Palenque Project

My PhD "Evaluating Cultural Learning in a Virtual Environment" (pdf here) was undertaken thanks to an Australian Research Council SPIRT grant, Lonely Planet, and the University of Melbourne (Architecture and Geomatics). 



There is still a great deal of opportunity for research on contextual interactive immersion in virtual heritage environments. The general failure of virtual environment technology to create engaging and educational experiences may be attributable not just to deficiencies in technology or in visual fidelity, but also to a lack of contextual and performative-based interaction, such as that found in games. This thesis will suggest improvements will result from more research on the below issues:


1.      Place versus Cyberspace: What creates a sensation of place (as a cultural site) in a virtual environment in contradistinction to a sensation of a virtual environment as a collection of objects and spaces?

2.      Cultural Presence versus Social Presence and Presence: Which factors help immerse people spatially and thematically into a cultural learning experience?

3.      Realism versus Interpretation: Does an attempt to perfect fidelity to sources and to realism improve or hinder the cultural learning experience?

4.      Education versus Entertainment: Does an attempt to make the experience engaging improve or hinder the cultural learning experience?


This doctoral thesis outlines a theoretical definition of place, culture, and presence that may become a matrix for virtual environment design as well as a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of appropriating game-style interaction to enhance engagement. A virtual environment was built using Adobe Atmosphere to test whether cultural understanding and engagement can be linked to the type of interaction offered.

The thesis also includes a survey of evaluation mechanisms that may be specifically suitable for virtual heritage environments. In its review of appropriate methodology, the thesis suggests new terms and criteria to assess the contextual appropriateness of various evaluation methods, and provides seven schematic examples of game-style plot devices that lend themselves to evaluation.
The test-bed is the evaluation of a virtual archaeology project in Palenqué Mexico using theories of cultural immersion as well as computer game technology and techniques. The case study of Palenqué involved five types of evaluation specifically chosen to assess cultural awareness and understanding gained from different forms of interaction in a virtual heritage environment.