key scientific roles—portrayals that students, especially young women, are more likely to identify with (Strand 6).
Both versions of the CSI effect may be behind the large growth in forensic science programs in higher education (Houck, 2006; Jones and Bangert, 2006). It appears that exposure to these programs may help middle and high school students become interested in science as a career (Strand 6). In some cases, student interests have driven universities to create forensic science majors to meet growing demands (Houck, 2006). While CSI and related shows deal with forensics, other programs with science-related content (e.g., hospital dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy) may also influence attitudes toward and perceptions of science and scientific practice (Strand 4). The research base around popular media as a tool for science learning in informal environments is limited; further studies are needed to understand the role of television and film on viewers’ knowledge and attitudes.
One particular type of film has been studied for its contributions to learning science in informal environments: giant screen theaters (primarily IMAX®, but other vendors as well). These theaters are located in approximately one-third of science museums as well as other venues and show science-based documentaries along with other films. While in some basic sense large-format film is similar to television and cinema—they all employ a screen and typically engage learners in observing a production in silence—there are important differences. The scale and setting of giant screen film may result in a uniquely immersive experience compared with other screen experiences. Because of the large frame size and extremely high resolution of the film, this technology immerses viewers into the projected image, whether photographed with special cameras or computer-generated.
Other types of immersive media include planetariums and laser-projection systems. Planetariums employ optical or digital projection systems to create shows that incorporate images of the sky, space, and occasionally other scientific subjects. Studies of planetarium experiences (e.g., Fisher, 1997) have focused on programming characteristics, such as humor, that have the potential to impact learning or appeal to specific audiences, such as school groups (e.g., Storksdieck, 2005). Laser projection systems, including 3-D versions, have been used in both planetarium and theater settings. These systems can yield spectacular scientific imagery that is simply not available to most people through any other means. Subject matter may include the natural phenomena scientists are inquiring about or representations of scientific inquiry (e.g., depictions of deep sea exploration).
With the exception of giant screen cinema evaluations, few studies have examined the learning potential of these immersive media. A recent article