify their functional roles.
In the construction of a mental model some elements play the role of pivot-cues or of
`pegs' to which the other elements can be linked. Presumably, different levels of familiarity
with the contents to be learned induce people to privilege a particular kind of such `pegs'.
Naive students prefer to begin by ®xing in their mind some concrete `pegs' derived by
motor-perceptual experience; expert students prefer to improve their preliminary knowl-
edge ®rst by activating conceptual `pegs' and then by relating to these elements new
elements they catch by direct experience through action.
A study on the representation of VR
Participants
A total of 110 undergraduates (60 male and 50 female) volunteered in the study.
Participants ranged in age between 22 and 28 y. They were not paid nor received course
credits.
Undergraduates were divided into two groups according to the kind of faculty they
attended: 58 humanities students (Philosophy, Literature, Foreign Languages, Pedagogy,
Psychology) and 52 technical-scienti®c students (Engineering). Within each group
individuals were randomly assigned either to the `No VR experience' or to the `VR
experience' condition so that two subsamples of equal size were constituted.
REPRESENTATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY 321
Procedure
Students were asked to participate in an investigation about the use of computers in
education. Participants assigned to the `No VR experience' condition were told that they
should ®ll out a questionnaire; participants assigned to the `VR experience' condition were
told that they should be involved in an about 1-hour learning session in which they would
use a VR environment aimed at teaching some core concepts of machining. In all cases
students were told that the questionnaire was anonymous and that there were no time limits
to ®ll it out.
The questionnaire was administered to `No VR experience' students in the university
campus before the beginning of a class. These students were asked to tell if they had
previously used any kind of VR software.
Students assigned to the `VR experience' condition ®lled out the questionnaire at the
end of the training session in the virtual workshop. The training consisted of the following
phases:
Warm up: basic instructions for navigating the virtual environment were provided and
exempli®ed; then students were trained in exploring the virtual environment by allowing
them to navigate ad libitum the virtual workshop.
Assigned task: students were asked to employ the virtual lathe included in the virtual
workshop to carry out given operations. They could use the hypertext about the lathe in
order to achieve information about how to perform the task.
Main features of the representation of VR
Patterns of responses
Table 1 reports mean rates computed in each item considering the whole sample. The
inspection of the table shows that means are distributed along a relatively wide range of
values. It is worth noticing also that in each item the distribution of responses covered all
the range of the possible rates (from 1 to 5). Thus, items of the questionnaire seemed to be
adequately discriminative.
The overall picture that emerges is encouraging: in fact, negative items ± that is, items
reporting statements which describe possible limits and risks of VR ±had the lowest mean
values. Furthermore, the highest rates concerned properties of VR which are not trivial: for
example, students appreciated very much the opportunity that VR allows to check
immediately what is learned, to acquire a global vision, to facilitate understanding, or to
apply the notions assimilated.
A factor analysis was carried out by considering all items and by applying the principal
component model. Cattel's Scree test suggested the extraction of ®ve factors. After a
Varimax rotation, the matrix reported in Table 2 was obtained. Factors can be interpreted as
follows:
322 ANTONIETTI ET AL
± Factor 1 includes items concerning the cognitive outcomes of the learning process
(comprehension, memorisation, global view, check, and application) and some motiva-
tional aspects.
± Factor 2 refers to a direct learning style (based on intuition, visualisation, quick re¯exes)
and to possible limits of such a style (e.g., confusion and excessive involvement).
± Factor 3 is loaded by items describing personal qualities associated to re¯ection and
abstract thinking.
± Factor 4 can be labelled as `action approach' since it is characterised by traits such as
impatience, inaccuracy, manual skills.
± Factor 5 concerns an impulsive, not strategic approach.
Gender differences
Mean rates of each item were calculated separately for the male and the female
subsamples. T-test revealed no signi®cant differences due to gender.
