SILC Showcase

Showcase July 2015: Virtual Silcton : A navigation research tool

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Virtual Silcton : A navigation research tool

Steven M. Weisberg & Nora S. Newcombe (PI)

Temple University

Why assess navigation online?

Individual differences in navigation proficiency (how well people can learn large-scale environments) and navigation strategy (how different people attempt to learn such environments) are relatively under-studied, but important dimensions of spatial cognition. It is also unknown whether navigation is a trainable skill, and how it might relate to STEM learning, like small-scale spatial ability does.

One reason these traits are understudied is that measuring navigation behavior in the real world is time-consuming, difficult, costly, and poorly-controlled. Creating an online paradigm allows researchers to collect data easily in the lab, or at participant's homes, and allows them to compare data across settings.

For these reasons, we have developed and conducted large preliminary studies to describe the properties of an online virtual environment assessment of navigation proficiency called Virtual Silcton.

What is Virtual Silcton?

Virtual SILC test of navigation (SILCTON) is a 20-30 minute test of navigation proficiency in a 3D-rendered virtual environment (see Figures 1 and 2). The environment is based on Temple University's Ambler campus, which has been used to study real world navigation behavior (see the previous showcase, and Schinazi, Nardi, Newcombe, Shipley, & Epstein, 2013). We used a similar paradigm called route integration, in which participants learn 4 buildings along each of 2 primary routes. Then, they learn 2 connecting routes, which connect the two primary routes, providing information about how the primary routes are integrated. At test, participants must point from each building learned to all the other buildings, and complete a model-building task in which they place all eight buildings on a schematic map.

For more details, see a poster on the tool's capabilities [Link to Poster].

Figure 1
Figure 1. The Virtual Silcton environment contains 4 buildings, first encountered along 2 main routes (A1-A2 and B1-B2). The two main routes are connected by two additional routes (C1-C2 and D1-D2).

What data can I collect?

The Silcton site can be customized to collect a large amount of data. The primary paradigm we recommend takes about 20-30 minutes and involves two measures: the pointing task and model-building task. But each route also collects a detailed navigation log, allowing for more in depth analysis of facing direction and location. We also offer a free-exploration mode, which allows participants to wonder freely around the space, and learn the environment more naturalistically.

Figure 2
Figure 2. A screenshot from the Virtual Silcton environment. Participants used a mouse and keyboard to navigate this desktop environment. The blue gem indicates that there is a building nearby participants must learn; the sign at right names that building. The pointing task is presented in a similar format, but participants cannot move, and must point a crosshair onscreen directly at the building indicated.

How can I use Virtual Silcton in my lab?

Virtual Silcton is available for lab use (not personal use) online. The online setup allows for administration of multiple studies, and the collection and storage of data (described below). Some setup is required (the installation of a small plug in, and changing some settings in Mozilla Firefox). To test the software as a participant, follow this link, click on Virtual SILC Test of Navigation and follow the instructions. Please note that the environments will be slow to load the first time, but will be much faster if the settings have been changed appropriately.

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