INTERdisciplinary Study of (sTudEnt) Learning in a pLAnetaRium
Astronomy has a natural appeal to many as it focuses on the origin of the universe, galaxies, stars, planets and even life itself. Because of its appeal, astronomy can act as a ‘gateway science’ that opens a world of possibilities by nurturing inquisitiveness and the pursuit of knowledge using the scientific method. Moreover, as astronomical research is technology driven, astronomy education provides excellent opportunities to enhance different aspects of (integrated) STEM education and motivate (more) students to pursue their interests via higher education programs and STEM-oriented professional careers. As such, astronomy can play a crucial role in science and more general in STEM education. Although there seems to be something inherent in the subject of astronomy itself that appeals to many people, research shows that many of the astronomical phenomena are difficult to grasp and to teach. As visualising the night sky is one of the main goals of a planetarium, it might be a powerful setting to enhance student learning of the concepts that show to be difficult to understand deeply. Planetariums have indeed a long history in supporting astronomy interest, but the impact of the planetarium visits on the effective learning is vastly unexplored. There are still many questions about the role the unique visualisation possibilities in a dome can play in educating various kinds of audiences by not only fostering their interest in astronomy but also by preventing or remedying misconceptions about crucial notions of space, astrophysical phenomena and the universe as a whole. Here we propose “INTERSTELLAR” – an interdisciplinary study of learning in a planetarium that is rooted in a unique collaboration between the Planetarium of Brussels and different research groups of the KU Leuven, which comprise a wide range of expertise from Physics
Education Research (PER) over Cognitive and Educational Psychology and Astronomy and Astrophysics. We aim at designing a research-based learning environment for stronomical and astrophysical concepts by fully exploiting the unique visualisation possibilities of the Planetarium. Until now, very few planetariums worldwide offer research-based programmes to specific audiences as they mostly capitalise on the immersive nature of the displays and the engagement of the audience. The development of an astronomy education research programme for the Planetarium of Brussels would make the Planetarium unique in Europe by providing carefully designed and tested research-based educational programmes. The ultimate goal is to develop an internationally recognised expertise centre on learning and teaching astronomy and astrophysics for various kinds of audiences and different age groups.