AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 70. Astronomy and Education
Display, Wednesday, June 2, 1999, 10:00am-6:30pm, Southwest Exhibit Hall

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[70.05] First Contact: Expectations of Beginning Astronomy Students

T.L. Lacey, T.F. Slater (Montana State University)

Three hundred seven undergraduate students enrolled in Introductory Astronomy were surveyed at the beginning of class to determine their expectations for course content. The course serves as a survey of astronomy for non-science majors and is a distribution course for general education core requirements. The course has no prerequisites, meets three times each week for 50 minutes, and represents three semester credit hours. The university catalog describes the course with the title "PHYSICS 101 - Mysteries of the Sky" and the official course description is: a survey of the struggle to understand the Universe and our place therein. The structure, growth, methods, and limitations of science will be illustrated using the development of astronomy as a vehicle. Present day views of the Universe are presented.

Two questions were asked as open response items: What made you decide to take this course? and What do you expect to learn in this course? The reasons that students cited to take the course, in order of frequency, were: interested in astronomy, interesting or fun sounding course, required general education fulfillment, recommendation by peer. Secondary reasons cited were required for major or minor, general interest in science, and was available in the schedule. Tertiary reasons listed were recommendation by advisor or orientation leader, inflate grade point average, and heard good things about the teacher.

The students' expectations about what they would learn in the course were numerous. The most common objects listed, in order of frequency, were: stars, constellations, planets, galaxies, black holes, solar system, comets, galaxies, asteroids, moon, and Sun. More interesting were the aspects not specifically related to astronomy. These were weather, atmosphere, UFOs and the unexplained, generally things in the sky. A mid-course survey suggests that students expected to learn more constellations and that the topics would be less in-depth.

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