Environmental Visualization Objects

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A set of environmental processes were implemented for visualization using the 3D-Creation software Blender. Students sharpen their mental models of those processes by observing and interpreting the dynamic visualisations while applying different parameter sets. Components of the visualisation objects may be reused and expanded by students.

The aim of this project was to develop a number of interactive environmental visualization objects (EVOs) in order to provide students with a detailed and accurate understanding of the most important environmental concepts and system processes. EVOs are 3D-animated interactive content that visualise semi-realistic processes and system behavior. They were implemented using the Blender 3D creation suite. Students work in the software runtime interface, using customized sliders and buttons to change parameters or move in space and time to explore the resulting changes in the graphics output window. The project supports six different courses in the fields of plant and forest ecology, plant production, atmospheric research and experimental planning with 25 to 300 bachelor or master students each. The EVOs are used by the lecturers as powerful visualization tools to deepen the understanding of existing processes such as cloud formation. Students are able to change parameters of the model themselves, observe the corresponding effects and determine them quantitatively to a certain extent. Different EVOs allow the students to explore: plant growth under limited light and nutrient conditions and the resulting leaf area; the influence of different tree compositions on rainwater reaching the forest floor; the change in species composition in plant communities under changing environmental conditions at different landscape level from meadow patches to mountain forests; effects of vegetation on evaporation of water; position effects for different types of experimental designs. Different didactic scenarios were implemented and lectures shared their experiences in regular workshops. The resulting scenarios are of great value for those who want to build their future teaching around virtual or augmented reality and the corresponding visualization objects.

Most students responded that by working with the EVOs they gained a deeper understanding of complex system relationships. The ways students were using the EVOs: Some really explored the full range of possible parameter combinations for a more comprehensive understanding, while others just followed the most “economic route” for finishing work with the EVO.
During the project, its main contributor created tutorials for students who develop an interest to continue the work with visualization objects by becoming programmers on their own. Some teaching assistants did actively add content to the modules on the forest ecology. A variety of EVO-components (3D objects and code) are available for use in further projects.
An extended documentation is available on the project-blogsite evoblog.ethz.ch.