AAS Meeting #193 - Austin, Texas, January 1999
Session 78. Computers in Education
Display, Friday, January 8, 1999, 9:20am-6:30pm, Exhibit Hall 1

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[78.03] Computer-based Astronomy Labs for Non-science Majors

A. B. E. Smith, S. D. Murray, R. A. Ward (LLNL)

We describe and demonstrate two laboratory exercises, Kepler's Third Law and Stellar Structure, which are being developed for use in an astronomy laboratory class aimed at non-science majors. The labs run with Microsoft's Excel 98 (Macintosh) or Excel 97 (Windows). They can be run in a classroom setting or in an independent learning environment. The intent of the labs is twofold; first and foremost, students learn the subject matter through a series of informational frames. Next, students enhance their understanding by applying their knowledge in lab procedures, while also gaining familiarity with the use and power of a widely-used software package and scientific tool. No mathematical knowledge beyond basic algebra is required to complete the labs or to understand the computations in the spreadsheets, although the students are exposed to the concepts of numerical integration.

The labs are contained in Excel workbook files. In the files are multiple spreadsheets, which contain either a frame with information on how to run the lab, material on the subject, or one or more procedures. Excel's VBA macro language is used to automate the labs. The macros are accessed through button interfaces positioned on the spreadsheets. This is done intentionally so that students can focus on learning the subject matter and the basic spreadsheet features without having to learn advanced Excel features all at once.

Students open the file and progress through the informational frames to the procedures. After each procedure, student comments and data are automatically recorded in a preformatted Lab Report spreadsheet. Once all procedures have been completed, the student is prompted for a filename in which to save their Lab Report. The lab reports can then be printed or emailed to the instructor. The files will have full worksheet and workbook protection, and will have a "redo" feature at the end of the lab for students who want to repeat a procedure.

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