Immersive Learning School Residency

A tour of the universe? A trip through the human heart?  How can teachers use data in a virtual environment to help students infer knowledge? How do we build learning experiences and curricula that capitalize on the potential?   A growing variety of “big data” and interactive tools are finding their way into the classroom.  This unique residency program is a chance for educators to learn first hand how a process of guided inquiry in domed environments is being used in a growing number of schools to help students intuit scientific understanding.


The Immersive Learning School Residency is a month long, intensive program designed to work each day with designated teachers, students, and administrators to logically align the use of the dome technology to existing parts of the curriculum. As part of this plan the University of Minnesota STEM Education Center will run an independent formative assessment of the experience. At the completion, the Residency Team will review the results with school district representatives. These results will available for use by the school district to inform any next step decisions. Meanwhile the UMN STEM Education Center will gain a growing body of assessment data around the use of immersive learning.


For more information contact:

Joel Halvorson 




You may be familiar with the portable, interactive, visualization lab known as the ExploraDome*. What you may not know is that the interactive software tools used in this dome, are also in use by a K-16 community of educators working in fixed and portable systems. The Immersive Learning School Residency provides school districts the change to learn first hand, how the members of this network are using a process of guided inquiry, with a variety of data, to help students infer knowledge.  Unlike a movie, students are interactively guided though a virtual environment of choice, created dynamically from a wide array of scientific data. While it is valuable to have a program like the ExploraDome visit a school, this residency is designed to stimulate a conversation with educators about the role of immersive visualization and learning and to assist educators to make an informed decision about how to integrate this into the curriculum.


A critical literacy of the future is data literacy - the ability to use real data in meaningful ways to infer knowledge.  What does this literacy look like? How do we measure it? Perhaps most important for the educators, how do we build learning environments and curriculum that capitalizes on this potential? We live in a world awash in “big data”, and a question remains: How do we harness computer technology so that we can put this data to work helping educate students? One way is to create visualization spaces that mirror the hemisphere of the human brain (i.e. a dome) in conjunction with software designed to scale and manipulate data. Essentially facilitating student fluency through an intuitive manipulation of data in virtual environments.


Immersive learning in K-12 schools is in its early stages but is starting to take hold with origins in Minnesota schools. Today there are four Minnesota school districts that run an interactive domed visualization space similar to the ExploraDome. Three of these sites also happen to be renovations of traditional planetariums and are also the first K-12 sites in the world to incorporate the interactive tool known as Uniview.  These sites are unique learning laboratories designed to visually reinforce classroom lessons.  Students are provided an opportunity for observation, measurement, logical analysis and an infinite testing ground under a controlled classroom setting. This laboratory approach, very different from traditional planetarium instruction, means that students are not passive receptors of scientific facts but are immersed in the information. Teachers can elicit prior knowledge and interactively investigate regions of both earth and space. What makes the experience unique, and tailored to cover a wide range of STEM topics, is that it is built around spatially referenced data. This means it is not so much an astronomy tool as it is a tool for navigating through a vast array of data. Teachers are able to break through artificial scientific barriers, and put all topics in a proper contextual place and scale. Quite literally, they can seamlessly travel from the edge of the universe to a molecular scale, and their audience can be PHD physicists or preschool children. Everyone is able to view the same data, and learn at an age and knowledge appropriate level. They are able to target the skills critical to science literacy: the ability for students to use scientific data to infer deeper meaning through investigation and inquiry. There is nothing about seemingly difficult topics like cosmology that should keep it out of the reach of a 5th grade student, except for our ability to provide a proper visual reference. Once barriers are removed, there is no end to what people can learn, appreciate, and comprehend.

* The ExploraDome was created by the former Minnesota Planetarium Society and is now managed by the Bell Museum of Natural History.

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