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Session 4 - Education: Telescopes, the Web and Curricula.
Display session, Wednesday, January 07
Astronomy is a dynamic science, a point that is sometimes lost on students who slog through the standard treatment of the introductory astronomy course. By integrating the easy access to current research information afforded by the internet and other media, it is possible to tailor the introductory course so that students gain a greater appreciation of the ever-changing landscape of scientific knowledge.
For the rest of their lives, the students now taking our courses will be informed of astronomical discoveries through the mass media, which increasingly includes the internet. Through design of assignments that ask students to confront the presentation of late-breaking astronomy news, the introductory astronomy course can help students to be able to process such information long after they have graduated.
Caton has taken this idea to an extreme, developing a nonlinear, topics-driven approach to teaching the introductory course (Mercury, 25.6, p.29). Some may be unwilling to suspend the traditional course structure to take such an approach, but there are alternatives.
The internet provides easy access to a wider range of breaking astronomy news. Several science news services are available, and many astronomy-related sites offer regular updates. Direct sources for press releases are also easily found. With such access, students can follow stories as they develop.
The key to achieving this is through design of assignments that force the students to look for the latest information online. Several variations have been tried at Gardner-Webb, mostly involving student construction of web browser documents that profile particular stories. These assignments build student skills in online research, and communicate that astronomy is an evolving science. Hopefully, they also instill a confidence that allows individual analysis of astronomy (and indeed all science) stories in the news for years to come - well after the specific details of the astronomy course are forgotten.
Program listing for Wednesday