In this manuscript we describe an introductory astronomy course for undergraduate students in which we moved from the large-lecture format to one in which students were immersed in a technologically-rich, inquiry-based, participatory learning environment. Specifically, undergraduate students used 3-D modeling tools to construct virtual reality models of the solar system, and in the process, build rich understandings of various astronomical phenomena. For this study, primarily naturalistic inquiry was used to gain a holistic view of this semester-long course. These data are presented as two case studies focusing on: (1) the role of the teacher in this participatory learning environment; (2) the particular dynamics that formed in each group; (3) the modeling process; (4) the resources used, specifically student-developed inscriptions; and (5) the role of technology and whether learning the technology interfered with learning astronomy. Results indicated that VR can be used effectively in regular undergraduate university courses as a tool through which students can develop rich understandings of various astronomical phenomena.
- Virtual reality
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