Using Virtual Reality to Promote Information Literacy among Students

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Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as an effective technology that librarians can use to help develop geographic information literacy among students of all ages.  This area of gamification motivates learning by providing an enhanced 3D learning environment.  A core limitation of two-dimensional course materials is the presentation of objects on a flat surface which can impede the understanding of spatial relationships.  In contrast, VR creates an immersive learning environment that engages multiple senses.  As VR equipment becomes increasingly affordable, libraries, especially academic ones, are beginning to adopt VR as a tool to promote learning among students (Lewis, n.d.) and a multitude of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of VR as a tool for library learning (Massis, 2015).  

Virtual reality lets students explore topography and watersheds using an augmented reality sandbox provided by the Geography and the Environment Department, Cal State Fullerton. Photo: Virtual Explorations by MapHobbit under the license CC BY-SA 2.0 (faces blurred for privacy).
Virtual reality lets students explore topography and watersheds using an augmented reality sandbox provided by the Geography and the Environment Department, Cal State Fullerton. Photo: Virtual Explorations by MapHobbit under the license CC BY-SA 2.0 (faces blurred for privacy).

Digital natives (i.e. those born after 1989) in particular, lack information literacy skills despite their fluency in texting and social media engagement.  These students are ill-prepared for the rigors of high school and academic learning environments and lack basic information retrieval and evaluation skills (Radford et al, 2008).  Librarians are finding that virtual gaming can help students develop information literacy skills by providing a highly engaging and motivating learning environment that allows students to contextualize information (Behesti, 2012).  A study by Behesti (2012) looked at the effectiveness of developing a virtual reality library to increase the information seeking skills of teenage users.  Based on the physical metaphor of a library, the VR environment (called the VRLibrary) presented age-appropriate web pages as virtual books housed in different rooms.  By providing an environment in which students could explore information choices assisted by virtual help, the VR setup enabled students to develop their information seeking behaviors in an environment that was engaging and rewarding.  

Studies (for example Behesti, 2012 and Chen & Tsai, 2012) have also found that VR can provide library instruction for institutions with limited staffing resources.  VR programs environments can assist students as they progress through Kulthau’s (1991) six-stage information seeking process (Behesti, 2012).  In particular, contextual assistance, in the form of librarian avatars, can mitigate the anxiety many students experience from information overload (Chen & Tsai, 2012).  Chen & Tsai’s study found that VR-based library instruction was as effective among primary school students as traditional instruction. 

While still very much an emerging technology, the adoption of VR by libraries as a tool to build information literacy is showing promise.  In addition, VR programs have been successfully used to increase participation in child reading programs (Hellyar, 2016) and promote special collections (Parhizkar & Zaman, 2009).  The use of VR as an instructional and educational tool will surely continue to grow in the number of libraries adopting this technology.   

References

Beheshti, J. (2012). Teens, virtual environments and information literacy. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology38(3), 54-57. Retrieved from http://asis.org/Bulletin/Feb-12/FebMar12_Beheshti.pdf          

Chen, C. M., & Tsai, Y. N. (2012). Interactive augmented reality system for enhancing library instruction in elementary schools. Computers & Education59(2), 638-652. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512000589

Hellyar, D. (2016, April 26).  Libraries can use new visualization technology to engage readers [Blog].  Retrieved from http://informatics.mit.edu/blog/guest-post-diana-hellyar-library-use-new-visualization-technologies


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Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.  Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/download/9302263/insidesearch2.pdf

Lewis, R. (n.d.). Virtual Reality: Soon to Become Mainstream in Libraries? Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-411752398/virtual-reality-soon-to-become-mainstream-in-libraries

Massis, B. (2015). Using virtual and augmented reality in the library. New Library World116(11/12), 796-799. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/NLW-08-2015-0054

Parhizkar, B., & Zaman, H. B. (2009, November). Development of an augmented reality rare book and manuscript for special library collection (AR Rare-BM). In International Visual Informatics Conference (pp. 344-355). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-642-05036-7_33

Radford, M. L., Silipigni Connaway, L., Agosto, D.E., Cooper, L. Z., Reuter, K., & Zhou, N. (2008). Behaviors and preferences of digital natives: Informing a research agenda. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology44, 1-15.  Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/meet.1450440133/full

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