Tab le 2. Factor analysis matrix after Varimax rotation
ITEM FACTOR
12345
MAKES THE COMPREHENSION EASIER .77
MAKES THE MEMORIZATION EASIER .69
MAKES NOTION APPLICATION EASIER .68
ALLOWS AN IMMEDIATE CHECK .61
IS ATTRACTIVE .60
INDUCES PERSONS TO BE ACTIVE .55
ALLOWS TO LEARN WITH NO EFFORT .44
HELPS PERSONS TO HAVE A GLOBAL OVERVIEW .41
MAY BE TOO INVOLVING .60
FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE QUICK REFLEXES .55
FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE AN INTUITIVE STYLE .54
REQUIRES CONCENTRATION .53
MAY BE CONFUSING .50
IS TIRING .46
FACILITATES PERSONS WHO HAVE A VISUAL STYLE .44
IS SUITABLE FOR THOUGHTFUL PERSONS .66
IS SUITABLE FOR LOGIC PERSONS .63
FACILITATES PERSONS WHO THINK SCHEMATICALLY .62
IS SUITABLE FOR PERSONS WHO ARE BORED .60
IS NOT SUITABLE FOR PRECISE PERSONS .55
FACILITATES PERSONS LACKING OF LINGUISTIC ABILITIES .51
REQUIRES MANUAL ABILITIES .44
REQUIRES TO PLAN ACTIONS 7.69
ALLOWS TO LEARN FAST .68
Eigenvalue 3.71 2.90 2.04 1.67 1.33
Percentage of variance explained 16.05 12.07 8.49 6.96 5.55
REPRESENTATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY 323
Differences depending on the kind of course attended and on educational VR experience
Two-factor analyses of variance were carried out on each item of the questionnaire by
assuming the kind of faculty attended (Humanities vs Technical-scienti®c) and the training
with the virtual workshop (`No VR experience' vs `VR experience') as independent
variables. Table 3 reports mean rates recorded in each cell of the 2 2 factorial design and
Tab le 3. Mean scores (SD in parentheses) in Humanities and Engineering students under the NO VR and VR
experience conditions and results of ANOVAs
ITEM CONDITION ANOVA F
HUMANITIES ENGINEERING
NO VR VR NO VR VR FACULTY VR
EXPERIENCE
FACULTY
XVR
EXPERIENCE
IS NOT SUITABLE FOR
PRECISE PERSONS
1.81
(0.98)
1.70
(1.07)
2.21
(1.20)
2.42
(1.25)
6.82
**
0.05 0.51
MAKES NOTION APPLI-
CATION EASIER
3.19
(0.98)
3.33
(1.11)
4.00
(0.82)
3.83
(1.17)
11.20
***
0.00 0.62
MAKES THE MEMORIZA-
TION EASIER
3.30
(0.94)
2.85
(1.06)
3.86
(0.80)
3.75
(0.90)
16.91
***
2.35 0.86
REQUIRES TO PLAN
ACTIONS
3.10
(0.79)
3.15
(1.13)
3.21
(1.26)
3.87
(0.90)
4.54
*
3.23 2.36
MAKES THE COMPRE-
HENSION EASIER
3.61
(0.84)
3.22
(1.12)
4.14
(0.75)
4.00
(0.78)
14.81
***
2.46 0.53
IS ATTRACTIVE 4.52
(0.72)
3.85
(1.32)
4.78
(0.50)
4.30
(0.99)
4.00 10.68
***
0.23
FACILITATES PERSONS
WHO HAVE QUICK
REFLEXES
3.00
(0.93)
2.96
(1.22)
2.68
(1.10)
1.96
(0.75)
11.55
***
3.77 3.07
ALLOWS AN IMMEDIATE
CHECK OF WHAT HAS
BEEN STUDIED
3.39
(1.17)
4.18
(1.03)
4.18
(0.77)
4.33
(0.81)
6.32
*
6.50
*
2.96
IS SUITABLE FOR
THOUGHTFUL
PERSONS
2.45
(0.77)
2.67
(1.00)
2.28
(0.76)
2.79
(1.28)
0.01 3.86
*
0.63
IS SUITABLE FOR
PERSONS WHO ARE
BORED IN A SHORT
TIME
3.58
(0.92)
2.81
(1.44)
3.28
(1.38)
2.79
(1.41)
0.41 6.47
*
0.30
MAY BE TOO
INVOLVING
2.97
(1.08)
1.81
(0.83)
2.82
(1.30)
1.87
(1.15)
0.04 24.54
***
0.24
FACILITATES
PERSONS WHO TEND
TO THINK SCHEMAT-
ICALLY
2.74
(0.93)
3.22
(1.05)
2.78
(0.83)
3.30
(1.16)
0.09 6.74
*
0.00
*p <.05 **p <.01 ***p <.001
324 ANTONIETTI ET AL
the results of the ANOVAs (only if signi®cant principal and=or interaction effects
occurred).
Engineering students rated higher than humanities students the cognitive aspects of the
learning results produced by VR: memorisation (respectively, M3.81, SD 0.84;
M3.09, SD 1.01), comprehension (M 4.08, SD 0.76; M 3.43, SD 0.99),
application of notions (respectively, M 3.92, SD 0.98; M 3.26, SD 1.03), immedi-
ate feedback (M 4.25, SD 0.79; M 3.76, SD 1.17). Engineering students evaluated
higher than humanities students also planning (M 3.52, SD 1.15; M 3.12,
SD 0.96) and imprecision (M 2.31, SD 1.21; M 1.76, SD 1.01). In contrast,
humanities students scored higher than engineering students in the item 23 (quick re¯exes)
(respectively, M 2.98, SD 1.07; M 2.35, SD 1.01).
