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The disadvantages of virtual models

Notwithstanding the evident advantages mentioned above, there were equally evident disadvantages. However, we believe that as long as we recognize them, they do not outweigh the advantages. The virtual models were less correct than physical ones would have been--assuming that the students had been able to complete physical ones--because the mistakes were possible only with virtual models; they would simply have been impossible with physical ones. In other words, the mistakes are attributable to our use of virtual models. This should be a caution that the virtual model is only a complement to the physical model; it is not a replacement. In fact, the virtual model opens up new possibilities not only for learning, but also for error.

Students made two kinds of mistakes. The first appeared as impossible connections among structural members. This is serious, as the interlocking of members is a key feature of Song construction. Our cardboard model makes this type of error physically impossible, but our virtual model lacks this kinesthetic feedback. This mistake is especially easy to make with members which are otherwise easy to confuse. Clearly, the cardboard model is still indispensable, as one group of students wrote:

[D]uring this project, the cardboard model help[ed] us a lot in understanding the connections of different pieces and whenever we [had] problems in constructing the virtual model, we [had] to turn to that model. (Florence Chan Lai Shan et al., 1994-95)

This points out a technical limitation, the lack of collision detection. When the model kit does not have an efficient algorithm for this capability, students manipulating the building elements can not only overlap them in three-dimensional space, but can also violate the construction sequence.

The second kind of mistake stemmed from the lack of gravity (which one could say is actually another form of intangibility). As the same students wrote,

the absence of ... gravity in the virtual model can create some illogical situation, for example, one can place a rafter onto the correct position before constructing the columns or purlins. (Florence Chan Lai Shan et al., 1994-95)

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