Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Digital Universe Guide learning experience

Partiview screenshot showing distribution pattern of OB Associations
Digital Universe Atlas wonderful new approach to teaching the public astronomy using the combination of text book and computer model of the Universe can be seen better by taking a practical example.>

The Guide has tutorials to Space with introductory paragraphs and gives later on detailed information about the points of interest. Here is, for example, part of the tutorial text explaining the distribution of OB Associations in Milky Way Galaxy.

OB Associations Are in the Galactic Disk Again, it’s easy to see that the OB associations are found in the Galactic plane. Rather than look at their distribution from Earth’s perspective, let’s look upon them from a point away from Earth.

Fly backward from the Sun until you see all the OB associations in view, then orbit the Sun from this vantage point. You should still see the Galactic coordinates sphere encircling the Sun. It has a radius of 1,000 light-years. If you fly back toward the sphere, you will notice a few OB associations within that distance.

For scale, turn on the 10,000-light-year grid 10kly, which is in the plane of the Galaxy and spans the OB associations. Not all the OB associations are represented in this group, only those with known distances—those in the neighborhood.
Brian Abbott, Digital Universe Guide for Partiview. Hayden 2012, p.54.

What would a regular student learn from reading such English sentences? My guess is "next to nothing". The words are there but the text is not comprehensible without the computer simulator (and is not intended to be).

If we let the same student work interactively with the Milky Way Atlas in Partiview flying some 10.000 light years away from Sun the learning experience changes dramatically.

Suddenly - after some fiddling with the GUI - something clicks in the student's head. There really is a pattern in the scientific evidence shown on the screen and the visualized data visible has meaning. With the help of the computer simulation the student is now able to "see" celestial objects in dimensional space and can better understand complex spatial planes, distances and how astronomers are discovering new data about our Galaxy.

A mere photo in a book or browser page, like the screenshot above, does not do the trick. It is absolutely necessary to work and to follow the step-by-step tutorial in the Guide and to move in space to get the point (atually there are thousands of points out there...if not millions or billiions)

But once the student has successfully lifted off the launch pad of the tutorials and texts and understood the spatial concepts and dimensions it is so much easier to build up additional knowledge from the Guide and from the numerous excellent resources that are today available in libraries and in the WEB.

Digital Universe Atlas is an excellent tool for self-study and also for education.

The package includes also activity materials specifically aimed for teachers and students with hands-on advise how to use the interactive tools to understand space science and its methods.

The Galactic Census package is excellent, practical and in my opinion presents a very effective way to teach difficult concepts through activity (and not just teacher's LCD projector) such as the distribution of celestial objects in the different parts of the galaxy.

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