About 50 participants came to a discussion on the benefits and potential obstacles of using astronomy visualization tools for education and public outreach (EPO). Representatives of five different EPO organizations shared information on their project goals and outcomes. Public users need support to learn how to use these programs effectively for education, but the efforts are worthwhile because the thrill that comes from working with real data and the natural beauty of astronomical imagery are great attractors for new science enthusiasts.
The WorldWide Telescope Ambassadors Program (WWTA) is new outreach initiative run by researchers at Harvard University, WGBH, and Microsoft Research. WWT Ambassadors are astrophysically-literate volunteers who are trained to be experts in using WWT as teaching tool. Ambassadors and learners alike use WWT to create dynamic, interactive Tours of the Universe, which are shared in schools, public venues, and online. Ambassador-created Tours are being made freely available and will ultimately form a comprehensive learning resource for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
In this short talk, we will describe the results of a Pilot Study where volunteer Ambassadors helped sixth-graders use WWT during their six-week Astronomy unit. The results of the study compare learning outcomes for 80 students who participated in WWTA and 80 students who only used traditional learning materials. In the comparison, we find that, after the six-week unit: twice as many "WWT” as "non-WWT” students understand complex three dimensional orbital relationships; and tremendous gains are seen in student interest in science overall, astronomy in particular, and even in using "real” telescopes.
Plans for WWTA include expansion to five US sites within the coming year, and ultimately to an International Program. Online materials will ultimately be available through several sites (at WGBH, Harvard and Microsoft), and will be integrated with existing online curriculum programs such as WGBH's Teachers’ Domain and Microsoft's Partners in Learning. More inormation is presently available at www.cfa.harvard.edu/WWTAmbassadors/.