AAS Meeting #193 - Austin, Texas, January 1999
Session 34. Teaching Astronomy in Colleges and Universities
Display, Thursday, January 7, 1999, 9:20am-6:30pm, Exhibits Hall 1

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[34.06] Astronomy Courses which Emphasize Communication Skills

H.L. Dinerstein (U. Texas, Austin)

The ability to communicate effectively, both in oral and written form, is crucial for success in almost any career path. Furthermore, being able to effectively communicate information requires a high level of conceptual mastery of the material. For these reasons, I have incorporated practice in communication into courses at a variety of levels, ranging from non-science-major undergraduate courses to graduate courses. I briefly describe the content of these courses, particularly the communication-related component. The first, Ast 309N, ``Astronomy Bizarre: Stars and Stellar Evolution," is an elective which follows one semester of general introductory astronomy for non-majors. Instead of homework problems, the students complete a sequence of writing assignments of graduated complexity, beginning with simple tasks such as writing abstracts and critiques of assigned readings, and moving on to writing term papers which require literature research and a short science fiction story incorporating accurate depictions of relativistic effects. In Ast 175/275, a ``Journal Club" course for upper-division astronomy majors, students read articles in the professional literature and give short oral presentations to the rest of the class. To build up their understanding of a topic, we work through the ``paper trail" of key papers on topics with exciting recent developments, such as extrasolar planets, gravitational lenses, or gamma-ray bursts. Finally, in a seminar course for first-semester astronomy graduate students (Ast 185C) that broadly addresses professional development issues, I include a practice AAS oral session, with the students giving 5-minute presentations on a journal paper of their choice. This seminar course also examines career paths and employment trends, the peer review process for papers and proposals, professional norms and ethics, and other topics. Syllabi for these and other courses I teach regularly can be found from my home page (http://www.as.utexas.edu/astronomy/people/dinerstein).

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