Digital Planetariums and Immersive Visualizations for Astronomy Education
Modern “fulldome” video digital planetariums combine immersive projection that facilitate the understanding of relationships involving wide spatial angles, while 3D virtual environments facilitate learning of spatial relationships by allowing models and scenes to be viewed from multiple frames of reference. We report on an efficacy study of the use of digital planetariums for learning the astronomical topic of the seasons. Comparison of curriculum tests taken immediately after instruction versus pre-instruction show significant gains for students who viewed visualizations in the immersive dome, versus their counterparts who viewed non-immersive content and those in the control group that saw no visualizations. The greater gains in learning in the digital planetarium can be traced not only to its ability to show wide-angle phenomena and the benefits accorded by the simulation software, but also the lower quality visual experience for students viewing the non-immersive versions of the lectures.