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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[70.02] A Survey of Learning Goals for Introductory Astronomy Courses

G. Brissenden, D.K. Duncan (AAS Education Office), J.L. Greenfield, T.F. Slater (Montana State University)

Introductory astronomy for non-science majors is delivered to more than 200,000 students each year in small colleges and large research universities alike. Not always taught by PhDs formally trained in astronomy, previous surveys reveal that introductory astronomy for undergraduate non-science majors is often taught by individuals trained in physics, mathematics, geology, among many other fields. Such a diversity in instructor backgrounds suggests that there might exist a wide diversity in course goals, learning objectives, and topics covered in such a course. In an attempt to explore this diversity, two projects were conducted simultaneously. First, astronomy instructors pre-registered to attend the ASTR 101 teaching workshop at the 1998 ASP Albuquerque meeting were asked to electronically submit their three main course goals for introductory astronomy. Fifty-four responses showed a convergence of several ideas across the majority of instructors: an understanding of the nature of science and astronomy, an appreciation for the size, scale, and structure of the cosmos, and an increased interest in studying current events in astronomy as a life-long learning activity. Second, an analysis of 50 introductory astronomy syllabi found on the World-Wide-Web was conducted to determine the frequency that 75 possible topics in introductory astronomy were evidently included in the course. The most common topics covered appear to be the nature of light and the electromagnetic spectrum, stellar evolution and the Sun, techniques and tools of astronomy, motions and objects in the solar system, and the stellar magnitude scale. Topics that appear to receive little emphasis include the reason for seasons, planetary atmospheres, plate tectonics, space exploration, and formation of the elements. Additionally, 78 indicate that night observations are required and 38 require the use of the computer or the Internet.

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