Astronomy 120 Sample Syllabus

Johnson County Community College
ASTR 120 – Fundamentals of Astronomy (online)

This syllabus lays out the course requirements, policies, and expectations. Read it carefully and refer back to it as questions arise.



NAME: William Koch


PHONE: (913) 469-8500 Ext. 3725


  • M 8:00 am – 9:00 am, 12:00pm – 1:00 pm
  • W 8:00 am – 9:00 am, 11:00 am -1:00 pm

Because of varied schedules and geographic locations, in addition to face-to-face meetings, students may request a private Zoom meeting. Below is the Zoom meeting invitation.

Meeting ID: 912 8221 9719
Passcode: orionsbelt
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Meeting ID: 912 8221 9719
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EMAIL: Please email me through Canvas (the preferred way) or from your JCCC student email account. For security reasons, I will not respond to emails sent from other accounts. Please make sure the subject line contains information about THAT email. DO NOT simply reply to an old, irrelevant message.

Discussion forums are set up in Canvas for students to post general questions and possible errors. Please make use of those forums so that others might benefit from any ensuing discussion. Questions of a personal nature, such as a student’s grades, should be sent by email for privacy.




TRANSFER: This class is an approved lecture course that is guaranteed to transfer among all Kansas public postsecondary institutions as part of the Kansas Board of Regents Transfer and Articulation agreement. Check for transfers to other institutions or programs. For more information, go here.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course is a study of the universe from the Earth to the most distant galaxies. Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • backyard astronomy
  • history of astronomy as a science
  • light and telescopes
  • formation and properties of planets
  • Einstein’s theories
  • Sun and lives of stars
  • black holes
  • structure and evolution of galaxies
  • dark matter and dark energy
  • behavior, structure, and origin of the universe
  • new discoveries or announcements as they occur


  • This is defined by JCCC as an online course. The material for this course, as well as student interaction, is delivered entirely online using Canvas. No on-campus or online meetings are required.
  • This is NOT a self-paced course, and some materials will be due or made available at the appropriate time in order to keep the class in sync.

CANVAS: This course is delivered using Canvas. Students unfamiliar with Canvas are strongly encouraged to take tutorials on using Canvas. It is up to the student to attempt assignments well before the due dates in case technical problems need to be solved. Generally, no late assignments or extensions will be given for a student’s technical problems. Exceptions will be made only for long-term system-wide outages. It is sometimes helpful to make me aware of technical problems with Canvas, but I am not generally the source for solutions to these issues.


ASSUMPTIONS: Below is a list of basic skills that will be assumed.

  1. You possess a certain level of ease and proficiency in utilizing computers, enabling you to access and navigate the Learning Management System (LMS) without difficulty. Additionally, you should be familiar with office software, such as word processors and spreadsheet applications. Tutorials on how to use Canvas can be found here.
  2. You are capable of comprehending and following written instructions.
  3. You are capable of comprehending basic textbooks. Furthermore, with appropriate guidance, you can identify and make note of crucial information conveyed in readings and lectures.
  4. It is assumed that your background in science is limited, so the introduction of concepts will begin with fundamental and elementary scientific principles.
  5. While you may encounter some challenges in terms of punctuation and grammar, your writing skills are adequate enough to convey your thoughts and be understood.


The official textbook for the course is OpenStax Astronomy. It’s free and can be viewed online, from a downloaded pdf, or by purchasing the ebook (through Apple Books, it was about 6 or 7 dollars). If you prefer a hard copy, it is available from Amazon. You can download and print any needed pages until your copy arrives.

Although the homework and exams are consistent with this text, students should not feel like they are locked into using only this text for information. The Internet is full of useful astronomy information, tutorials, and videos. Feel free to make use of those resources! Try to use only sources that seem reputable.


You will need the following.

  • reliable computer running the macOS or Windows operating system. (No Chromebooks, tablets, or phones. They do not support all the required functionality needed for this class.)
  • reliable internet connection
  • web browser compatible with Canvas functions. Firefox and Chrome seem to work best with Canvas. Students should use the most updated version and ensure that it has the required settings (e.g., allow pop-ups, allow cookies, enable JavaScript). Safari, while a popular browser, can have issues showing images on homework, exams, and elsewhere in Canvas and is NOT recommended.

The following is also recommended.

  • high-speed broadband internet connection

It is your responsibility to ensure the proper functioning of Canvas on the computer of your choice. No late work or exam will be accepted due to a technical issue with your computer. Below is technical support information.

TECHNICAL SUPPORT: (913) 469-8500 extension 4357


It is a myth that online courses are easier and require less time. While online classes offer more flexibility, the fact is that they generally require at least as much time as an on-campus class. You should spend as much time doing work for this class each week as you would for an on-campus class, which includes driving to and from campus, sitting in class, and doing reading, homework, and exams.

