Immersive Space to Think: Immersive Analytics for Sensemaking with Non-Quantitative Datasets

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Virginia Tech


Analysts often work with large complex non-quantitative datasets in order to better understand concepts, themes, and other forms of insight contained within them. As defined by Pirolli and Card, this act of sensemaking is cognitively difficult, and is performed iteratively and repetitively through various stages of understanding. Immersive analytics has purported to assist with this process through putting users in virtual environments that allows them to sift through and explore data in three-dimensional interactive settings. Most previous research, however, has focused on quantitative data, where users are interacting with mostly numerical representations of data. We designed Immersive Space to Think, an immersive analytics approach to assist users perform the act of sensemaking with non-quantitative datasets, affording analysts the ability to manipulate data artifacts, annotate them, search through them, and present their findings. We performed several studies to understand and refine our approach and how it affects users sensemaking strategies. An exploratory virtual reality study found that users place documents in 2.5-dimensional structures, where we saw semicircular, environmental, and planar layouts. The environmental layout, in particular, used features of the environment as scaffolding for users' sensemaking process. In a study comparing levels of mixed reality as defined by Milgram-Kishino's Reality-Virtuality Continuum, we found that an augmented virtuality solution best fits users' preferences while still supporting external tools. Lastly, we explored how users deal with varying amounts of space and three-dimensional user interaction techniques in a comparative study comparing small virtual monitors, large virtual monitors, and a seated-version implementation of Immersive Space to Think. Our participants found IST best supported the task of sensemaking, with evidence that users leveraged spatial memory and utilized depth to denote additional meaning in the immersive condition. Overall, Immersive Space to Think affords an effective sensemaking three-dimensional space using 3D user interaction techniques that can leverage embodied cognition and spatial memory which aids the users understanding.



Sensemaking, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Immersive Analytics