Influence of Virtual Human Appearance Fidelity within Building Science Storytelling Educational Applications

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Building science employs student-professional interactions to increase the learning and engagement of domain topics. Although these interactions are beneficial to students, labor shortages and automation trends will create barriers to expose students to professionals in the future. One solution is to utilize virtual situated learning contexts for students to experience simulated interactions with virtual professionals. Within these simulations, virtual humans are often used as a vehicle to preserve knowledge and deliver it to students. However, the impact of the fidelity of virtual human appearance on providing knowledge to the students within the building science domain remains unexplored. This paper presents a virtual reality (VR) educational system integrated with digital storytellers and grounded in the building science electrical career path context to explore how virtual human appearance fidelity affects student learning and engagement. A between-subject study was conducted with 42 construction management participants to explore the impact of 3 virtual human appearance fidelity conditions (realistic, modeled, and abstracted virtual human) in terms of student learning, social presence, virtual human persona factors, and topic interest. The findings of this study demonstrated that successful educational outcomes could be achieved with low virtual human appearance fidelity due to the lack of significant differences observed across experimental conditions. Furthermore, the study results did not detect significant differences in students' engagement by increasing the virtual human appearance fidelity. However, students across all experimental conditions reported engagement increments in the topic learned. The increments in student engagement suggest that the virtual human's age and gender are important factors to consider when designing educational interventions. These results contribute to the understanding of how to create virtual humans for building science educational interventions.

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Journal of Architectural Engineering