Learning about the scale of the solar system using digital planetarium visualizations
We studied the use of a digital planetarium for teaching relative distances and sizes in introductory undergraduate astronomy classes. Inspired in part by the classic short film The Powers of Ten and large physical scale models of the Solar System that can be explored on foot, we created lectures using virtual versions of these two pedagogical approaches for classes that saw either an immersive treatment in the planetarium or a non-immersive version in the regular classroom (with N = 973 students participating in total). Students who visited the planetarium had not only the greatest learning gains, but their performance increased with time, whereas students who saw the same visuals projected onto a flat display in their classroom showed less retention over time. The gains seen in the students who visited the planetarium reveal that this medium is a powerful tool for visualizing scale over multiple orders of magnitude. However the modest gains for the students in the regular classroom also show the utility of these visualization approaches for the broader category of classroom physics simulations.
Yu, K. C., Sahami, K., & Dove, J. (2017). Learning about the scale of the solar system using digital planetarium visualizations. American Journal of Physics, 85(7), 550–556. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.4984812