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Can an immersive virtual reality simulation increase students’ interest and career aspirations in science?

Guido Makransky, University of Copenhagen

This article describes an investigation of the benefits of using immersive virtual reality (IVR; a technological medium capable of providing a first-person experience of a digitally simulated or replicated environment) in the domain of science education. We conducted two studies with Danish middle school (Study 1) and high school students (Study 2). In Study 1, the students used an IVR laboratory safety simulation with a pre- to post-test design. In Study 2, the students used either an IVR simulation or a video of the simulation on the topic of DNA-analysis. The goals were to examine the effects of using IVR laboratory simulations on students’ interest, self-efficacy, science aspirations and outcome expectations. Additionally, we were interested in investigating potential gender differences in these variables. Different subject matters and different age groups allowed us to investigate the generalisability of the results across content and educational level.

The motive behind the investigation can be found in the increasing demand for people with science-related competencies in most modern-day societies (Carnevale, Smith, & Melton, 2011). In Denmark, for instance, the Danish government introduced a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education strategy in 2018 to increase interest and learning in STEM education and attract students to STEM educations and careers. Similarly, one of the key policies in the 2017 UK Industrial Strategy is to ‘invest an additional £406m in maths, digital and technical education, helping to address the shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills’ (BEIS, 2017, p. 94). Therefore, there is a strong societal incentive to attract talented students to science education, and a first step in that direction is to spark their interest in science at a young age (Thisgaard & Makransky, 2017). From the perspective of the ‘social cognitive career theory’, students’ educational choice goals (that is, career aspirations) are shaped by their interests, self-efficacy and outcome expectations (Lent et al., 2018).

 

‘From the perspective of the ‘social cognitive career theory’, students’ educational choice goals (that is, career aspirations) are shaped by their interests, self-efficacy and outcome expectations.’

What is the proposed mechanism with which IVR could lead to increases in above-mentioned variables? We set out a ‘theory of change based on IVR research’, with enhanced levels of feedback, agency, presence and enjoyment as the primary drivers of change (see figure 1).

What did we find? In Study 1, results supported the hypotheses that the IVR simulation would significantly increase students’ interest and self-efficacy with regard to laboratory work and safety. Furthermore, the study demonstrated a gender difference in science career aspirations, with only females reporting a significant increase following the IVR simulation. The results from Study 2 showed that students who used the IVR simulation had a significant increase in interest; and this effect was significantly greater than the effect in the video group. Both the IVR simulation and the video led to significant increases in students’ self-efficacy and physical outcome expectations. Only the IVR simulation, however, had a significant effect on social-outcome expectations; and neither had an effect on self-outcome expectations. No significant main effects or interactions were found for science career aspirations. There were also no significant interactions between gender and any of the dependent variables in Study 2.

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Figure 1. Illustration of the theory of change

 

 

As a result, the article provides a systematic investigation of how IVR laboratory simulations can increase science interest and career aspirations in middle school (aged 13 to 16) and high school (aged 17 to 20) students. It provides evidence that IVR-based learning experiences can significantly increase students’ interest in science topics. Finally, it indicates that an IVR-based simulation can lead to a significant pre- to post-test increase in science aspirations among 13-to-16-year-old female students.

The major implications for practice are that IVR-based simulations are specifically relevant when the goal of an educational intervention is to increase students’ situational interest and social outcome expectations related to a science topic.

This blog is based on the article ‘Can an immersive virtual reality simulation increase students’ interest and career aspirations in science?’ by Guido Makransky, Gustav B. Petersen and Sara Klingenberg published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.


References

Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Melton, M. (2011). STEM: Science technology engineering mathematics. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy [BEIS]. (2017). Industrial strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future. London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-strategy-building-a-britain-fit-for-the-future#history

Lent, R. W., Sheu, H. B., Miller, M. J., Cusick, M. E., Penn, L. T., & Truong, N. N. (2018). Predictors of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics choice options: A meta-analytic path analysis of the social-cognitive choice model by gender and race/ethnicity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 65(1), 17–35. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000243.

Makransky, G., Petersen, G. B., & Klingenberg, S. (2020). Can an immersive virtual reality simulation increase students’ interest and career aspirations in science? [Advance publication] British Journal of Educational Technology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12954

Thisgaard, M., & Makransky, G. (2017). Virtual learning simulations in high school: Effects on cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes and implications on the development of STEM academic and career choice. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00805.