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ED52B-0022. C1. Collaboration : During the guided inquiry, students observed, engaged in making and testing predictions, and problem-solved when they disagreed. . A1 . A Satellite View of the eastern part of Puget Sound.

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C1.Collaboration: During the guided inquiry, students observed, engaged in making and testing predictions, and problem-solved when they disagreed.

A1.A Satellite View of the eastern

part of Puget Sound.

B1.Interactivity: In one study, the avatar (students’ presence) in VPS was a “hand,” controlled with a hand-held tracker and used to navigate (left buttons in view), select menu items (right buttons in view), manipulate tides (see B2) and take measurements (see B3).



C2.Conceptual change: Before VPS (left), this student was creative, but not coherent, in her representations of water movement in Puget Sound. After VPS (right), she drew a scientifically accurate representation that included both vertical and turbulent flow, as well as horizontal.

D1. Immersion: Immersed students (above) wear a head-mounted display with an attached tracker used to feedback head movements to the computer, which changes the view of the model accordingly.

A2.A Scientist’s View of salinity and

water motion in surface layer

(left) and deeper layer (right),

based on model output data.

B2.Observations: Water speed and direction for one tidal cycle are represented by vectors that repeat continuously. An interactive tide chart enables students to stop and start the tides in order to test their ideas about the relationships between water speed, direction and tidal cycle.



D2. Desktop: Desktop students use a more traditional computer screen to view the model. Both desktop and immersed students interacted with VPS in the same way: by changing position or viewpoint, and by repeating experiments.

C3.Peripheral learning:

Above. On her pre-test, a student drew water temperature layers that followed the bottom contours (left). After VPS, she drew horizontal layering, a more accurate representation, on her post-test (right).

Left. One student spontaneously drew a plan view of water circulation on his post-test remarkably similar to the scientific visualization (A2), including the vortex next to the entrance to Puget Sound.

A3.A Student’s View is often limited to paper and books.

B3.Measurements: The diving tool (right) and measurement panel (left), enable students to

measure salinity, speed, and direction at different depths and times in the tidal cycle.

A4.Surface Viewsare available on

Ocean Inquiry Project field


D3.Outcomes: Immersion improved understanding of dynamic water movement in three-dimensions (Winn et. al., 2002). Immersed students also reported more presence than students who used the desktop version of VPS.

Presence “predicts conceptual change as measured by gain scores” (Winn and Windschitl, 2001), and when “post-test scores are regressed onto presence scores” (Winn and Windschitl, 2002).

Students who used the desktop version of VPS also made cognitive gains, and typically used more hand gestures while describing observations (D3).

In both immersed and non-immersed tests, the level of learning was related to the level of engagement: the more engaged (i.e., a higher number of interactions), the greater the conceptual gain.

B4.Experiments: Students made predictions and then performed virtual particle motion experiments to discover water movement patterns in Puget Sound. Buoyancy tests enabled students to test their ideas about density and learn how salinity affects density.

A5.A Virtual View of Puget Sound bathymetry and water, looking to the northwest. A satellite image and relief map have been included in Virtual Puget Sound (VPS) to help users with orientation.

C4.Test Results: Pre-test scores (blue) and post-test scores (red) show that most students gained under-

standing after only an hour of guided inquiry.

Science Education Using a Computer Model-Virtual Puget Sound

Ruth Fruland & William Winn, College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle, WA;

Peter Oppenheimer, Human Interface Technology Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Christian Sarason & Fritz Stahr, Ocean Inquiry Project, Seattle, WA;

A. Puget Sound Views

C. Middle School: Collaborative Learning

B. Virtual Puget Sound Features

D. Undergraduates: Immersive versus Desktop Learning

Pairs of middle school students took turns being immersed in VPS as they performed guided inquiry tasks such as finding the deepest and fastest water, choosing the best time and location to swim across the Sound, and testing their ideas about water circulation.

Individual college students were given a series of tests to perform in VPS and tasked to recommend a new sewage outfall site in Puget Sound. Tests included particle releases at different locations to observe water movement as a function of depth, proximity to shore, and bathymetry.


We created an interactive learning environment based on an oceanographic computer model of Puget Sound - Virtual Puget Sound (VPS) - as an alternative to traditional teaching methods.

Highly complex data sets, in this case, data generated by a computer simulation, and the scientific model on which the simulation is based, are made directly accessible to students by virtue of these visually rich and interactive environments.

Students immersed in this navigable 3-D virtual environment made observations of tidal movements, turned time “on and off,” manipulated the Tide Chart to to stop the tide and observe, measured salinity at different places and depths, and performed particle motion and buoyancy experiments. Scientific concepts were embedded in a goal-based scenario to locate a new sewage outfall in Puget Sound.

Traditional science teaching methods focus on distilled representations of agreed-upon knowledge removed from real-world context, scientific debate, and often, any connection to students’ interests. Our strategy leverages students' natural interest in their environment, provides meaningful context by using a realistic problem-based scenario, and actively engages students in marshalling evidence, engaging in scientific debate and refining their own knowledge and understanding.

Results show that VPS provides a powerful learning environment, but highlights the need for research on how to most effectively represent concepts and organize interactions to support inquiry and understanding.

Research is also needed to ensure that new technologies and visualizations do not foster misconceptions, including the impression that the model represents reality rather than being a useful tool. Results from prior work with VPS with middle school and college students are presented here.

Our science education research will continue with funding from the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) as part of a recently formed modeling partnership. Future research will compare knowledge acquisition and retention fostered by computer simulations, class-based curriculum activities and field trip experiences. The goal is to discern 1) affordances each approach brings to science teaching, and 2) synergistic advantages of an integrative design for fostering meaningful learning.


Winn, W. D., & Windschitl, M. (2001). Learning in artificial

environments. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 8 (3), 5-23.

Winn, W. D., & Windschitl, M. (2002). Strategies used by university

students to learn aspects of physical oceanography in a virtual

environment. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the

American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Winn, W. D., Windschitl, M., Fruland, R., & Lee, Y. (2002). When

does immersion in a virtual environment help students

construct understanding? In P. Bell & R. Stevens (Eds.),

Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning

Sciences, ICLS 2002. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.