Astronomy Learning in Immersive Virtual Environments (ALIVE)
Immersive digital planetariums are touted as powerful tools for
education. However, there haven't been many studies to find out how
truly effective they are. Dr. Ka Chun Yu, curator at the Denver
Museum of Nature & Science, in collaboration with Metropolitan
State College of Denver, is finishing up a five-year project to
study how college-level astronomy classes, and hopefully other
education programs, can be improved using the scientific
visualizations at digital planetariums.
The study focuses on seven topics commonly taught in introductory
astronomy classes: phases of the moon, seasons and length of day,
Kepler's Laws and orbital motions, scale and structure of the solar
system, outer planet moon systems, and distances to the stars and
galaxies. Interviews were held with incoming students so Dr. Yu and
his team could pinpoint the misconceptions students had about these
topics. The information helped the team develop a series of test
questions to evaluate how much astronomy knowledge was gained and
After that, visualization models for each of the seven teaching
topics were developed, and the introductory astronomy classes were
divided into three groups. Group I saw no visualizations, Group II
saw visualizations in the classroom, and Group III traveled to Gates Planetarium
at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to see immersive
visualizations within the digital dome.
Continued analysis between the three groups along with student
demographics will allow Dr. Yu to determine the effects of the
visualizations as well as the impact of immersion.
"We'll learn if a digital planetarium dome can actually make it
easier to learn astronomy concepts. What we find out could have a
very important impact on how we educate students in science," said
The Worldviews Network is a new, NOAA-funded nationwide
collaboration of scientists, artists, and educators developing best
practices for using immersive virtual environments for ecological
literacy education using live presentations, interactive scientific
visualizations, and community sustainability dialogues.
The Worldviews Network core team consists of representatives
from the DMNS, California Academy of Sciences, NOVA/WGBH in Boston,
The Elumenati, and the NOAA Climate Program Office.
The genesis behind the Worldviews Network is partially the
result of several different key phenomena:
- We are living in the Anthropocene, a new geological era
dominated by human-induced processes. Human-driven global
change is occurring faster than ever before.
- At the same time, technologies for obtaining and visualizing
bio- and geospatial data are also advancing rapidly. New
satellite platforms are giving us maps of global phenomena at
multiple wavelengths, and beaming it back to us in near
real-time. New visualization techniques and software are
allowing this data to be displayed and interpreted.
- Information deficit models for educating the public about
global change (including climate change) have not been
successful. These assume that people are merely
information-deficient about global and environmentall change
issues; once they are informed, then we can expect them to act on
this information. However multiple studies have shown that
this does not necessarily occur.
The Worldviews Network uses a different approach, by combining
interactive real-time immersive visualizations that are possible
within modern digital planetariums, and a See-Know-Do
approach to create education that integrates visual, systems, and
design thinking, that allows audiences to visualize, comprehend,
and address complex issues from a whole systems perspective:
- Seeing: View visualizations about cosmic,
solar system, and global Earth systems science that tie large-scale
processes to regional environmental issues, and to show the
complexity of global change.
- Knowing: Comprehend the scientific
understanding of complex Earth systems, and understand how they
operate and influence each other in culturally relevant ways.
- Doing: Address complex issues from a whole
systems perspective by engaging ecological literacy organizations,
and using design tools to implement regional solutions to global
More information about the Worldviews Network will be upcoming
on this and the official site, www.worldviews.net.
Click here to watch A
Global Water Story.