SpaceVR: Outreach Out of this World!
Keywords:Software Engineering, Virtual Reality, Space Science
Space is the final frontier and engaging people with Space Science through Virtual Reality (VR) is uncharted territory. Increasing engagement Space Science can inspire students to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), giving them the skill set to help solve societal issues. This project has developed SpaceVR, a virtual reality software application designed to increase engagement of High School students with the Space Science subject. The project furthers our knowledge about science outreach by exploring whether integration of scientific data and the addition of gamification elements to a VR experience increases user engagement. Within SpaceVR people can learn about solar phenomena by viewing real images of The Sun taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft and experience the effects of solar flares. Virtual reality applications exist on a spectrum ranging from purely entertainment through to training and education. Previous work has investigated whether educational VR applications can affect student interest in STEM subjects. SpaceVR aims to be in the middle of this spectrum, providing an engaging outreach experience, rather than being purely for entertainment or education. SpaceVR was evaluated at the Victoria University of Wellington Open Day with high school and university students. The results of the evaluation indicated that the experience was novel, enjoyable, and immersive. The usability of the experience was found to be slightly poor. Some participants found the player activity and tasks disengaging. Some participants found the controls difficult to use.