Virtual Environment Lab

Our doctoral student getting ready to enter a virtual environment.

Our doctoral student getting ready to enter a virtual environment.

The Virtual Environment Lab (V-Lab) is a joint research space created by funding from the U.S. Army Research Office (ARO) and the Department of Curriculum & Instruction of Southern Illinois University Carbondale through a Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grant. V-Lab began its mission “to measure, assess, and improve human performance within virtual environments” on Oct 1, 2009.

When you step into the darkened Virtual Environment Lab (V-Lab), the first thing that draws your attention would be the gigantic 72in High-Definition TV! While the size of the HDTV may impressed many students, wait till you put on the 3D (stereoscopic) shutter glasses, because all of a sudden, you are no longer on this side of reality but are instantly transported into an immersive 3D virtual environment. Nothing can fully prepare a person for what it feels like. Not only will you see yourself walking, running, in a strange yet familiar world, you can also explore your surroundings and even engage enemies in hand-to-hand combat! Before long, the distinction between the real and the virtual worlds will start to blur… time appear to stand still and all sense of reality slowly fades into oblivion…

Dr. Loh explained, “The HDTV is just a window to the virtual world. And for one moment, you simply step into another reality.” Check out our research projects about how people learn within a virtual training environment and how we assess the learning.



Among some of the research capability of V-Lab are psycho-physiological instruments which allows V-Lab researchers to understand how learners interact with the virtual environment or serious games. One of the instrument in this setup is an Eye-Tracker for gaze tracking.

Eye-tracking system has been used in usability testing, User eXperience (UX) studies and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research for a long time. However, one prohibiting factor that prevented more extensive use of eye-trackers (like Tobii, and SMI) in research is the cost of ownership: as a good eye-tracker could easily set you back US$10-30k!

In our experience, the biggest limiting factor of using an eye-tracker with virtual environment research is that the eye-tracker software has a long way to go to catch up with this kind of cutting-edge research. There are also a lot of hardware limitation – we have to use the computer provided by the company, and no anti-virus may be installed, the need for a hardware dongle, etc. At the end, unless you are committed to eye-tracking research, there is just too much hassles involved. Then there is the question of looking for someone to be train as the eye-tracker operator… Perhaps some of these issues will be taken care of with newer technology… as both providers have recently release new eye-tracker designer for Virtual Reality research.



  • Byun, J. H., Loh, C. S., & Ting, Z. (Nov 2014). Assessing play-learners’ performance in serious game environments by using in situ data: Using eye tracking for Serious Game Analytics. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), Jacksonville, FL. [Presentation]