A Dome for Discussion

The planetarium being used for PowerPoint presentations during an astronomy lecture

The planetarium being used for PowerPoint presentations during an astronomy lecture

When safe spaces on campus come to mind, the planetarium might not be on the top of the list. The planetarium offers an interactive learning experience that is new for Chaffey students. It also provides a room for students to discuss topics based on the presentations that are being shown.

The planetarium is run by astronomy professors Bradley Hughes and Joann Eisberg. This semester they have begun to use the planetarium for their own lectures to give their students an in-depth visual. Professor Eisberg explains this is a “wonderful, vivid way of communicating,” because astronomy is a science of distance between objects.

The planetarium was recently closed for remodeling. The previous projector was from 1969, and the replacement parts became expensive and hard to find. Prior to the construction, there was a large dip in the room where the projector was; they filled that dip with cement and the planetarium now has a two-projector system.

With the planetarium being open for the first time in the past two years, “the big challenge now is letting students know we have it” says Professor Hughes. Most lecture science courses consist of readings from textbooks and using PowerPoint presentations, the planetarium is much more interactive. Astronomy can be taken as a prerequisite, either Astronomy 26 (Stars and Galaxies) or Astronomy 35 (Planets and Solar System). It is possible that more students would enroll in these courses if they knew that the planetarium is frequently used as a resource.Using the planetarium as a learning tool could be useful for visual learners.

After the presentation is shown, there is time amongst students to discuss and debate. For example, the show called Dynamic Earth goes in-depth on topics like global warming and the excess of carbon dioxide in the ozone. Once the lights turned on, Professor Bradley left the students with the open-ended question:

"What can we do to solve this problem?"

At this point the planetarium became a room of students’ theories and rebuttals. Eisberg says one of the reasons why these discussions are effective is because “we learn more by talking about it with each other than we ever learn by someone talking at us.”

The planetarium offers a diverse range of topics. Therefore, no matter what students major in they could look at the planetarium as a sanctuary for discussion. Many college students tend to already have their ideas on topics such as global warming, or even on extraterrestrial life forms. Here there is a chance given for students to give their opinions on alien life forms, and then use the planetarium show as a resource.

Professors from other departments are looking for ways to use the planetarium as well. The art department has reached out in search for ways to use the planetarium for their students. The goal is to expand the number of presentations, as well as to make the planetarium available for more departments and classes. Nov. 30 this the last show of this semester and shows will resume in the spring.