ASP2020: A Virtual Conference
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Developing Virtual Reality Activities for the Astro 101 Class and Lab
We report on our ongoing efforts to develop, implement, and test VR activities for introductory astronomy classes. Specifically, we developed immersive activities for two intrinsically challenging "3D" concepts: Moon phases, and stellar parallax. For Moon phases, we built a simulation on the Universe Sandbox platform and developed a set of activities that included flying to different locations/viewpoints and moving the Moon by hand. This allowed the students to create and experience the phases and the eclipses from different vantage points, including seeing the phases of the Earth from the Moon. We tested the efficacy of these activities on a large cohort (N=116) of general education astronomy students, drawing on our experience with a previous VR Moon phase exercise (Blanco et al. 2019). We were able to determine that VR-based techniques perform comparably well against other teaching methods. We also worked with the student-run VR Club at San Diego State University, using the Unity software engine to create a simulated space environment, where students could kinesthetically explore stellar parallax - both by moving themselves and by measuring parallactic motion while traveling in an orbit. The students then derived a quantitative distance estimate using the parallax angle they measured while in the virtual environment. Future plans include an immersive VR activity to demonstrate the Hubble expansion and measure the age of the Universe. These serve as examples of how one develops a VR activity from the ground up, with associated trade-offs and pitfalls.
Conference Strand: Online K-16 Teaching & Learning