A Vision Statement
Ronald D. Kriz and Deborah Hix
Event chronology / final report
Building a Bridge
The NSF-ARI Grant, "Acquisition of a CAVE(tm): Breaking Research and Education Barriers by Developing 3-D Visualization CAVE(tm) Technology" , is building the bridge that links research and education projects at Virginia Tech. With CAVE(tm) technology, both researchers and educators have an equal opportunity to explore and learn about the relationships between properties and complex 3-D structures in many disciplines, including Biology, Biochemistry, Architecture, Veterinary Medicine, Fluid Mechanics, Interior Design, Art and Art History, and Materials Science and Engineering. From our past six years' experience working with visual tools in the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis, we have observed a higher regard for visualization skills and talents. The same visual tool used by a researcher to discover a new property can also be used effectively to explain the same property and educate students in the classroom. The CAVE(tm) is unique in that instructors and students not only see, experience, interact, and create complex 3-D structures but they can do so collaboratively by maintaining eye contact with each other within the CAVE(tm) environment.
Hence the CAVE(tm) becomes not only a research tool but a high techonology classroom on-campus, state-wide, and nationally. Virginia Tech is a CAVE(tm) partner with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), and Argonne National Laboratory via high speed networks (i.e,. vBNS). An excellent example of how CAVE(tm) technology will be used in changing the educational curriculum is the recently funded NSF Proposal, "Combined Research and Curriculum Development: Computer Simulation of Material Behavior -- From Atomistic to the Continuum Level" where CAVE(tm) technology is targeted to become an integral part of the undergraduate Material Science and Engineering curriculum.
Focusing on the User
Large numbers of organizations -- in commercial, military, government, and academic sectors -- are building virtual environments (VEs), including CAVEs(tm), but typically in an ad hoc unstructured way. But much of this development is technology-driven, rather than user-driven -- much to the dissatisfaction of many users. Usability of VE systems and attention to usability during the complete development process are areas that are poorly understood. Developers often assume that, because VEs are new and different, they are automatically "better" for their users than existing technology. This faulty line of reasoning has led to development of VE user interfaces that simply don't work very well from a user's perspective.
Appallingly little evaluation of these dramatically different VEs has been conducted to assess user performance and satisfaction, two key aspects of usability. Usability evaluation of VEs currently is based largely on the "Siskel and Ebert" model: thumbs up or down (and don't ask for a reason why). Despite intense and wide-spread research in both VEs and in usability, the exciting new technology of VEs has not yet been closely coupled with the important characteristic of usability -- a necessary coupling if VEs are to reach their full potential. Appropriate usability in VEs can help prevent, for example, the situation in a VE where there is a fundamental mismatch between what a device is suited for versus what it is actually being used for.
A main vision of our research is to determine under what conditions VEs are (or are not) a way to improve user performance, satisfaction, and training transfer. The field of VE is now maturing to the point for basic research and development to be not only fruitful, but actually critical to optimal use of this promising technology. Our work in the CAVE(tm) and other VEs under development at Virginia Tech will provide answers to many existing questions relative to VE use and usability, and will lay a strong scientific foundation for inventing and evaluating new VE applications -- from a user's perspective.
 Shneiderman, B., "Education by Engagement and Construction: Experiences in the AT&T Teaching Theater", Proc. of Ed-Media 93--World Conf. on Educ. Multimedia and Hypermedia, Orlando, Florida, June (1993).
 ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, Special Issue on Virtual Reality Software and Technology, September (1995).