Developing immersive learning environments for social inclusion: findings from a case study research

Stefania Savva, Cyprus

Dramatic changes take place in terms of rapidly emerging modes of communication, technologies, increased cultural diversity, evolving workplaces cultures, new challenges for equitable education and the varying and changing identities of learners everywhere. Closely related to this process of change is the need to re-conceptualize museums for the 21st century. The museum as a hybrid institution ‘is –or should- constantly change to reflect alterations in technology, in society’s expectations of museums, and in museums’ educational and social potentialities. The ICOM Statutes, revised most recently in 2007, now embrace “the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”. Such developments extend the notion of the museum from an institution that collects and preserves objects to one which also assists in the preservation of traditions and cultural practices. In other words, its concerns are not just with the artifacts or tangible heritage of cultures but also with intangible heritage and the peoples of those cultures.

Museums are shifting from a powerful Euro-centric stance to a rebirth as an innovative technology of learning for the global audience. Working within these realizations, this paper brings technology enhanced learning such as augmented reality and immersive learning experiences in museums into the foreground of the discussion in the museum field to consider: What are the premises of museums for social inclusion? What are the potentials of augmented reality to facilitate learning for students coming from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds?

Briefly reporting on the development and implementation of a pedagogically based, theory driven and research based framework which was tested in the form of a participatory case study using a museum-school partnership aiming in the creation of a student-generated virtual museum, the intention in this paper is to report on the possibilities, challenges and future premises for augmented reality to nurture both tangible and intangible heritage and changing social inequalities of the 21st century. The analysis and interpretation derived from extensive field notes, focus group interviews with students, photographs, student work and audio recordings. The overarching themes broadly identified are (1) blurring of learning boundaries and the virtual learning environment; (2) multimodal meaning making and interpretation; and (3) empowered subjectivities and motivational effect of technologies. These three themes each emphasize different aspects of the learning setting: the design of the environment, the interface between people and the environment, and people themselves.

It is anticipated that the discussion of the analysis and interpretation from this doctoral investigation could provide insights on what kind of approach to augmented reality would acknowledge students’ multiple and diverse identities, experiences and capabilities while also equip them to become the flexible and dynamic learners required in the 21st century. It is considered that such understanding and approach can have significant implications for reimagining immersive learning environments as it recognizes the particular demands of developing meaningful learning experiences in our societies that enable cultural participation. The complexity involved in modes, literacies, sign systems, and the varying backgrounds of individuals make this a challenging task.

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