chapters, the notion of “third places” or “third spaces” may provide a useful way to think about this. As neither home nor work, third places are insulated from the strong influence of the real world and provide a unique potential for the development of identity where new resources and constraints evolve in the social milieu of the virtual space. The third place of the chat room or game, rather than the local community center or bar, can become a primary vehicle for identity construction. Whereas geographic, cultural, and technical boundaries have historically constrained cultural exchange among groups and individuals, virtual environments can facilitate transactions across these barriers, opening up new intersections of people, tools, and traditions to support identity development. The previously noted trends in participation are clear, suggesting that although this research is emergent, there is a clear trend in participation in third spaces.
Some have argued that the same qualities that make virtual environments rich sites for identity development also make them rich sites for social scientific research on the nature of identity. Although there is little evidence yet that virtual museums can drive powerful identity-building experiences, one can envision the enormous possibilities of an entirely new type of virtual museum, science center, or zoological or botanical collection.
Thus far we have summarized studies of science learning through particular media. Next, we explore the role of media in particular venues and configurations for science learning. We consider in turn each of the venues discussed previously: everyday settings, designed settings, and programs.
How media shape people’s relationship to science and science learning in their daily lives is not yet clear. On one hand, the connectedness that digital technologies afford is enticing. The promise of digital media for enhancing learning—linking learners to experts and knowledgeable peers, building communities around common interests, and even building new knowledge bases—is real and exciting. On the other hand, there are considerable concerns about the quality and reliability of media-based accounts of science. Creators and providers of scientific information (and information that is claimed to be scientific information) are multiplying. The proverbial “man on the street” is no longer a figment of political rhetoric, but a potential contributor to public discourse who can readily broadcast his opinions on stem cells, evolution, and science curriculum. The traditional, authoritative sources of scientific information—museums, disciplinary communities, even the mainstream news media—find themselves competing with political and ideological interest groups to convey science to the public. The results can be