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Session 5 - Education.
Display session, Monday, January 15
North Banquet Hall, Convention Center

[5.05] Using Computers in Introductory Astronomy Courses

G. L. Deming (U. of Maryland)

Computer literacy is fast becoming a focal point in undergraduate education. Scientific literacy has been a continuing goal of undergraduate programs across the nation and a course in introductory astronomy is often used to satisfy such science requirements. At U. MD an introduction to computer skills is being integrated into our astronomy curriculum for non-science majors. The campus is adequately equipped with computer labs, yet many students enter college without basic computer skills.

In Astronomy 101 (General Astronomy) students are introduced to electronic mail, a Listserver, and the world wide web. Students in this course are required to register for a free campus computer account. Their first assignment is to use e-mail to subscribe to the class Listserver, Milkyway. Through Milkyway, students have access to weekly lecture summaries, questions to review for exams, and copies of previous exams. Using e-mail students may pose questions, provide comments, or exchange opinions using Milkyway, or they may e-mail the instructor directly. Studies indicate that using e-mail is less intimidating to a student than asking a question in a class of 200 students. Monitoring e-mail for student questions has not been a problem. Student reaction has been favorable to using e-mail, since instructor office hours are not always convenient, especially to commuting or working students.

Through required assignments, students receive an introduction to accessing information on the world wide web using Netscape. Astronomy has great resources available on the Internet which can be used to supplement and reinforce introductory material. Assignments are structured so that students will gain the techniques necessary to access available information. It is hoped that students will successfully apply the computer skills they learn in astronomy class to their own fields and as life-long learners. We have found that students comfortable with computers are willing to share their knowledge with others. The computer activities have been structured to promote cooperation between students. These skills are also necessary for success.

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