The WorldWide Telescope is a rich visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground- and space-based telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe. WorldWide Telescope, created with Microsoft’s high-performance Visual Experience Engine, enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky blending terabytes of images, data and stories from multiple sources over the Internet into a media-rich, immersive experience. The WorldWide Telescope experience scales from a web browser all the way to multi-channel full dome in some of the world’s most advanced planetariums. About 10 months ago, China’s first planetarium driven by the WorldWide Telescope (WWT) was launched at the Shixinlu primary school which enabled students not only to see and study the stars and the universe in an immersive planetarium setting, but it also has allowed them to create their own tours of the heavens and have them displayed on the dome. After that, the WWT Digital Dome project was started in China, a project that aims to add WWT-driven planetariums to schools at every level—from primary through university. Currently, three primary schools and three universities are constructing or are committed to building a WWT Digital Dome, and three additional universities and the Beijing Planetarium have expressed strong interest in hosting a Digital Dome installation.
Recognizing the teaching potential of this growing network of WWT Digital Dome installations, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), Central China Normal University (CCNU), and Chongqing Wutai Technology Co. Ltd are working to form an alliance among the WWT planetariums. This alliance will enable the various schools to share their experiences with the WWT Digital Dome—including tricks and tips for using the hardware and software.
More importantly, the alliance will allow participating schools to exchange key takeaways about developing curriculum and tours based on Digital Dome content. This pedagogical cross-fertilization is already taking shape with the design of WWT curricula for primary and secondary schools. There are now 16 WWT courses for primary and secondary schools, including 22 modules for primary schools, 33 modules for middle schools, and 26 modules for high schools. More than 2,000 students have been taught by using these courses.
In addition, dozens of guided tours have been completed at the primary school and secondary school level, covering such basic astronomical concepts as “Exploring our Family—the Earth,” “Understanding the Galaxy and the Universe,” and “Viewing the Seasonal Stars.” Meanwhile, advanced tours—which take advantage of the Layerscape (a WWT add-in for Excel that enables users to visualize spatial data)—are being prepared for high schools and colleges. And a community of WWT users in Beijing has begun integrating traditional Chinese constellation images into the WWT astronomical data sets, providing a unique cultural link between the past and present.
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