Designing Immersive Tools for Supporting Remote Scientific Collaboration and Learning
With the rise in availability of virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs), everyday users are able to extend reality beyond a 2D screen and explore the world in ways that were not previously possible. New commercially-available collaborative mixed-reality tools have emerged to support work and learning, allowing professionals and students to collaborate in a virtual environment to explore data, learn, interact and ideate remotely. Some existing VR applications that have been designed to support these tasks include Spatial - a general purpose mixed-reality tool for creative team work and Nanome - a tool for manipulating and visualizing proteins. We conducted a needfinding study with two interdisciplinary teams of scientists to learn what they lacked for collaborating effectively in VR. From our analysis we identified improved tools for note taking as an important need. In response to this need, we designed Embodied Notes: a cognitive support tool designed to be used in a collaborative virtual environment to enable scientists to extend their thinking during remote scientific collaboration through offloading information into the virtual environment and enabling them to embody, spatialize, and socialize this information with themselves and others. Existing research in VR has explored digital sticky notes for spatial ideation and using peripherals like smartphones as input devices. However, these were limited to single user scenarios and did not explore what it might look like to create and share notes in a collaborative setting. Results from our preliminary study of a simplified version of Embodied Notes with 45 college students suggest that students were able to apply various spatial organization strategies and self- explanation to support their learning and found our tool helpful for their learning. Our findings from our study of scientists and college students provide several design requirements and recommendations for the design of future immersive scientific collaboration and note- taking tools.
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