NMSUAstronomy

Nicole Vogt » Online Tutor

I have created an adaptive online tutor for general astronomy, one that allows students to learn about astronomy and to hone their problem-solving skills. This 12,000+ question self-review library has been used successfully in the classroom since 2006, and in distance education mode since 2011. A recent in-class cohort of 80 students took over 26,000 5-question quizzes. This corresponds to an average of 325 quizzes (or over 1,600 questions) per student (versus the five hand-graded quizzes per student which were offered in the past). Students cite the immediate feedback (24/7), with worked solutions for all math problems, the ability to focus repeatedly on a single difficult concept, and the wide breadth of topics covered as extremely helpful aspects of the tutor.

Questions are designed to give experience in a variety of problem-solving modes. There is an emphasis on quantification and on extrapolation, and drawing on physical evidence and theory to deduce logical properties and patterns found in the physical universe. Question types include the following:

1. Extrapolation: How can our knowledge of the biodiversity found on Earth enable us to estimate the probability of finding life in the oceans of Europa?

2. Scaling: If different galaxy components have different spectral energy distributions (emitted flux as a function of wavelength), how should optical and infrared images of the bulge or disk of a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way differ from each other?

3. Visualization: Given a physical model of the Sun–Earth–Moon system, what is the observed phase of the Moon at a certain position in the sky at a certain time of day?

4. Figure analysis: What is the frequency of a displayed light wave?

5. Computation: If the Sun burns its reservoir of hydrogen at a certain rate, how long can it exist in the hydrogen-burning phase?

6. Algebra: If the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram shows us the specific relationship between the luminosity, temperature, and radius of a star, how can one calculate one quantity from the other two variables?

Students work to complete sets of five questions at a time. Each such quiz contains links within each question to a hint (?) and to a relevant lecture page (i), as well as to an audio recording of the lecture. Students can thus refresh the connection between the question and general topics, or receive guidance on how to set up or think about the problem. A sample quiz is offered below.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to explore the other 12,401 questions in the library, by yourself or with a group of your students. Project GEAS would love to hear from you!

I also offer topical tutorials, such as this one focused on the lunar phases.

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.