6. Discussion and Conclusion

Through this trial, we demonstrated how, through a virtual environment, students could understand an archaeological context. The advantage of this experimental and innovative project is that it allows students to reflect on data collected during the fieldwork and grasp the materiality of this process. In addition, the virtual reconstruction of a real archaeological context can be more engaging than pictures and drawings.

There are some limitations to this application, though, such as the difficulty in activating a student's kinaesthetic intelligence. The materiality of archaeology, in fact, starts from a set of gestures that researchers make to interact with material culture. As David Kirsh points out (2010, 124) fieldwork, as well as any lab activity, gives researchers the possibility of interacting with objects and to simulate behaviours that past people could have with those objects. 3VD is not complete in this sense, because it lacks behaviours (avatars) that could make the experience more immersive (Dell'Unto and Forte 2010). This is why 3VD at this stage should be considered more a work in progress, or a pilot study for a more comprehensive work. While repeating the test with a new set of students would reinforce the results of this research and provide additional information on the learning processes linked to 3VD, implementing the application for virtual immersive environment would enhance the learning experience. After having demonstrated that 3VD is an effective learning tool, the next step would be to develop it via a power wall. The power wall is a large high-resolution display wall owned by the University of California Merced and used for projecting large computer-generated images, thanks to a grant awarded for the project Acquisition of Equipment to Establish a Cognitive Sensorium and Visualization Facility (PI, Marcelo Kallmann). The power wall is complemented by a Vicon full-body optical tracking system that allows full-body immersion in a virtual environment. The Vicon system permits interactive real-time motion capture interface that allows non-skilled users to model realistic upper-body actions and gestures by direct demonstration. In other words with the use of the Vicon it is possible for on-line virtual humans to perform learned actions and gestures precisely, in a more realistic and fully immersive virtual excavation context. In fact, 3VD can be implemented with new datasets coming from more recent fieldwork campaigns and hyperlinks that provide students with extra information on the layers detected, excavation area, and methodologies used during fieldwork, and, in addition, links between the layers and artefacts or other material remains found on site etc. With regard to hyperlinks (i.e. links to pictures, 3D models, text, etc.) that provide students with extra-information on the layers detected, excavation area, and methodologies used during fieldwork, and, in addition, links between the layers and artifacts or other material remains found on site etc.) in education, though, it is important to stress the fact that this extra information is the result of a process of interpretation made by expert archaeologists. One approach is to ask students to produce their own interpretation of a detected layer; a completely different approach is to provide students with a pre-packed interpretation. The first case scenario (ask students to interpret the archaeological record), enhances a constructivist learning process. This process is based on the assumption that humans have the ability to interact with their environment seeking for meanings, and that they are able to actively create what they know (Huba 2000, 37). Based on this statement, in a virtual excavation area students will be invited to excavate and then seek for meanings related to the units detected and their relationship with the archaeological context; in other words, students will be motivated to produce knowledge through the interaction with the immersive virtual environment.

Concluding this discussion, collaborative virtual reality systems can be considered important tools for teachers and students (Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco 2010), since they enhance group-based activities. In fact, in a virtual learning environment students can, through the simulation, analyse data and share their finds and knowledge with their peers and instructors. Working with peers, students can formulate and develop their ideas through sharing them with the others and listening to their feedback. In this sense, embodiment becomes a new key element for learning.

Even if this 3VD application does not fully provide an immersive experience and cannot activate a kinaesthetic intelligence, it can stimulate sensory-motor learning processes, complementary to textual or symbolic-reconstructive learning processes (Antinucci 2004a, 17; 2004b). In the sensory-motor learning process, students learn through perception and action about a historical reality. In other words, students perceive an event with the senses, act on objects and change the perception of the event after the action. This second process is augmentative: the action can be seen as a cause producing an effect, which is a new action. In a reconstructed excavation area students virtually interact with the archaeological layers and act on them (remove the layers). Every action helps students to develop a constructivist process, since they are able to investigate the virtual area and pose questions on the relationship between the units.

As a result, the application can be considered an effective means to teach archaeological excavation and its methods, and in a broader sense the 3D Virtual reconstruction of Çatalhöyük can serve as an important bridge from traditional coursework to fieldwork. More generally, comparing the results obtained by our students to those presented by the research on 3D frogs' dissection described earlier (Lalley et al. 2010), it can be demonstrated that digital lab activities show the value of technological advancement for higher education. They help in the creation of an interactive environment in class, and are particularly engaging for 21st-century students.


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