Using the Big Ideas in Cosmology to Teach College Students: Curriculum Development
We are bringing the spectacular recent advances in cosmological research and visualization to the undergraduate classroom by developing an introductory-level web-based cosmology curriculum. We have embedded research tools within a series of online learning modules that require students to master not only relevant scientific concepts, but also the reasoning processes that lead to our current understanding of the universe. This is being accomplished with student journals and logs, self-directed study employing experimentation, and model building using the virtual tools that we will create.
Knowledge of cosmology is important, as understanding the underpinnings of the universe can deepen students’ sense of wonder and help them appreciate where they come from, in the broadest sense. The curriculum features the exciting “Big Ideas” in cosmology in three modules of five chapters each:
- Module 1, Our Place in the Universe: Space, Time, and Gravity
- Module 2, The Darker Side of Gravity: The Nature of Dark Matter
- Module 3, Our Evolving Universe: Past, Present and Future
These modules can comprise a stand-alone course at either the Astronomy 101 level or as a secondary course following Astronomy 101. The modules may also be used independently to supplement existing Astronomy 101 courses. The level will be appropriate for undergraduate students in introductory courses, including pre-service teachers, as well as for in-service teachers seeking content-focused professional development. Our emphasis on both cosmological content and scientific processes imparts knowledge and skills needed to enhance students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy as they consider further education and careers in science.
Development of the modules has been informed by our ongoing research on student understanding of cosmology, including the development of student learning outcomes (SLOs) for cosmology education. The final product is being published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing and will be available for distribution nation-wide by the Fall of 2014.
This project will have a broad impact on astronomy education. The curriculum will fill the acute need for research-based educational resources in the rapidly changing field of cosmology. It will also serve as a model for transforming introductory astronomy from a primarily lecture- and book-based course to a more engaging format that captures students with the excitement of modern discoveries, while building important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills.
Sonoma State University
Authoring team includes members from Sonoma State University (Cominsky, McLin and Metevier), Chicago State University (Coble) and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Bailey). External reviewers/testers to date and known to the authoring team have included: Scott Severson (Sonoma State University), Lauren Novatne (Reedley Community College, CA), Jean Quashnock (Carthage College, WI), Nikhil Padmanabhan, Louise Edwards and Natasha Mateljevic (Yale University), Laura Trouille (Northwestern University) Alice Hawthorne-Allen (Concord University, WV), and Paul Butterworth (Greenbelt, MD). Internal testers have included six students at Chicago State University (undergraduates and master’s candidates) and about the same number of students at SSU. WestEd is our external evaluator, and they worked with an additional 7 testers who were not identified to the authoring team.
Effectiveness and Impact
Evaluation findings and impact statements:
WestEd Report from Module 1 testing (2/7/13)
External evaluator WestEd has conducted two kinds of review of Module 1. (1) Staff experts on pedagogy briefly critiqued pre-release, alpha-versions of the chapter. A principal finding is that developers should consider adding more introductory/tutor material to ensure that users upon first contact with the product become aware of product features available to them. (2) WestEd contracted with seven accomplished, knowledgeable K-12 astronomy and mathematics teachers to conducted very detailed, mock end-user critiques, i.e., reviewers were asked to adopt a stance of college freshman and other undergraduate learners that are unfamiliar with the content.
Reviewers spent approximately one day per chapter examining every page and trying every linked activity/animation and exercise/question. WestEd provided templates and frameworks for directing reviewers’ attention to and providing comments on the following aspects of the product: (a) pedagogy (readability, comprehension, logic flow and concept development, balance and effectiveness of relationship between text, activities/animations and questions/exercises), (b) user-interface and other technical issues; (c) potential to engage the users in learning, and (d) content accuracy, appropriateness, completeness or saturation. All seven reviewers examined Chapter 1 and WestEd held two focus group calls to ensure reviewers were attending to all requested aspects of the review. At least two and up to four reviewers examined each of chapters 2-5. WestEd edited and compiled information from the reviewers’ submitted documents, which ranged from 4-8 pages of comments per reviewer, per chapter.
Reviewers felt that, overall, the content is solid, useful, understandable, and flows logically for learners. The activities/animations generally provided added learning value to the text, while the exercises/question often were perceived as needing minor pedagogical or technical improvements. They recurringly suggested a few pedagogical strategies that, if applied throughout the product, could significantly enhance its educativeness. Reviewers desired a little more creativity in making the product engaging for the target audience. Finally, reviewers have concerns that some current technical features/limitations may not meet college students’ contemporary expectations for an ebook.
