EvoRoom is an immersive, room-sized simulation of a Southeast Asian rainforest, designed to supplement the evolution unit of a Grade 11 Biology course. It situates students in a simulated rainforest environment and engages them in an inquiry activity, where their mission, as “field researchers”, is to gather evidence of evolution by comparing simulations of Sundaland, Sumatra, and Borneo. Working individually, in groups, and as a collective, students observed changes in life forms across two hundred million years, consolidated their findings, and developed hypotheses for evolutionary changes that might have taken place.

In order to support a shared experience for students, the smart classroom was set up with multiple versions of the immersive simulation on large projected displays on three walls of the room. Students observed the simulation together and used a custom field guide application to review information and collect observations (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Selected screens of the tablet application. Top left: Home screen of observation tab, featured tag clouds of observations made. Top middle: View all screen of observation tab, allowed students to filter observations made by the associated location (i.e., Sundaland – “SUD”, Borneo – “BOR”, Sumatra – “SUM”). Top right: View observation screen. Bottom left: Field guide home screen. Bottom middle: Screen for selecting specific species to access detailed information. Bottom right: Detailed information screen of a species.

In our first iteration of the immersive simulation activity, the large displays were first populated with the flora and fauna of Sundaland, a region in Southeast Asia, 200 million years ago. After approximately 15 minutes, the teacher “accelerated time” and showed geologic changes that caused Sundaland’s central landmass to break into a peninsula and several islands, including Borneo and Sumatra. Setting the room’s timeline to 200 years ago, one side of the room showed Borneo’s ecosystem, while the other side showed Sumatra’s flora and fauna. Students spent another 15 minutes making observations, looking for differences between the two ecosystems well as that of the Sundaland ecosystem (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Images of the immersive simulation and students making observations on tablets

At the end of the observation phase, students were divided into two field researcher teams – Borneo and Sumatra. Each group answered a set of questions designed to have students review and compare notes about their individual observations (e.g., in the Borneo group, students were asked what common species were found in both Sundaland and Borneo).

In the final step, the two teams came together to collectively document evidence of evolution. Students were encouraged to discuss their ideas with others and to make posts about evolution concepts. The posts were aggregated to an interactive white board in real-time, which served to visibly represent the collective knowledge base of the students at the end of the activity. The teacher used the content of this display to lead a synthesis discussion for closing the activity.

The design of the immersive simulation activity was guided by the KCI model, and conceived as one of several to be used within a 2-week curriculum unit. Moving forward to design the broader curriculum, our design team will refine the current activity and create more complex pedagogical designs, involving a longer duration, and capturing dynamic changes to the shared knowledge base over time.