As far as the in¯uence produced by the direct experience with the virtual workshop is
concerned, we observed that it had the effect to increase, as compared to the `No VR
experience' condition, ratings about the immediate check (respectively, M4.25,
SD 0.93; M 3.76, SD 1.07), thoughtfulness (M 2.72, SD 1.13; M 2.37,
SD 0.76), and schematic thinking (M 3.25, SD 1.09; M 2.76, SD 0.87), whereas
it decreased ratings of involvement (M 1.84, SD 0.99; M 2.90, SD 1.18), attrac-
tion (M 4.06, SD 1.19; M 4.64, SD 0.64), and boredom (M 2.80, SD 1.41;
M3.44, SD 1.16).
The same 2 2 ANOVA model was applied to the factorial scores derived from
the factorial analysis described above. Signi®cant effects emerged only in scores of the
®rst three factors. Engineering students obtained mean scores for Factor 1 higher
than humanities students (respectively, M 0.31, SD 0.88; M ÿ0.27, SD 1.03;
F
1 106
10.05, p <.01). `No VR experience' students scored higher than `VR experience'
students on Factor 2 (M 0.29, SD 1.01; M 70.34, SD 0.88; F
1 106
12.63,
p<.001) whereas the opposite was true on Factor 3 (M 70.34, SD 0.69; M 0.39,
SD 1.16; F
1 106
16.16, p <.001).
Differences depending on the previous use of VR tools
Participants assigned to the `No VR experience' condition were asked to say if they had
previously used any VR tool. Thus, in this condition we could identify two subgroups of
students: previous and no previous use of VR. No signi®cant differences between these
subgroups emerged by applying t-test at each item of the questionnaire.
Differences depending on expertise in educational application of VR
`No VR experience' humanities students were divided into two subgroups according to
their previous participation=no participation to an academic course about the educational
implications of information technologies (IT). T-test carried out for each item showed that
mean rates separately computed for each subgroups were not signi®cantly different. Only
on item 22 students who attended the IT course scored signi®cantly higher (M 2.87,
REPRESENTATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY 325
SD 0.96) than students who did not attend such a course (M 1.93, SD 1.22)
(t
29
72.40, p <.05).
Discussion
This study, focused on students' beliefs concerning the educational impact of VR,
indicated that undergraduates identi®ed a large number of opportunities stressed by
theorists and researchers in the ®eld of VR applied to instruction. It is worth noticing
that not only the most blatant qualities of VR were recognised, but also more sophisticated,
not self-evident issues were appreciated.
The representation studied here appeared to be internally articulated: a relatively clear
factorial structure underlies the complex of evaluations that students were asked to express
through the questionnaire. Consistent clusters of items emerged, suggesting that opinions
investigated are coherent and organised into speci®c dimensions.
The representation at hand seems also to be stable. It is not affected by gender, by the
previous use of VR software, or by the knowledge of the main cultural, pedagogical, and
psychological topics concerning the introduction of IT in instruction. Also the direct
participation to a training session focused on machining instruction and based on an
immersive VR experience did not cause students to modify their thoughts about the role
and the consequences of VR in education. The experience with the virtual lathe had only
the effect to reduce ratings of the attractiveness and of the perception of involvement and
to suggest that re¯ective and abstract thinking is required while learning through VR.
Presumably, these changes depended on the speci®c features of the VR tool employed: the
virtual lathe prototype, in fact, was heavily focused on the concepts to be learned and
therefore involved a high load of mental processing; furthermore, it was characterised by
an essential graphic with a low visual impact and without impressive sensory effects.
The most in¯uencing factor appeared to be the kind of course attended by students, even
though signi®cant effects seemed to be restricted to a speci®c issue: engineering students
appreciated more than humanities undergraduates the cognitive correlates of VR. This
might depend on the fact that in technical-scienti®c disciplines conceptualisation plays a
crucial role, so that learning dif®culties are perceived particularly in that area; thus,
engineering students are induced to believe that IT aids, such as VR tools, should produce
relevant cognitive bene®ts.
The overall picture that emerges from the investigation is that students have a well-
de®ned and deep-rooted conception about what VR can introduce in a learning process.
This stresses the need to pay attention to what students think about the VR tools that they
are asked to use. Such attention is important in order to verify whether what is relevant in
the teachers' opinion is also relevant in the learners' opinion. The results of the study
carried out suggest also that beliefs about the opportunities and the implications of VR in
instruction are unlikely to change spontaneously or as a mere consequence of knowledge
acquisition, practice, or experience. Rather, it appears that well-focused interventions are
needed to lead students to reject inadequate conceptions about VR or to realise educational
properties of VR of which they are not aware.
326 ANTONIETTI ET AL
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