The following interconnect skills should be utilized or developed to better ensure success in any online class.

  1. Self-Discipline: To succeed in an online class, you must cultivate self-discipline. This means setting a study schedule for yourself and sticking to it, ensuring that you’re consistently dedicating adequate time to your coursework without the external structure of a traditional classroom.
  2. Time Management: As an online student, managing your time will be crucial, especially if you’re balancing other responsibilities like a job or family. It’s important to allocate your time wisely to ensure all your coursework is completed promptly and you’re meeting the learning goals of the class.
  3. Problem-Solving: Develop the ability to address and resolve issues independently. This includes troubleshooting technical problems, seeking alternative resources when faced with obstacles, and asking for help when appropriate. It’s about being resourceful and persistent, using critical thinking to approach problems methodically and creatively.


Assignments and assessments consist of:

  • annotation assignments
  • exercise and concept question sets
  • short writing assignments
  • 4 online exams
  • online comprehensive final exam


The table below indicates the weighting for the above course components.

Grade Item Percent
Homework 18%
Annotation Assignments 7%
4 Exams 60%
Final Exam 15%


90 – 100% A
80 – 89% B
70 – 79% C
60 – 69% D
Below 60% F


Class Policies

Course Objectives & Outline

Students are strongly encouraged to go here to view these items.


Students are not required to come to campus. All work is online.

Students are expected to log in and start doing work on the first day of the term. There are assignments in the Getting Started module that need to be submitted before the attendance reporting date, or you risk being dropped from the course. Simply logging in is not considered attendance in this course. This is done at the end of the:

  • 1st week for 15-week, 12-week, and 8-week classes (which includes summer classes)
  • 2nd days for 4-week winter sessions

Students will not be reinstated if dropped for non-attendance. 

After the initial attendance report, I do not drop students from the course. Any student deciding to discontinue the course after that date must properly withdraw from the course to avoid possibly receiving an “F.” For information about dropping a course and drop deadlines, follow this link.

Schedule and Late Work

The schedule, with due dates, is on the course homepage. All items in a module are due when that module is due. Except for exams, all assignments are available for submission from the very beginning of the term.

Assignments labeled as exercises or concept questions stay open past the due date and can be submitted without penalty until the due date for the final exam. (That way, you can use them for practice and for study.) All other assignments lock on their due dates!

Extensions to due dates will only be given if there is an extreme and verifiable circumstance, such as a death in the immediate family, sudden military deployment, a large-scale disaster, or a medical emergency requiring extended hospitalization or rehabilitation. Once appropriate documentation has been provided, a possible extension can then be discussed. If there is a lengthy wide-scale internet or Canvas outage, an extension will be given to the entire class.

Extensions to due dates will NOT be given for technical issues, trips (business or otherwise), a busy schedule, or absent-mindedness (the most common issues). You need to be sure your equipment and internet connection is reliable, especially during exams. If you have a trip coming up where you won’t be able to do coursework, plan ahead and do what you need to get done in advance. Remember that exercises and concept questions can be done anytime until the final exam.

Canvas won’t accept a late assignment, even if it’s only 1 second late, so be careful! The assignment won’t be reopened in Canvas so that you can submit it. Please do not email assignments to me for credit. It won’t be accepted.

Check the schedule frequently and avoid procrastination! Missed due dates are the fastest and most common way student grades drop.

Additional Course Resources

PowerPoint slide decks that I use in face-to-face classes are also available. These slides provide a concise discussion of the material, along with some extra pictures and interesting additional information to help students get started. 

There are lecture videos that go along with the course. You will be provided links to them in the modules. All videos provided in this course are captioned for the hearing impaired.

Getting Help

Annotated Discussions in Perusall

We will leverage a third-party site called Perusall for help on specific assignments. You will also be using this site for annotation assignments (see below). You will find links in the modules under the “Help” headings. This site allows for the assignment to be viewed and annotated with comments and questions. It helps to discuss issues and answer questions when the assignment is right in front of us. There is no sign-up needed; just select the link. Perusall will assign a grade for your posted annotation. Just ignore that when using it to get help on an assignment.


General discussions have been set up for content and non-content-related topics. Perusall is the preferred tool to get help on specific assignments, but a discussion is still an option.

FERPA Privacy

For privacy reasons (FERPA), all your annotations are only visible to students in your particular course section. However, discussion posts are visible to everyone in every section. If you require that only students in your particular section see your posts, you can either make an annotation or email your instructor (annotations are highly recommended).

Technical Issues and Support

It’s up to you to use a reliable computer and internet connection. In general, it’s best to attempt assignments well before the due dates in case technical problems need to be solved. A link to Technical Support and the Help Desk is on the Canvas JCCC homepage when you log into Canvas. Help Desk phone support for students is available at (913) 469-8500 ext. 4357.


