AAS 206th Meeting, 29 May - 2 June 2005
Session 22 Cool Astronomy for Everyone
Special Session, Monday, 2:00-3:30pm, May 30, 2005, 102 F

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[22.02] Escape the Black Hole of Lecturing: Put Collaborative Ranking Tasks on Your Event Horizon

D. W. Hudgins (University of South Africa and Rockhurst University), E. E. Prather (University of Arizona), D. J. Grayson (University of South Africa)

At the University of Arizona, we have been developing and testing a new type of introductory astronomy curriculum material called Ranking Tasks. Ranking Tasks are a form of conceptual exercise that presents students with four to six physical situations, usually by pictures or diagrams, and asks students to rank order the situations based on some resulting effect. Our study developed design guidelines for Ranking Tasks based on learning theory and classroom pilot studies. Our research questions were:

Do in-class collaborative Ranking Task exercises result in student conceptual gains when used in conjunction with traditional lecture-based instruction? And are these gains sufficient to justify implementing them into the astronomy classroom?

We conducted a single-group repeated measures experiment across eight core introductory astronomy topics with 250 students at the University of Arizona in the Fall of 2004. The study found that traditional lecture-based instruction alone produced statistically significant gains raising test scores to 61% post-lecture from 32% on the pretest. While significant, we find these gains to be unsatisfactory from a teaching and learning perspective. The study data shows that adding a collaborative learning component to the class structured around Ranking Task exercises helped students achieve statistically significant gains with post-Ranking Task scores over the eight astronomy topic rising to 77%. Interestingly, we found that the normalized gain from the Ranking Tasks was equal to the entire previous gain from traditional instruction. Further analysis of the data revealed that Ranking Tasks equally benefited both genders; they also equally benefited both high and low-scoring median groups based on their pretest scores. Based on these results, we conclude that adding collaborative Ranking Task exercises to traditional lecture-based instruction can significantly improve student conceptual understanding of core topics in astronomy.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #2
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.