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IES Contract

Title: Verdant: VR-Enhanced Science Investigations Into Biology and Genetics
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Sarno, David Awardee: Lighthaus, Inc.
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (06/18/2020 – 06/17/2022) Award Amount: $900,000
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: 91990020C0082

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: This project will fully develop and test Verdant, an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience for high school students focusing biological science and plant heredity. For decades, traditional laboratories have been a quintessential feature of U.S. science classrooms, allowing students to step away from desks and lectures and learn by doing. Emerging forms of technology, such as VR, provide the opportunity to make science labs more accessible in and out of the classroom and extend the laboratory by integrating the experience with personalized lessons and instruction.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2019, the team developed a prototype of Verdant, an immersive VR experience with one learning module. That learning module includes a full garden environment within which students grow and cross-pollinate plants and a data capture tool that tracks student progress. At the end of Phase I, researchers completed a pilot study with 227 high school biology students and 2 teachers. The researchers found that the VR content and data capture tool operated as intended. Further, 82 percent of students agreed that they enjoyed the experiences and 70 percent agreed that the prototype was easy to use. On an end-of-unit measure of plant biology, students demonstrated a significant increase in learning biology concepts related to genetics.

In Phase II, the team will develop additional content modules and narratives, fully build out the automated feedback mechanism, develop supports for students to engage collaboratively, and iteratively develop teacher professional development materials. After development is complete, the research team will conduct a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of Verdant for improving student learning. The study will include 16 high school biology classrooms, half randomly assigned to use Verdant and half to participate in business-as-usual instruction. Researchers will compare pre- and post-test scores for student learning over a 4-week period using a standard bank of biology assessment items. The researchers will also determine a per student cost to implement the intervention in treatment classrooms.

Product: Verdant will be an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience for high school biology students focusing on Mendel's investigation into the heredity of pea plants and the basis of genetics. In Verdant, students revisit Mendel's scientific process by designing and running open-ended crossbreeding experiments at the macroscopic and microscopic levels and recording results, as Mendel did, but in hours instead of years. Verdant is implemented over 2 to 4 weeks and includes time in the immersive VR environment and for classroom discussions. Teachers will serve as coaches and facilitators, guiding students when necessary, monitoring student progress, and offering just-in-time instruction to answer questions and reinforce key concepts and skills.

Related IES Project: VR-enhanced Immersive Science Investigations into Biology and Genetics (91990019C0032)