Nicole Vogt » Distance Educational Development
American universities currently have few extended learning (distance education) resources in the physical sciences. It is particularly challenging to provide laboratory science exercises that can be completed without an instructor on hand, without a peer group to share ideas, and without a laboratory full of equipment!
Providing distance access to a core curriculum can broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in higher education, by allowing greater scheduling flexibility (in time, as well as in location). It can also draw in underserved individuals who might otherwise have no viable opportunity to consider a career in the sciences. We thus are strongly motivated to provide additional physical science resources at the general education level.
With the aid of NASA and NSF funding, I have developed a distance learning course in general astronomy for undergraduates (and for high school students, under a concurrent enrollment model). The key components, outlined below, also offer an opportunity for graduate students with a strong interest in education to participate in educational development and outreach activities.
- I have created a secure, adaptive online library of 12,000+ comprehension questions for interactive self-review, keyed to weekly reading and discussion material. The archive is large enough that a student can retake short quizzes multiple times, always with new problems, in order to master the material. Quizzes contain both hints and worked solutions for every problem, cross-linked into HTML lecture notes so that incorrect answers will lead students back to key material for immediate review. The library allows random selection of questions from a large reservoir (as well as targeting of a student's weakest work), performs automatic grading in real time, provides dynamic feedback, and creates a complete record of all student attempts (including the details of incorrect answers) in a searchable format for instructors.
- Instructors can track student progresses through the library as a function of date or by topic. The number of problems attempted and scores are provided in tabular and in figure format for easy analysis. In addition, the instructor can view a recreation of every quiz attempted by each student, including the timing and scoring, and the submitted answers. Trends can be tracked for a group, in order to identify which material is most challenging and to evaluate whether lectures and laboratory assignments are working together to promote comprehension of specific topics.
- I have developed hands-on and computer-based laboratory experiments that can be conducted remotely, and both remote and on-site observing sessions, taking advantage of New Mexico's clear, unpolluted southwestern skies to teach basic celestial mechanics and to introduce the history of astronomical observations as practiced in varied cultures.
- I have recorded and annotated audio recordings for a full semester of lectures and laboratory sessions, coupled to lecture notes and augmented by astronomical animations and hand-drawn diagrams.
- With a team of videographers, I have created a short series of inspirational films showcasing diverse individuals working in STEM fields. Our stars have varying cultural and educational backgrounds, but are drawn together by a common goal: to pursue and to enable cutting-edge astronomical research. Please contact me for further details, or if you would like to discuss using these films in an educational or public outreach setting.
If you would like to learn more about our project, or become involved and use our materials, please sign up to our mailing list to receive occasional updates.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. AST-0349155 and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Grant No. NNX09AV36G. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF or NASA.