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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
makes the case for digital, full-dome systems as a powerful tool for learning astronomy, calling for research studies on the best ways to use this technology (Yu, 2005). The most comprehensive study to date is a review of summative evaluations on 10 giant screen projects and associated supporting materials (Flagg, 2005a). The evaluators typically conducted pre-post studies to measure changes in scientific knowledge and perceptions of scientists when scientists were characters in the film. All 10 of the studies showed a positive impact on viewers’ knowledge of scientific concepts (Strand 2).
Attitudes and interest have not been measured as frequently in these studies. In 5 of the 10 studies, pre-post measures of interest level were used, and 2 of the 5 found a significant positive impact. Viewers of these two films (Stormchasers and Dolphins) were found to have greater interest in learning more about related topics after viewing the films (Strand 1). A study of the film Tropical Rainforests measured attitude and found that adult, youth, and child viewers had a more positive attitude toward rain forests after viewing the film. In the three studies that measured perceptions of scientists or researchers half or more of viewers felt they learned something new about the lives and work of scientists and researchers (Strand 4). Given the continuing commercial success of giant screen films—since the mid-1990s, the format has moved from almost exclusively educational venues and products to largely commercial venues—and these positive evaluation results after only a single viewing, the immersive format appears to have value for viewers. But the there is a need for further research and perhaps a broader set of science learning outcome measures.
The final area of concentrated literature addresses the Internet and associated technologies that have grown rapidly since the late 1980s. Much of this growth has been encouraged by the development and expansion of the World Wide Web since its development in the early 1990s. Originally created to facilitate information exchange among scientists, the web has become part of everyday computer use for millions of people. It hosts a range of science-specific learning resources, including science outreach pages describing current research; instructional resources for children, educators, and parents; “serious games,” and simulations of scientific phenomena. Other relevant digital technologies that harness scientific knowledge and interface with the web to support science learning include cellular phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, and sensory probes. These technologies are harnessed with the intention of enriching learners’ interactions with scientists and peers about scientific inquiry, and relaying science news to vast audiences.
While the Internet is not yet universally accessible in homes, schools, and libraries, it is increasingly accessible. The Pew Internet and American