Learning astronomy has exciting prospects for many students; learning about the stars in the
sky, the planets, galaxies, etc., is often very inspiring and sets the mind on the really big
aspects of astronomy as a science; the Universe. At the same time, learning astronomy can be
a challenging endeavor for many students. One of the most difficult things to come to
understand is how big the Universe is. Despite seeming trivial, size and distances, together
with the three-dimensional (3D) structure of the Universe, probably present some of the
biggest challenges in the teaching and learning of astronomy
(Eriksson, Linder, Airey, &
Redfors, in preparation; Lelliott & Rollnick, 2010). This is the starting point for every
astronomy educator. From here, an educationally critical question to ask is: how can we best
approach the teaching of astronomy to optimize the potential for our students attaining a
holistic understanding about the nature of the Universe?
Resent research indicates that to develop students’ understanding about the structure of the
Universe, computer generated 3D simulations can be used to provide the students with an
experience that other representations cannot easily provide (Eriksson et al., in preparation;
Joseph, 2011). These simulations offer disciplinary affordance* through the generation of
motion parallax for the viewer. Using this background we will present the results of a recent
investigation that we completed looking at what students’ discern (notice with meaning)
about the multidimensionality of the Universe. Implications for astronomy education will be
discussed and exemplified.
*[T]he inherent potential of [a] representation to provide access to disciplinary knowledge
(Fredlund, Airey, & Linder, 2012, p. 658)
Eriksson, U., Linder, C., Airey, J., & Redfors, A. (in preparation). Who needs 3D when the
Universe is flat?
Fredlund, T., Airey, J., & Linder, C. (2012). Exploring the role of physics representations: an
illustrative example from students sharing knowledge about refraction. European
Journal of Physics, 33(3), 657.
Joseph, N. M. (2011). Stereoscopic Visualization as a Tool For Learning Astronomy
Concepts. (Master of Science), Purdue University, Purdue University Press Journals.
Lelliott, A., & Rollnick, M. (2010). Big Ideas: A review of astronomy education research
1974--2008. International Journal of Science Education, 32(13), 1771–1799
Lund, Sweden, 2013.