Utilizing the Library System and Virtual Reality Learning Experiences To Engage Rural and LatinX Communities in Polar Research

July 15th, 2021 - June 30th, 2026 | PROJECT

Access to STEM information is unequal, with rural and poor communities often receiving the fewest public education science and science literacy opportunities. Rural areas also face unique STEM teaching and technology integration challenges. In fact, LatinX communities in rural areas are less likely to have access to educational resources and language supports available to LatinX communities in urban centers. This project will help address these inequities by engaging rural librarians, bilingual science communicators, polar scientists, and a technical team to create a series of five bilingual virtual reality (VR) experiences to enhance STEM understanding and appreciation. Project researchers will create a new channel for disseminating polar science, working first with rural Latinx communities in Wisconsin to create a new network between rural communities and university researchers. Involving rural librarians in the co-design of instruction process will produce new ways for rural libraries to engage their local communities and their growing Latinx populations with polar science learning experiences. Each of the five VR experiences will focus on a different area of research, using the captivating Arctic and Antarctic environments as a central theme to convey science. VR is a particularly powerful and apt approach, making it possible to visit places that most cannot experience first-hand while also learning about the wide range of significant research taking place in polar regions. After design, prototyping and testing are finished, the VR experiences will be freely available for use nationally in both rural and urban settings. Public engagement with science creates a multitude of mutual benefits that result from a better-informed society. These benefits include greater trust and more reasoned scrutiny of science along with increased interest in STEM careers, many of which have higher earning potential. The project team will partner with 51 rural libraries which are valued community outlets valuable outlets to improve science literacy and public engagement with science. The effects of this project will be seen with thousands of community members who take part in the testing of prototype VR experiences during development and scaled engagement through ongoing library programs utilizing the final VR experiences for years to come.

This project will create new informal STEM learning assessment techniques through combining prior efforts in the areas of educational data mining for stealth assessment and viewpoint similarity metrics through monitoring gaze direction. Results of the project contribute to the field of educational data mining (EDM), focusing on adopting its methods for VR learning experiences. EDM is a process of using fine grained interaction data from a digital system to support educationally relevant conclusions and has been applied extensively to intelligent tutors and more recently, educational videogames. This project will continue building on existing approaches by expanding to include the unique affordances of VR learning media, specifically gaze. The project will focus on predicting user quitting as well as assessing key learning goals within each experience and triangulate these predictive models with user observations and post-experience surveys. The eventual application of this foundational research would address the problem in assessing a learner using measures external to the experience itself (i.e., surveys) and instead provide new methods that instrument learners using only data generated by their actions within the learning context. These techniques will provide a new means for evaluating informal learning in immersive technology settings without need for explicit tagging. The findings from this project will enable a greater understanding of the relationship between a user’s experience and their learning outcomes, which may prove integral in the creation of educational interventions using VR technology.

This Innovations in Development project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to (a) advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; (b) provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; (c) advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and (d) engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments. This project is also supported by the Office of Polar Programs.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2116046

Team Members

Kevin Ponto, Principal Investigator, University of Wisconsin-Madison
David Gagnon, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Polar Special Initiatives, AISL
Award Number: 2116046
Funding Amount: $1,118,647.00


Access and Inclusion: English Language Learners | Ethnic | Racial | Hispanic | Latinx Communities | Low Socioeconomic Status | Rural
Audience: General Public | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Geoscience and geography
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Games | Simulations | Interactives | Library Exhibits | Library Programs | Media and Technology | Public Programs