Dynamic Visualizations As Tools For Supporting Cosmological Literacy
My dissertation research is designed to improve access to STEM content through the development of cosmology visualizations that support all learners as they engage in cosmological sense-making. To better understand how to design visualizations that work toward breaking cycles of power and access in the sciences, I orient my work to following “meta-question”: How might educators use visualizations to support diverse ways of knowing and learning in order to expand access to cosmology, and to science? In this dissertation, I address this meta-question from a pragmatic epistemological perspective, through a socio-cultural lens, following three lines of inquiry: experimental methods (Creswell, 2003) with a focus on basic visualization design, activity analysis (Wells, 1996; Ash, 2001; Rahm, 2012) with a focus on culturally and linguistically diverse learners, and case study (Creswell, 2000) with a focus on expansive learning at a planetarium (Engeström, 2001; Ash, 2014).
My research questions are as follows, each of which corresponds to a self- contained course of inquiry with its own design, data, analysis and results:
1) Can mediational cues like color affect the way learners interpret the content in a cosmology visualization?
2) How do cosmology visualizations support cosmological sense-making for diverse students? 3) What are the shared objects of dynamic networks of activity around visualization production and use in a large, urban planetarium and how do they affect learning?
The result is a mixed-methods design (Sweetman, Badiee & Creswell, 2010) where both qualitative and quantitative data are used when appropriate to address my research goals. In the introduction I begin by establishing a theoretical framework for understanding visualizations within cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) and situating the chapters that follow within that framework. I also introduce the concept of cosmological literacy, which I define as the set of conceptual, semiotic and cognitive resources required to understand the scientific Universe on a cosmological scale. In the first chapter I use quantitative methods to investigate how 122 post- secondary learners relied on mediational cues like color to interpret dark matter in a cosmology visualization. My results show that color can have a profound effect on the way that audiences interpret a dynamic cosmology visualization, suggesting a closer look at learning activity. Thus in the second chapter I look at how the visualizations are used by small groups of community college students to make sense of cosmology visualizations. I present evidence that when we look past linguistic fluency, visualizations can scaffold cosmological sense-making, which I define as engaging in object-oriented learning activity mediated by concepts and practices associated with cosmological literacy. In the third chapter I present a case study of an urban planetarium trying to define its goals at a time of transition, during and after the development of a visualization-based planetarium show. My analysis reveals several historical contradictions that appear to impel a shift toward affective goals within the institution, and driving the implementation of visualizations, particularly in the context of immersive planetarium shows. I problematize this result by repositioning the shift toward affective goals in the context of equity and diversity. Finally in my conclusion I present broad recommendations for visualization design and implementation based on my findings.
Type of Publication
Buck, Zoe E.
University of California, Santa Cruz
Number of Pages
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America