Online Astronomy for Formal and Informal Learners
Department of Astronomy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, United States
* Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published online: 1 February 2019
An increasing amount of formal and informal education is being delivered online. A majority of college students in the U.S. are now taking one or more courses online or flipped (video lectures online, hands-on activities or labs in the classroom). Meanwhile, massive open online classes, or MOOCs, are transforming the landscape of informal science learning. In contrast to university classes, MOOCs have low completion rates and involve “free choice” learners who are typically adults with jobs, rather than full time students. Based on several years of experience of teaching astronomy online, lessons have been learned on how to engage students in the asynchronous and “disembodied” environment. For non-science students taking an introductory astronomy course, flipped models optimize interactions by putting the lectures online and allowing classroom time to be used entirely for labs, discussion, and small group activities. Research has shown that normalized learning gains are greatest in such learner-centered classes. We have enrolled over 110,000 learners from 150 countries in two astronomy MOOCs: a Udemy course called “Astronomy: State of the Art” and a Coursera offering called “Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space.” The core content is a set of video lectures, augmented by quizzes, activities, and peer writing assignments. We have a large amount of research data on learner demographics and motivations, and on the types of engagement that correlate with completing the courses. In a peer writing assignment, the learners comment on recent discoveries in astronomy. A rubric and a model answer are provided, and each person grades writing of three other learners. Learners who complete either the first activity or the first peer writing assignment are highly engaged in online discussions and social media, completing the course at a rate ten times higher than average.
© The Authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2019
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.