A Virtual Reality Infrastructure for Enhancing Undergraduate Math Teaching and Learning

Purpose and Goals

To help students’ better understand and prepare for their upper level math courses, this project was designed to establish a Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL) for math learning and teaching at PVAMU. The well-established VRL has been demonstrated to help reduce the relatively high failure rate in some of the basic but crucial undergraduate mathematics courses at PVAMU, such as College Algebra, Calculus I, and Differential Equations. The Virtual Reality (VR) learning environment uses 3D technologies to allow the creation, simulation, interaction, and visualization of 3D representations of abstract data, events, and concepts that are very difficult or too cost to present in the real physical world. The ultimate goal of this project was to attract more students to STEM programs, raise the retention rate, prepare them for their graduate studies and their professional career pursuits, and provide them with skills needed to compete in the workforce, and create a pool of highly talented and productive citizens.

Activities over the 5- year Cycle (2007-2012)

During the first year, the major effort was put on the design and construction of the VRL lab. Floor plan, door lock, tiles, wall paint colors, tables, chairs, PC’s, software, etc., took the team’s tremendous efforts. From the end of the first year, the team, together with two graduate students of Computer Science, started working on the design and development of teaching and learning modules for College Algebra. Weekly meetings during the regular semesters and daily meetings during the summer terms were conducted. Project-related professional meetings were attended, and sometimes presentations were given too.

Sample Interventions Used

  • Make sure that student is attending (no distractions from cell phones and iPads, etc.);
  • Use proper terminology that is within student’s level of comprehension;
  • Design, develop, and exploit game-like teaching & learning modules;
  • Utilize additional software such as Maple to illustrate figures for better understanding;
  • Help student by providing intuitive clues to solve mathematical problems.

Sample Students’ Feedback and a Success Story

Students’ survey shows that most students believe that the 3D teaching and learning modules can help them in learning math concepts more easily.

Question: “In your opinion, what is the more effective way of learning math, namely, using the computer teaching modules or other technology or using the classical classroom instruction?”

Student’s Sample Response: “Classical classroom and the computer modules are both effective ways of learning especially since computers are being implemented into classrooms nowadays. But you do not want your students to only rely on computers.”

A Success Story: With the help, motivation, and proper guidance by the VRL team, a former undergraduate student in computer science, who worked with the VRL team as an undergraduate student hourly worker, has been successfully admitted to the PhD program at UCLA. Recently, in an email, he expressed his gratitude toward the project: “Working in the Virtual Reality Lab truly developed my programming skills. I was afforded the chance to apply programming concepts that I learned in class in my research. I became fluent in Python, a programming language that I was unfamiliar with at the time. I also learned how to manage my time between research and classes in order to meet deadlines. My involvement in the lab has inspired me to pursue a PhD.”

Outcomes

VRL has been completely established, which is located in Room 317, W.R. Banks Building, with an overhead projector and twenty-five (25) fully working PC’s. It has been in use since 2009 for enhancing teaching and learning of College Algebra, Calculus I, and Differential Equations; as well as for designing, developing, and testing the game-like teaching and learning modules: twenty (20) for College Algebra, eight (8) for Calculus I, and four (4) for Differential Equations. The learner-centered tutorial and exercise modules help to motivate users and increase their learning confidence. The mobility of the module makes it accessible to the learners anytime anywhere.

Impact of Activity

The VRL not only augmented existing facilities and enhanced PVAMU’s core curriculum but also motivated students’ research and scholarly activities among diversified disciplines for advanced studies and research, which further increased the enrollment of STEM programs. This state-of-the-art learning and teaching environment has been proved and demonstrated to be able to help reduce failure rate of core mathematics courses at PVAMU, such as College Algebra, attract more students to STEM, prepare them for their graduate studies, and provide students with skills needed to compete in the workforce based on the use of 3D technology.

 

For more information contact:

Jian-ao Lian, jilian@pvamu.edu