Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Effects of Seating Location and Stereoscopic Display on Learning Outcomes in an Introductory Physical Geography Class

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Effects of Seating Location and Stereoscopic Display on Learning Outcomes in an Introductory Physical Geography Class

Article excerpt

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INTRODUCTION

Physical geography is concerned with identifying, describing, and understanding Earth surface objects and the processes that shape them. Atmospheric circulatory systems, supercells, plant canopies, soils, streams, stratovolcanoes, alpine glaciers, fault scarps, parabolic dunes, and coastlines are all examples of objects studied in introductory college, physical geography courses (e.g., Arbogast, 2011; Christopherson, 2011; Petersen et al., 2011). These objects take forms that are inherently three-dimensional (3-D), and most are characterized by irregular geometries. The particular shapes of these objects are contingent on the processes responsible for their formation, which act in varying temporal and spatial contexts, making these objects (e.g., landforms) exhibit a certain amount of randomness in form. The apparent randomness of these objects makes them difficult for students new to the subject to generalize and, ultimately, to categorize conceptually. Students usually have little knowledge or intuition about Earth surface forms and processes (Knuepfer and Petersen, 2002), which compounds the problems inherent in their visualization. In addition, conceptualizing objects at or near the Earth's surface requires spatial thinking (Muehlberger and Boyer, 1961; Kali and Orion, 1996)-a skill not typically developed in most formal education systems (Kastens et al., 2009).

In our teaching experience, the best technique for helping students understand the underlying properties that describe and classify these objects is to provide them with numerous examples from various spatial locations. The more realistic those examples are (especially when beginning to introduce a concept and using more idealized diagrams later [e.g., Goldstone and Son, 2005]), the easier it will be for students to recognize the objects in real-world, physical landscapes and to understand the processes that shape them-a primary goal for this class. Stereoscopic displays, such as a GeoWall (http://www.geowall.org), present material to students in true 3-D and, thus, directly reveal the 3-D nature of the objects under consideration (Johnson et al., 2006; Slocum et al., 2007). That is, stereoscopic displays create the 3-D effect by displaying two perspectives of the same object separately to the left eye and the right eye (Anthamatten and Ziegler, 2006). Although the benefits of 3-D presentation systems in the classroom remain ambiguous (e.g., Trindade et al., 2002; Moreno and Mayer, 2004), it is possible that learning outcomes (i.e., gains in learning) in those courses will benefit from the stereoscopic presentation of course material.

Regardless of whether stereoscopic displays enhance learner outcomes in general, a key issue is that the 3-D effect created by stereopsis is sensitive to seating location (e.g., Shibata et al., 2011). For example, the company THX (San Rafael, CA; currently, the industry standard for high-fidelity, visual reproduction) recommends that audiences be located within 30° left or right of a center reference line drawn from the front to back of the room (Available at: http://www.thx. com). The recommended maximum angle that a viewer should be located with respect to the screen is 45°; the 3-D effect drops off markedly beyond that angle (Fig. 1). Viewing angle controls the distance a student should be located away from the screen to maximize the 3-D effect. THX recommends that viewers be seated with a distance from the screen that would create an angle of 50° between lines drawn from the viewer to each edge of the screen (i.e., the viewing angle) (Fig. 1). Most existing higher-education classrooms, however, were not originally designed to accommodate 3-D stereoscopic displays with these seating angle and distance considerations. Because seating location controls the apparent 3-D effect of such displays, existing classrooms may not be suitable for improving learning outcomes that might otherwise benefit from the 3-D presentation of lecture material. …

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