Astronomy 120 Sample Syllabus


Johnson County Community College
ASTR 120 – Fundamentals of Astronomy


INSTRUCTOR: William Koch


PHONE: (913) 469-8500 Ext. 3725

OFFICE HOURS: My on-campus office hours (in case you want to stop by or call)

  • MTWR 8am-9am (central time)

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, such as Gmail or Yahoo.  Please make sure the subject line contains information about THAT email. DO NOT simply a 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.


COURSE TITLE: Fundamentals of Astronomy



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 and structure and origin of the Universe
  • new discoveries or announcements as they occur


The material for this course, as well as student interaction, is delivered entirely online using Canvas. No on-campus 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.


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

  1. You are comfortable with basic computer use and will have no problem accessing and using the LMS. You have some familiarity with office software, such as presentation software and word processors.
  2. You can perform simple calculations on a calculator and can substitute (“plug”) numbers into equations.
  3. You can read basic textbooks and can follow written instructions on assignments and tests. You can, with guidance, identify and take notes on important points in readings and in lectures.
  4. I will assume that you likely have a very limited background in science and that you likely find it hard to understand technical language and relevant mathematical concepts.
  5. Though you may have some trouble with punctuation and grammar, you can write well enough to be understood.


The textbook is available for free online! Feel free to download it or print it as you see fit.

We use an online set of notes that grew into what can be used as a “textbook”. This is provided for free. No purchase necessary for this course. It consists of five fairly large pdf (Portable Document Format) files which can be viewed in most web browsers. I suggest you download them and save them to your computer so that you can open them in software like Adobe Acrobat or Apple Preview. That way, you can make better use of the Table of Contents (which links to the chapters and sections). This isn’t meant to be the equivalent to a professionally-edited textbook, so you may find errors here and there. If there is something you think should be fixed, please post to the Error Found discussion forum.

If you wish to have a physical book, feel free to print it. If you wish to purchase a different book Astronomy Today, by Chaisson or The Cosmic Perspective, by Bennett are good choices.

SUPPLIES & SOFTWARE: Access to computer with Internet service is required. (Broadband is desirable, but not necessary.) Phones, tablets and Chromebooks can have issues and aren’t recommended, especially for exams.


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).


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

Students need to be:

  1. self-motivated so that assignments are submitted on time.
  2. self-sufficient and be able to explore, read and follow written instructions
  3. organized so that due dates aren’t missed and adequate time is spent on assignments.


TECHNICAL SUPPORT: (913) 469-8500 extension 4357

Tutorials on how to use Canvas can be found here.

Quick Overview and Grading Scale

Course Components

Assignments and assessments consist of:

  • required discussion posts
  • homework assignments (drop lowest score)
  • 5 unit exams (drop lowest score)
  • cumulative final exam

Grade Weighting

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

Grade Item Percent Weighting
Homework 10%
Discussion 15%
Unit Exams 60%
Final Exam 15%

Grading Scale

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 to here to view these items.

Schedule and Late Work

The schedule, with due dates, is on the course homepage. All assignments and exams are in modules and are due when their containing module is due.

Late work will not be accepted unless there is an extreme and verifiable circumstance, such as a death in the immediate family, large-scale disaster or a medical emergency requiring extended hospitalization or rehabilitation. Once verified, due dates can then be discussed. Late work, because of technical issues will not be accepted. If there is a lengthy Canvas outage, more time may be given to the entire class.

Check the schedule frequently and avoid procrastination!


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 as 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. 

Successful students will check daily for course announcements on the course News, check Canvas email, and double-check due dates on the Calendar. This can be done by either logging in or by forwarding their course emails and subscribing to course News and Calendar.

After the initial attendance reporting, I do not drop students from the course. Any student deciding to discontinue with 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.

Technical Issues and Support

It is up to the student to attempt assignments well before the due dates in case technical problems need to be solved.

  • No late assignments will be accepted due to individual technical problems or browser issues.
  • If there is a lengthy general outage due dates may be extended.
  • 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.

Although I appreciate students making me aware of their technical difficulties, I am often not the source for solutions for these issues. Students having trouble accessing Canvas through My JCCC can bypass My JCCC and log in at

Course Resources

The textbook for the course is online and free. Homework and exam questions are consistent with this text. However, students should not feel like they are locked into using only the text for information. The Internet is full of useful astronomy information, tutorials and videos. Make use of those resources! Try to use only sources that seem reputable.

PowerPoint slide decks that I use in face-to-face classes are also available. These slides provide a quick once-over on material along with some extra pictures and interesting additional information to help students get started. 

All videos provided in this course are captioned for the hearing impaired.

Study Guides and Homework

There are study guides that tell you what you need to know, from each chapter, for each unit exam. Each module has some kind of assignments in it, whether it be reading, videos, or submitted homework. Submitted homework includes both introductory and focused exercises as well as concept questions that address the more-challenging concepts on the study guide.