Invited Talks and workshops given during FY12:
- Coble, K., Teaching and Research at an Urban Comprehensive University, invited talk at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60637, 27 Feb. 2012
- Coble, K., Investigating Student Understanding of Cosmology, invited talk at Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, 8 March 2012
- Coble, K., Using The Results From Research on Undergraduate Learning in Cosmology to Create an Immersive Web-Based Curriculum, invited talk at a special session at the American Physical Society April meeting on Research in Cosmology Education (chaired by L. Cominsky), Atlanta, GA, 31 March 2012
- Bailey, J. M., Exploring students’ ideas about cosmological concepts, invited talk at a special session at the American Physical Society April meeting on Research in Cosmology Education (chaired by L. Cominsky), Atlanta, GA, 31 March 2012
- Bailey, J. M. (2012). Using the results from research on undergraduate learning in cosmology to create an immersive web-based curriculum, invited talk at the Department of Physics Colloquium, Utah State University, 10 April 2012
- Coble, K., The Big Ideas in Cosmology: Interactive Web-based Learning, invited talk and demonstration at the Winfield Library, Winfield, IL, 10 May 2012
- Coble, K. and Bell, K., Unlikely Partnerships, Stellar Results, invited talk and demonstration for Project Exploration, Chicago, IL, 60654; 24 July 2012
- Smith, D. and Coble, K., Cosmology in the Classroom, American Association of Physics Teachers, Philadelphia, PA, July 2012
- McLin, K. M., Coble, K. A., Bailey, J. M., Metevier, A. J., & Cominsky, L. R. (2012). A web-based cosmology curriculum developed through research into student understanding of basic cosmological concepts, Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Tucson, AZ, 8 August, 2012
Invited Talks and workshops given in FY13:
- Coble, K., Investigating Student Understanding of Cosmology, invited talk at Yale University, New Haven, CT; 9 Oct 2012
- Coble, K., Using Insights From Education Research to Build a Student-Centered Cosmology Curriculum, invited keynote talk at NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellows Symposium; Long Beach, CA; 5 Jan 2013
- Coble, K., Using Insights From Education Research to Build a Student-Centered Cosmology Curriculum, invited talk at Montana State University, Bozeman, MT; Mar. 21, 2013
Contributed talks and posters in FY12-13:
- Coble, K. A., Bailey, J. M., Trouille, L. E., Camarillo, C., Nickerson, M. D., Cochran, G. L., Metevier, A. J., McLin, K. M., & Cominsky, L. R. (2012). The big ideas in cosmology: Investigating student understanding and developing a research-based curriculum, Physics Education Research Conference 2012, Philadelphia, PA, 1 August 2012, also presented at AAPT in New Orleans, LA, January 2013.
- Camarillo, C., Coble, K. A., Trouille, L., Bailey, J. M., Nickerson, M., Cochran, G., Hayes, V., McLin, K. M., & Cominsky, L. R. (2012). Student ideas about cosmological concepts: Structure and distances, 220th American Astronomical Society Meeting, Anchorage, AK, 11 June 2012, 2012AAS...22010802C
- Coble, K. A., Trouille, L., Bailey, J. M., Camarillo, C. T., Nickerson, M. D., Cochran, G. L., Hayes, V.L., McLin, K. M., & Cominsky, L. R. (2012). Investigating undergraduate student ideas about cosmological concepts, 220th American Astronomical Society Meeting, Anchorage, AK, 11 June 2012, 2012AAS...22010801C
- Trouille, L., Coble, K.A. , Camarillo, C., Bailey, J. M., Nickerson, M., Cochran, G., Hayes, V., McLin, K. M., & Cominsky, L. R. (2012). Student ideas about cosmological concepts: Age, expansion, and the Big Bang, 220th American Astronomical Society Meeting, Anchorage, AK, 11 June 2012, 2012AAS...22010803C
- McLin, K. M., Coble, K., Bailey, J. M., Cochran, G. L., Camarillo, C., Nickerson, M. D., Bell, K., Larrieu, D., Metevier, A. J., & Cominsky, L. R “A Web-Based Cosmology Curriculum Incorporating Research into Student Understanding of Basic Cosmological Concepts” Gordon Research Conference at Colby College, Waterville, ME, June 17 – 22, 2012
Publications from this work:
- Bailey, J. M., Coble, K. A., Cochran, G. L., Larrieu, D. M., Sanchez, R., and Cominsky, L. R. 2012, A Multi-Institutional Investigation of Students’ Preinstructional Ideas About Cosmology, Astronomy Education Review, 11, 010302
- Coble, K., Cominsky, L. R., McLin, K. M., Metevier, A. J., & Bailey, J. M. (2012). Using the big ideas in cosmology to teach college students. In J. B. Jensen, J. G. Manning, M. G. Gibbs, and D. Daou (Eds.), Connecting People to Science, Vol. 457 (pp. 49-58). San Francisco, CA: Astronomical Society of the Pacific. (ISBN 978-1-58381-796-4)
- Coble, K., Camarillo, C. T., Trouille, L. E., Bailey, J. M., Cochran, G. L., Nickerson, M. D., and Cominsky, L. R. 2013, Investigating Student Ideas About Cosmology I: Distances and Structure, Astronomy Education Review, http://aer.aas.org/resource/1/aerscz/v12/i1/p010102_s1
- Using the Big Ideas in Cosmology to Teach College Students, McLin, Kevin M., Cominsky, Lynn R., Metevier, Anne J., Coble, Kimberly, Bailey, Janelle M. in the 2012 Fermi Symposium proceedings - eConf C121028, arXiv:1303.1768
- McLin, K. M., Coble, K., Metevier, A. J., Bailey, J. M., Cominsky, L. R., Using the Big Ideas in Cosmology to Teach College Students, in press as part of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific conference series for the Tucson, AZ, 8 August, 2012 conference “Communicating Science”