Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Susan M. Zgliczynski, PhD; Cheryl L. Mason, PhD; C. Bobbi Hansen, EdD, USD


case study, causal characteristics, education, public learning, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (San Diego, CA), science exhibits, virtual reality


Within the context of the informal science center, exhibits are the main interface for public learning. Essential to the success of a science center is how well exhibits model effective strategies for learning. Virtual Reality (VR) technology with its flexible, adaptive, multimedia, and immersive-learning capabilities is emerging for use by science centers in exhibits; however, research on learning in virtual environments at exhibits is scarce. To support the future development of VR science exhibits it is critical to investigate VR's pedagogical value and effects on science learning. Research investigated the Smoke & Mirrors VR exhibit at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California. Inquiry focused on the interplay between elements of the exhibit's design, assessing the separate and interactive effects of visual imagery, moving images, sound, narration, and interactive tools to differentiate the causal characteristics and influences that enhanced and detracted from learning. Case study methodology was employed utilizing visitor observations and interviews with 14 participants. Findings indicated that realistic visual elements with text were the primary sources of content learning; however, positive results were limited to only a few participants. High cognitive load due to interactive tools; instructional design; and movement of visual images were found to be significant detracting characteristics of participant learning. Other characteristics and influences of VR were also found that directly effected learning. Research results will inform the forthcoming design of a new VR exhibit at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and to the design and development of future VR exhibits at informal science centers. A prior brief mixed-methods evaluation of Smoke & Mirrors was conducted in 2003, contributing background to the study and its future implications and strategies.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access