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Investigating the Impacts of a Cultural Cosmology Project on Astronomy Majors

Presentation #212.06 in the session Public Engagement and Education Research.

Published onJun 29, 2022
Investigating the Impacts of a Cultural Cosmology Project on Astronomy Majors

Providing students the opportunity to explore cultural aspects of cosmology (such as those of Indigenous, non-Western, or marginalized groups) can be a powerful way to foster safe spaces within astronomy. At San Francisco State University, a large, ethnically diverse, master’s-granting institution, students are required to take an upper-division writing-intensive course in their discipline. This course for astronomy majors integrates cosmological science, research techniques, and the cosmological worldviews of human cultures over space and time. Using an iterative thematic coding approach, we analyze surveys, interview transcripts, and course artifacts from 57 students over 3 semesters to investigate their experiences in the course and the impacts of completing a cultural cosmology project. By examining reflection essays from the beginning of the semester, we identify cultural capitals and other assets, values, and lived experiences that students bring to the classroom. We next catalog common themes and approaches students took in materials from the cultural cosmology project as well as their reasoning for choosing their particular topic. For example, many students chose a culture related to their personal heritage and identity. Oral interviews suggest that students’ interest in cosmology specifically and astronomy in general was strengthened by studying and presenting on the cosmology of a non-dominant culture or narrative. Students reported surprise in the number of ways where the cosmological beliefs of their selected culture aligned with current science, within the limitations of available technology of the time. Students also reported that engaging with the projects made them feel like the astronomical community would be welcoming of them, even if they are not from the majority demographic, and that it supported goals of continued astronomical learning.

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