• Developing a virtual physics world
  • Final Report
  • Teaching Physics Using virtual reality
  • Student experiences of virtual reality
  • Teaching Special Relativity using Virtual Reality
  • Real Time Relativity: exploration learning of special relativity
  • Real Time Relativity
    Developing a virtual physics world.
    M. Wegener, T. McIntyre, D. McGrath, C. Savage, M. Williamson. In M. J. W. Lee, B. Dalgarno & H. Farley (Eds), Virtual worlds in tertiary education: An Australasian perspective. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(Special issue, 3), 504-521.
    Australasian Journal of Educational Technology

    In this article, the successful implementation of a development cycle for a physics teaching package based on game-like virtual reality software is reported. The cycle involved several iterations of evaluating students' use of the package followed by instructional and software development. The evaluation used a variety of techniques, including ethnographic observation, surveys, student focus groups and conventional assessment. The teaching package included a laboratory manual, instructional support materials and the Real Time Relativity software that simulates a world obeying special relativistic physics. Although the iterative development cycle was time consuming and costly, it gave rise to substantial improvements in the software user interface and in the students' learning experience.

    Teaching physics using virtual reality: Final report to the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, 2010.
    C. Savage, D. McGrath, T. McIntyre, M. Wegener.
    Australian Learning and Teaching Council

    Amongst the great changes in society is the use of simulations for activities as diverse as public policy making and recreation. These simulations are routinely coupled to sophisticated visual interfaces producing virtual realities. This project has produced examples of how recent developments in simulation technology may be used for learning and teaching physics.

    In computer games users must learn to understand and manipulate unfamiliar worlds. But much of physics deals with unfamiliar domains: such as the very fast or the very small. The physics of these domains, relativity and quantum mechanics, is abstract and counter-intuitive. We have found that simulations of these domains can help students learn the physics. The visual learning they enable complements more abstract forms of instruction.

    Computer simulations have been used for a long time in physics teaching. They open up complex and realistic scenarios to students and instructors alike. They also allow access to processes which are difficult, or impossible, to observe in the lab. What is new about our approach is the emphasis on immersive, interactive, first-person, game-like simulation. This facilitates student-led discovery learning and gives students another pathway into the physics.

    Teaching physics using virtual reality,
    C. Savage, D. McGrath, T. McIntyre, M. Wegener, M. Williamson, ICPE 2009 Proceedings, ArXiv 0910.5776. American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings 1263.
    ArXiv | American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings 1263

    We present an investigation of game-like simulations for physics teaching. We report on the effectiveness of the interactive simulation "Real Time Relativity" for learning special relativity. We argue that the simulation not only enhances traditional learning, but also enables new types of learning that challenge the traditional curriculum. The lessons drawn from this work are being applied to the development of a simulation for enhancing the learning of quantum mechanics.

    Student experiences of virtual reality - a case study in learning special relativity,
    D. McGrath, M. Wegener, T. McIntyre, C. Savage, M. Williamson, American Journal of Physics 78, 862 (2010).
    ArXiv | American Journal of Physics

    Abstract. We present a study of student learning through the use of virtual reality. A software package is used to introduce concepts of special relativity to students in a game-like environment where users experience the effects of travelling at near light speeds. From this new perspective, space and time are significantly different to that experienced in everyday life. The study explores how students have worked with this environment and how these students have used this experience in their study of special relativity. A mixed method approach has been taken to evaluate the outcomes of separate implementations of the package at two universities. Students found the simulation to be a positive learning experience and described the sub ject area as being less abstract after its use. Also, students were more capable of correctly answering concept questions relating to special relativity, and a small but measurable improvement was observed in the final exam.

    Teaching Special Relativity using Virtual Reality,
    Dominic McGrath, Craig Savage, Michael Williamson, Margaret Wegener and Tim McIntyre
    Proceedings of the UniServe Science Symposium on Visualisation and Concept Development, October 2008.
    Proceedings | Local copy

    Abstract. Learning Special Relativity is a highly anticipated experience for first year students; however, the teaching and learning of Special Relativity are difficult tasks. Special Relativity, while fundamentally and mathematically simple; has apparently bizarre implications and deals predominately with situations outside everyday experience. Understanding relativity requires one to accept that there is less that is absolute than was once believed and to accept a model of time and space that is strange and unfamiliar. As such, modifying everyday concepts of motion, time and space to develop accurate constructs of the theory of Special Relativity is extraordinarily difficult. While Special Relativity is often featured in introductory physics courses, Scherr (2001) indicates many students fail to develop fundamental concepts in Special Relativity even after advanced instruction. To address these issues there has broad variety of efforts to determine the conceptual misunderstandings and develop activities to address them.

    Real Time Relativity (RTR) is a virtual reality simulation of Special Relativity. Giving learners real time control of how they explore and test the optical, spatial and time effects of near-light-speed motion in a realistic environment enables a constructivist approach, previously unavailable, for learning Special Relativity.

    Given the hands-on nature of RTR, it has been incorporated into the experimental laboratories of first year physics courses at the University of Queensland and the Australian National University. These experiments enable students to explore relativistic effects without requiring a detailed understanding of the theoretical framework. RTR experiments have been developed with an active learning approach in which students learn by developing, testing and refining their constructs with their peers. The RTR system and experiments are currently being refined in a model inspired by the Physics Education Technology group at the University of Colorado and evaluated through a multimethods research approach. This paper outlines our current point in a continuing development and evaluation project.

    AJP cover Real Time Relativity: exploration learning of special relativity,
    C. M. Savage, A. Searle, L. McCalman, American Journal of Physics 75, 791 (2007).
    ArXiv | American Journal of physics
    Abstract. Real Time Relativity is a computer program that lets students fly at relativistic speeds though a simulated world populated with planets, clocks, and buildings. The counterintuitive and spectacular optical effects of relativity are prominent, while systematic exploration of the simulation allows the user to discover relativistic effects such as length contraction and the relativity of simultaneity. We report on the physics and technology underpinning the simulation, and our experience using it for teaching special relativity to first year university students.

    Real Time Relativity,
    C.M. Savage, A. C. Searle, L. McCalman, physics/0607223 (2006).
    Abstract. Real Time Relativity is a computer program that allows the user to fly through a virtual world governed by relativistic physics. The user controls a 'rocket' carrying a 'camera'. The rocket may be accelerated and steered, and the camera may be pointed in any direction. It takes advantage of the fact that video cards provide inexpensive data-parallel processing and are designed to perform rapid arithmetic on four-dimensional vectors.