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STREAMBED VR Habitat Training Design & Evaluation  

Conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park, my dissertation research asked whether qualitative outdoor habitat assessment skills can be taught to potential citizen scientists in VR.


I  first gathered requirements by through expert interviews and in-person training with expert monitors. Then, I designed an initial prototype of the Streambed VR tool through an iterative process, and conducted a usability evaluation. Finally, I designed the second prototype of Streambed VR through a user-centered process, and evaluated its value with and without multisensory cues against traditional training methods. Download the thesis here.

 Gathering Requirements

To gather requirements, I conducted on-site observations of water quality training with professional and volunteer monitors, and synthesized findings about volunteer training needs through thematic analysis. 


Initial Design & Evaluation

I developed the training environment in the Unity 5 game engine and integrated with the Oculus Rift Head Mounted Display [HMD]. I made the environment using brushes, textures, assets and prefabs found in the Unity Asset store and online.


The initial StreamBED VR platform trained users to make qualitative assessments of stream habitats through physical exploration.  The goal of this prototype was to consider the viability of the initial training design, and to understand novice learner needs. To accomplish this goal, this study taught participants who are not expert monitors to make and update qualitative assessments of 4 EPA protocol metrics.

Iterative Design Process

The initial prototype revealed several challenges about the training and VR experience. In response, I designed the tool through a multi-step user-centered process that considered different aspects of design and training needs. 

Streambed 2.0 Design

The final prototype was designed for two participants: one navigating in an immersive 360 degree VR environment, and one observing, and making assessments on a desktop. The prototype was designed for the participants to work together to make decisions about the quality of stream habitats.


Final Study

During the final study, two participants worked together to assess a virtual stream habitat through a VR and Desktop training application. After the training session participants made evaluations of the protocols at an outdoor stream habitat on the University of Maryland campus.

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