Exercises and Concept Questions

Each module has assignments in it. There are exercises on specific topics and concept questions that address the more challenging concepts in the study guide. These assignments are multiple-choice, multiple-select, matching, etc.

Both exercises and concept questions…

  1. give unlimited time per attempt. (Make sure the system doesn’t time out on you!)
  2. give you unlimited attempts.
  3. records only your highest score in the grade book.
  4. are available at the start of the term.
  5. allow you to submit them after the due dates, without penalty, until the due date for the final exam.

Even though you may submit exercises and concept questions past the due dates, it is advisable to do it prior to taking the associated exam. The purpose of those assignments is to get you thinking more carefully about the material and hopefully enhance learning.

Because you are allowed unlimited attempts, it might be tempting to simply focus only on getting the points, even selecting randomly until the correct answer is chosen, but you likely won’t learn much by doing so. Quick and easy points on homework may result in lost points on exams. Treat homework as a tool to help you understand the concepts. If you have any questions about them, post a question to Perusall or to the homework discussion board. Use these homework assignments to learn.

Writing Assignments

You will have two or three short writing assignments. These will involve some critical thinking and research. The use of AI for assistance with assignments was allowed for summarizing long papers or getting some ideas, but directly copying and pasting AI-generated output or making minimal alterations to it before submission is unacceptable. It’s okay to paraphrase, but paraphrasing involves completely rewriting a written thought or idea in your own words.

Annotation Assignments

Interactive discussions will take place using a social annotation application. Using this tool, you will be assigned selected supplementary and textbook readings covering some of the more challenging topics of the course. Students help each other learn by collectively annotating readings in threads, responding to each other’s comments, and interacting with both the text and each other. While you can earn full credit based on annotation quality alone, points can also be if your annotations receive an upvote from other students. All required annotation assignments are only visible to students in your particular course section for federal privacy requirements (FERPA). No sign-up is needed; just use the links provided in the modules. Annotations can still be done after the due date but will not be accepted for points.

Exams and Final

All exams contain copyrighted material. Uploading any part of any exam to any website is strictly forbidden.

The exams and the final exam…

  • must be completed within the window of time indicated on the schedule.
  • must be completed once started, whether you started it intentionally or “accidentally.” The clock keeps running regardless of whether you have the exam open. (You cannot save and come back hours later.)
  • allows only 1 attempt.
  • should be completed only by the registered student with no collaboration.


There are 4 open-book, open-note exams. There are study guides for each exam.

Exams consist of multiple-choice, matching, and multiple-answer-type questions. Check the schedule on the course homepage to see when exams become available and when they are due. Exam grades are often curved based on the highest scores and the class average.

Each exam…

  • is 90 minutes long.
  • consists of 50 questions.
  • will allow you to view your detailed exam results but will not show you the correct answers. If you wish to discuss the questions you got wrong, post them to the appropriate exam discussion.

Once you open an exam, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to take the makeup exam as some of the same questions appear in both. If you are short on time and haven’t already taken a makeup exam, it is usually best not to open the exam and wait and take the makeup exam so that you will have the entire time to complete it.

Makeup Exams

You may make up only one missed exam. It can be missed for any reason (illness, emergency, technical issues, not prepared, forgot, etc.), and the instructor doesn’t have to be provided with an excuse. Because makeup exams add to the amount of work that has to be done later, I strongly recommend that you avoid having to take them unless you are having a serious issue. Makeup exams cannot be used to try to improve a poor exam grade.

If you miss an exam, and if you haven’t already taken a makeup for a previous exam, your name will be added to the list of students that will be allowed access to the makeup exam. It is up to you to check the schedule on the course homepage to see when the makeup exam is available and when it is due. Makeup exams have the same setup as the exams described above.

Caution: If you recklessly miss an exam and take the makeup, that decision may come back to haunt you later if you have a serious issue that causes you to miss another exam. You won’t be allowed to make up that second missed exam unless you can provide documents (medical, court, military, etc.) to show that you were unable to take either exam during the times those exams were open. In other words, you need to provide a valid and verifiable excuse for each missed exam. If that documentation can be provided, we can discuss you taking that second makeup exam. Otherwise, you may want to reevaluate whether you wish to continue in the class or make a fresh start later.

Final Exam

The final will be a comprehensive, open-book, open-note exam covering the main ideas from the course. Everyone must take the final exam during the time interval given on the schedule for the course. Final exams will NOT be given early or late for any reason. There is no make-up for the final exam, and no incompletes will be given for a missed final exam. You will need to come to see me if you wish to go over the detailed results of your final exam. I leave campus the day after my last final, so you will need to complete your final early if you think you will want to go over the results with me.

