Astronomy, Computer Simulation, Planetarium, Undergraduate Education
Computer-generated simulations and visualizations in digital planetariums have the potential to bridge the comprehension gap in astronomy education. Concepts involving three-dimensional spatial relationships can be difficult for the layperson to understand, since much of the traditional teaching materials used in astronomy education remain two-dimensional in nature. We study the student performance after viewing visualizations in an immersive theater and in non-immersive classrooms for the topic of seasons in an introductory undergraduate astronomy course. Using weekly multiple-choice quizzes to gauge student learning, comparison of curriculum tests taken immediately after instruction and pre-instruction quizzes show a significant difference in the results of students who viewed visualizations in the planetarium versus their counterparts who viewed non-immersive content in their classrooms, and those in the control group that saw no visualizations whatsoever. These results suggest that the immersive visuals help by freeing up cognitive resources that can be devoted to learning, while visualizations shown in the classroom may be an intrinsically inferior experience for students.