Except for the same two short written assignments (see below), each homework assignment…

  1. gives unlimited time per attempt. (Make sure the system doesn’t time out on you!)
  2. gives you unlimited attempts.
  3. records only your highest score in the grade book.
  4. is available at the start of the term.
  5. is due the night the module containing it is due.

Because you are allowed unlimited attempts, it might be tempting to simply focus only on selecting answers that get you points, even selecting randomly until the correct answer is chosen, but you likely won’t learn much by doing so. Treat homework as a tool to gauge how well you understand the concepts. If you have any questions about them, post your questions to the relevant unit discussion forum. Use these homework assignments to learn.

In addition to multiple-choice type homework, you have 2 written assignments. One written assignments is a short article review. The other written assignment is a short, reflective take-away assignment. Make sure you read and following the instructions for each of these assignments. These assignments will not get dropped! Because of their nature, you will not have an unlimited number of attempts at these.

Discussion Participation

A Homework & Concept Help Discussion has been set up to address questions about content, study guide items or homework questions. The Exam Discussion discussions have been set up to address questions you may have after an exam. Neither of these kinds of discussions is for a grade.

Sometimes, there are discussions are specifically assigned and are required. Required discussion will be labeled as such.

Optional special topics discussions have also been set up. By the end of the term, all but the highest 4 of the optional discussion scores will be dropped. Students must participate and earn full credit in at least 4 of the optional discussions in order to earn full credit in the discussion portion of the overall grade. These discussions are “optional” in that students can pick-and-choose which discussions he/she wants to participate in.

Exams and Final

Unit Exams

There are 5 open-book, open-notes unit exams. There are study guides for each exam. Exams consist of multiple-choice, matching, multiple-answer type questions. Check the schedule on the course homepage to see when exams become available and when they are due. Each student must do the exam individually. Working together will be considered cheating (It is usually very obvious when this occurs). Exam grades are often curved, based on the highest scores and the class average. Missed exams, for any reason, will result in a zero for that exam. To address unforeseen illnesses and emergencies, your lowest unit exam score is dropped. If you miss a unit exam, you are still responsible for learning the material in that unit. The final exam contains questions from each unit. Exams should be taken using computers and internet connections that are reliable. Concessions are generally not given due to computer or internet failure during an exam.

Each unit exam…

  1. is 90-minutes, and must be completed, once started. The clock keeps running whether or not you have the exam open. (You cannot save an come back hours later.)
  2. consists of of 50 questions.
  3. must be completed before the deadline (not simply started by then).
  4. allows only 1 attempt.
  5. is available only for a limited window of time (see the schedule).
  6. will allow you to view your detailed exam results only one time. (It will not show you correct answers, but it will show each question and whether or not you got it correct.)

Final Exam

The final will be a comprehensive, open-book, open-note, exam covering 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. The final exam score will not be dropped. No incompletes will be given for a missed final exam. You will need to come see me if you wish to go over the detailed results of your final. 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…

  1. is 120-minutes, and must be completed, once started. The clock keeps running whether or not you have the exam open. (You cannot save an come back hours later.)
  2. consists of of 100 questions.
  3. must be completed before the deadline (not simply started by then).
  4. allows only 1 attempt.
  5. is available only for a limited window of time (see the schedule).
  6. will NOT show your detailed results.

What Students Can Expect From The Instructor

It is reasonable that students can expect:

  1. to be assessed fairly and consistently with the Syllabus.
  2. to be treated with kindness and respect.
  3. to have access to your instructor (email, discussion forums, phone, office meeting) with reasonably-prompt responses.
  4. to have well-prepared and logically organized online material.
  5. to have assignments graded in a timely manner.
  6. to be held to reasonable expectations for an adult college student.

If you think I am failing in any of these items, let me know and we can discuss it.

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), 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 or visit resources/counseling/.

Campus Safety

Campus Safety: Information regarding student safety can be found at

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)
    • instant panic button and texting capability to Campus Police
  • Be Alert:
    • You are an extra set of eyes and ears to help maintain campus safety
    • Trust your instincts
    • Report suspicious or unusual behavior/circumstances to Campus Police (see above)
  • Be Prepared:
    • Identify the red/white stripe Building Emergency Response posters throughout campus and online that show egress routes, shelter, and equipment
    • View A.L.I.C.E. training (armed intruder response training – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and/or Evacuate) – Student training video:
    • Familiarize yourself with the College Emergency Response Plan
  • During an Emergency: Notifications/Alerts (emergencies and inclement weather) are sent to all employees and students using email and text messaging

Weapons Policy: Effective July 1, 2017, concealed carry handguns are permitted in JCCC buildings subject to the restrictions set forth in the Weapons Policy. Handgun safety training is encouraged of all who choose to conceal carry. Suspected violations should be reported to JCCC Police Department 913-469-2500 or if an emergency, you can also call 911.

 Posted by at 11:10 am