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Who needs 3D when the Universe is flat?
Uppsala University. (Physics Education research, Fysikens didaktik)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6638-1246
Uppsala University. (Physics Education research, Fysikens didaktik)
Uppsala University. (Physics Education research, Fysikens didaktik)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3244-2586
Kristianstad University.
2012 (English)In: The 1st World Conference on Physics Education, Istanbul, Turkey, 1-6 July, Istanbul, Turkey: WCPE , 2012, 170-171 p.Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Learning astronomy can be difficult for students at all levels due to the highly diverse, conceptual and theoretical thinking used in the discipline. A variety of disciplinary-specific representations are normally employed to help students learn about the Universe. Some of the most common representations are twodimensional (2D) such as diagrams, plots, or images. In astronomy education there is an implicit assumption that students will be able to con- ceptually extrapolate three-dimensional (3D) representations from these 2D images (e.g., of nebulae); however, this is often not the case (Hansen et al. 2004a,b; Molina et al. 2004; Williamson and Abraham 1995; N.R.C. 2006, p. 56). The way in which students interact with different disciplinary represen- tations determines how much and what they will learn; yet, our literature review indicates that not much is known about this interaction. We have therefore chosen to investigate students’ reflective awareness evoked by 3D representations. Reflective awareness relates to the learning affordances that engagement with a collection of representations facilitates. The notion of reflection is drawn from the work of Schön (cf. 1983) in that it is related to our learning experience and involves the noticing of ‘new things’ and the noticing of ‘things’ in new ways as part of dealing with puzzling phenomena. Much of the research into Astronomy Education Research (AER) has been carried out at pre-university levels (Bailey and Slater 2003; Bailey 2011; Bre- tones and Neto 2011; Lelliott and Rollnick 2010), and furthermore very little has been grounded in a disciplinary discourse perspective (Airey and Linder 2009). Our study sets out to address both of these shortcomings. Our research question is: What is the nature of university students’ re- flective awareness when engaging with the representations used to illustrate the structural components and characteristics of the Milky Way Galaxy in a simulation video? Although not common, when 3D is introduced, then this is often done using video simulations. For our study we chose to use a highly regarded video simulation that illustrates some of the fundamental structural components of our Universe in a virtual reality journey through, and out of, our galaxy. In the study, the first 1.5-minutes of the video was set to automatically pause in seven places (these places where optimally determined in a small pre-study), and a web questionnaire was created to elicit the participants’ reflective awareness about the structural components and characteristics of the Milky Way in each clip. A total of 137 participants from physics and astronomy in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia took part in the study. The written reflective descriptions from the survey were coded and sorted into constructed categories, using a constant comparison approach (cf. Gibbs 2002; Strauss 1998). Many of the participants expressed poor prior awareness of the 3D struc- ture of the universe, as evidenced by their ‘surprise’ in observing 3D features such as the large separation of the stars in Orion or the two nebulae in Orion. Many were also surprised by the extent of the grand scale of the (local) Uni- verse as they realised that the journey covers great distances in only a few seconds. In contrast, those participants who rated themselves as astronomy experts had already developed a 3D awareness of the universe. They used much more complex descriptions and to some extent commented on struc- tures and phenomena omitted from the simulation, such as HI-regions and infrared radiation from HII-regions, although these are invisible to the naked eye. In this talk we report on 3D-related issues, which we will discuss in re- lation to implications for using such a simulation as a resource intended to enhance the possibility of learning. There are two main findings of our study concerning 3D: firstly, one of the clearest differences in reflective awareness to emerge was that there was a gradual increase of awareness of structures and phenomena in relation to the educational level of the astronomy partic- ipants. Interestingly, this is not the case for the physics participants and we will argue that this is due to differences in the disciplinary discourses of physics and astronomy. The second finding is that the use of the simulation video successfully stimulated participants’ awareness of the 3D structure of the Universe as seen in their expressed surprise. We therefore argue that simula- tions can be a powerful and necessary tool in helping develop an awareness of the three-dimensional Universe and that simulations therefore are one of the critical forms of representation that open up the space for learning in astronomy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Istanbul, Turkey: WCPE , 2012. 170-171 p.
Keyword [en]
University Physics, University Astronomy, Disciplinary discourse, 3D representations
National Category
Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology Didactics
Research subject
Humanities
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-44443OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-44443DiVA: diva2:822125
Conference
The 1st World Conference on Physics Education, Istanbul, Turkey, 1-6 July
Available from: 2014-10-21 Created: 2015-06-15 Last updated: 2016-05-30Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
  • apa
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