The final exam…

  • is 120 minutes long.
  • consists of 90 questions.
  • will NOT show your detailed results.

In addition, you will need to complete the Student Learning Outcomes Post-test. This will be worth 10 points and be part of your final exam grade.


Honesty and integrity are critical components of the academic process. Students are expected to be honest and ethical at all times in their pursuit of academic goals in accordance with the integrity section of the Johnson County Community College Student Code of Conduct Policy 319.01. An additional level of trust is placed with students when students are given online exams. It is expected that students honor the tradition of honesty that exists here at the college. I think most students are honorable and I don’t anticipate cheating to be an issue. If there are pressures on you that you feel are pushing you in that direction, contact your instructor. There may be resources available to help relieve those pressures.


Collaborating during an exam in any way, or communicating exam content to anyone that hasn’t yet taken the exam, will be considered cheating. (Posting to exam discussions are fine since they are only open to students who have submitted the exam.) If caught cheating, the minimum penalty for all parties involved will be…

  1. an exam score of zero for the first offense. The student(s) will then be encouraged to discuss the circumstances and decide how to prevent further incidents.
  2. an “F” in the course for the second offense. No discussion is needed.

Writing Assignments

For writing assignments and annotation assignments, submitting plagiarized or chatbot-generated work will be considered cheating. If caught, a minimum penalty will be…

  1. a zero for the discussion, annotation assignment, or writing assignment for the first offense. The student(s) will then be encouraged to discuss the circumstances and decide how to prevent further incidents.
  2. a zero for all annotation assignments or writing assignments for the second offense, regardless of what grades were previously given. No discussion is needed.


Students are expected to…

  • engage with peers with courtesy and an open mind, respecting diverse perspectives.
  • take ownership of your academic progress. Your instructor is there to provide content, guidance, inspiration, and opportunity, but your success is up to you.
  • manage your time effectively to meet deadlines and balance your commitments.
  • exercise an appropriate level of problem-solving skills to navigate personal and technical issues and do what it takes to succeed.
  • seek assistance or communicate any chronic challenges or obstacles affecting your academic performance as needed.
  • embrace failures as valuable learning opportunities. Take the time to understand the lessons they offer and use them to propel yourself forward. Remember, failure is not the end but a stepping stone toward success. Persevere and never give up!

In return, students can expect to…

  • to be assessed fairly and consistently with the Syllabus.
  • to be treated with kindness and respect.
  • to have access to your instructor (email, discussion forums, phone, office meeting) with reasonably prompt responses.
  • well-prepared and logically organized online material.
  • assignments to be graded in a timely manner, and course grades kept up to date.

If you think I am failing to live up to any of these items, let me know, and we can discuss it. While I maintain a relaxed approach to various aspects of my classes, I am firm when it comes to due dates and academic integrity. .

Campus Policies

The Student Handbook can be found here.

Student Code of Conduct

Here is a link to the Student Code of Conduct, which outlines general policies and behavioral expectations of students, on the Canvas JCCC Home Page. It discusses topics such as academic dishonesty (cheating), the use of college computer systems, passwords, electronic devices, etc. It is important that you are aware of these policies as they will be enforced in this class.

Student Privacy

Under the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, every student attending a post-secondary institution has a right to privacy. This act prohibits the release of information concerning a student’s grade, progress, etc., to anyone other than that student without the student’s permission. In support of FERPA requirements, any email class correspondence must be done using Canvas email or the student’s JCCC email account.


JCCC provides a range of services to allow persons with disabilities to participate in educational programs and activities. If you are a student with a disability and if you are in need of accommodations or services, it is your responsibility to contact Access Services and make a formal request. To schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor or for additional information, you can contact Access Services at (913) 469-3521, TDD 913-469-3885, or Access Services is located on the 2nd floor of the Student Center (SC 202).

Counseling Resources

For academic, career, and personal counseling, visit the JCCC Counseling Center on the second floor of the Student Center.

For academic and career counseling:

For personal counseling:

Basic Needs

To assist students with basic needs, students can visit the Student Basic Needs Center for assistance with housing, transportation, and social services in COM 319. The Student Basic Needs Center also houses the Cav Cupboard (food pantry), the school supply closet, and the career closet (gently used business casual clothing). The Cavalier MealSHARE program provides funds to be used at all Dining Service locations on campus to qualified students. All of these resources are available for free to students.

Student Basic Needs Center link:

Cavalier MealSHARE Program link:

Campus Safety

Classroom and campus safety are of paramount importance at Johnson County Community College and are the shared responsibility of the entire campus population. Please review the following:

  • Report Emergencies: to Campus Police (available 24 hours a day)
      • Edit your account to specify language (English/Spanish)