Researchers at the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the Living Laboratory at the Boston Museum of Science, and the Adler Planetarium are studying stereoscopic (three-dimensional or 3D) visualizations so that this emerging viewing technology has an empirical basis upon which educators can build more effective informal learning experiences that promote learning and interest in science by the public. The project's research questions are: How do viewers perceive 3D visualizations compared to 2D visualizations? What do viewers learn about highly spatial scientific concepts embedded in 3D compared to 2D visualizations? How are viewers' perceptions and learning associated with individual characteristics such as age, gender, and spatial cognition ability?
Project personnel are conducting randomized, experimental mixed-methods research studies on 400 children and 1,000 adults in museum settings to compare their cognitive processing and learning after viewing two-dimensional and three-dimensional static and dynamic images of astronomical objects such as colliding galaxies. An independent evaluator is (1) collecting data on museum workers' and visitors' perceived value of 3D viewing technology within museums and planetariums and (2) establishing a preliminary collection of best practices for using 3D viewing technology based on input from museum staff and visitors, and technology creators.
Spatial thinking is important for learning many domains of science. The findings produced by the Two Eyes, 3D project will researchers' understanding about the advantages and disadvantages of using stereoscopic technology to promote learning of highly spatial science concepts. The findings will help educators teach science in stereoscopic ways that mitigate problems associated with using traditional 2D materials for teaching spatial concepts and processes in a variety of educational settings and science content areas, including astronomy.