Goals for Students
Besides requiring students to demonstrate that they have achieved the detailed course objectives and competencies, I have the following goals for my students:
- Students should be able to demonstrate that they understand, and can apply, scientific principles to explain the wide variety of objects and events being studied. Students should be able to describe a sequence of physical processes that result in what we observe.
- They should leave with not only knowledge of what has already been discovered, but also with knowledge of many important unsolved problems and an understanding of why these problems are important.
- They should also leave able to explain how various aspects of the universe have physical and/or philosophical relevance to their lives.
- Since my courses are often the only science courses taken by non-majors, I want my students to understand what it means to think scientifically, and how the scientific process works to reveal what we know.
- Another goal is for my students is for them to be increasingly independent learners, able to tap into the vast online knowledge base available, becoming less reliant on me or our textbook as their sole sources of information. In addition, students need to be able to evaluate the credibility of their sources of information.
- I want my students to be able to effectively communicate what they are learning. Effective communication often requires a student to rethink and reorganize concepts in order to formulate logical explanations, thus enhancing learning.
Course Design & Delivery
Nearly all my students are non-majors, and there is lots of diversity in terms of interests and abilities. While adhering to the official course objectives, I find it more beneficial to cover a larger range of topics at a moderate level, rather than cover fewer topics at a deeper level. By covering a wider variety of topics, I am more likely to cover topics that individual students find interesting. This philosophy carries over to content delivery. During lecture and lab, I tend to mix it up, trying a variety of ways to approach topics to address a variety of learning styles (see the My Classroom section below for details). My hope is that if I can get a student “in the groove” using one method, they will continue to stay engaged while other methods are employed.
When students are learning a challenging topic like astronomy, the method of content delivery and assessment shouldn’t cause additional stress and confusion. The content delivery and student requirements should be clear, simple and logical. I spend as much time working to improve the overall design of my courses as I do with improving content.
I keep my academic and behavioral expectations reasonably high. After completing my astronomy classes, which I consider typical hard-core science classes, I want students to feel a sense of accomplishment. It is my hope that students then leave feeling more confident and capable of achieving further academic, personal or work-related goals. This can be a bit tough for students entering college for the first time or returning to college after a long absence. Because of this, I try offer many avenues for students to get help and assure them of my availability and eagerness to help them.
As examples of academic expectations, I want my students to not only be able to clearly explain established ideas in astronomy, but to be able to explain supporting evidence. This is assessed during exams. I want my ASTR 122 students to be able to read and interpret graphs and successfully make basic calculations. This ability is practiced during labs and assessed on quizzes.
As an example of behavioral expectation, I expect students to submit quality work and submit it on time; a practice that will serve them well in life. I rarely accept late work, and even then, only for verifiable emergencies or unforeseen situations like sudden military deployment. Students are sometimes surprised when I won’t accept their late work or when they lose points because of poorly composed or incomplete work. In place of showing mercy to these students I give them encouragement to change their behavior (poor grade) and some suggestions on how they can do better.
I also want my students to learn to work as constructive members of a productive team, whether they want to or not. Labs and other activities are done in groups, often to produce a single product that I evaluate for each group. I also require group work where individual work is evaluated, encouraging individual accountability.