An OER Mashup: Astronomy Redesign

An OER Mashup: Astronomy Redesign

As part of my OER Fellowship with the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) in 2013, I chose to redesign my very popular online AST 1002 Descriptive Astronomy class using a mashup of existing open education resource (OER) materials.  Throughout the year-long fellowship, I met virtually with seven other fellows from around the globe and shared ideas about integrating technology and OER into our classrooms.  While my main goal was to increase course accessibility by reducing cost (e.g., replacing a $170 textbook with a free OER textbook), I wanted to further and develop an engaging environment for my students.  I implemented this course redesign in the fall 2013 and am very happy with the results.  Student comments and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive and highly supportive.  Many of these ideas and tools could be replicated in other disciplines.


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  1. TextbookAstropedia: Universe Revealed by Chris Impey of the University of Arizona.  This OER textbook is available free online at in either standard html document format or as an interactive wikimap, and it is also available in epub format at



  1. Videos – I have found a number of excellent videos on YouTube that relate to each chapter of the textbook.  Instead of just posting links to the YouTube videos, I have flipped them using TED-Ed   TED-Ed allows you to develop questions and discussions around each video and have them displayed directly on their on their website.  Once students register for a TED-Ed account, I can keep track of their responses to the video questions which I grade.  For the few videos that I use that are not on YouTube, I use Vimeo  and just provide my students with a hyperlink.


  1. Interactives & Simulations – for each chapter, I have developed a list of interactives and simulations to help the material come more alive to students and actively engage them in their learning.  I have used components of ClassAction interactives from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Astronomy Applet Project; which I have aligned with each chapter of Astropedia.  These are very similar to online interactives that are often provided by major publishers of traditional textbooks for an additional cost.


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  1. Virtual Polling – I start each weekly lesson with a virtual poll asking a common misconception about the topic for the week.  Students not only can see how their answer compares to those of their classmates but also can leave their own comments.  I use a free account from PollDaddy for the online polling and allows me to either embed the poll directly in my course LMS or provide access through a hyperlink.  The questions I used come from the results of An Astronomical Misconceptions Survey



  1. Social Media – I started the semester requiring students to use Twitter on a weekly basis.  Their assignment was to weekly summarize the most important thing that they learned and tweet it to a unique weekly hashtag.  Several students were assigned to review all weekly tweets and post a summary for the class.  This also would be beneficial for capturing the main concepts when preparing for the final exam.  Unfortunately I discovered that tweets have a short “shelf life” and Twitter only guarantees they will remain visible for 36 hours!  Thus, tweets submitted in the start of the week were not always visible by the end of the week.  Obviously very frustrating!  After the second week, I kept the same idea but shifted it to our course management’s discussion board. 

Details are posted on OER Commons – Using Social Media (Twitter) in the Classroom



  1. PhotoVoice – In an effort to get students to prepare for the comprehensive final exam, I require them to create and share a PhotoVoice with the rest of the class.  This basically is a photo and a descriptive paragraph that discusses one important concept from the semester.  It can be done using any word processor or presentation software and saved as a pdf file to ensure availability to everyone.  Photos can come from anywhere – they can take it themselves, or go to Flickr or Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD)

Details are posted on OER Commons – Using PhotoVoice in the Classroom

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7.  Weekly Star Gazer Video - In an effort to get students to go outside and actually look up in the night sky, I provide a link to the weekly five-minute Star Gazer video by the Miami Science Museum (  These weekly videos, the world’s first and only weekly TV series on naked eye astronomy, give an excellent overview of the night sky and also discuss one topic of astronomy in greater depth, all in layman’s terms.

 8.  Current Event in Astronomy – In an effort to raise awareness of astronomical developments, I have students search newspapers or online for any recent astronomical-related story and provide a photo and a short summary of the article including why they think it is important and I ask them to identify specially which chapter of the textbook deals with their story.  I do this early in the semester as a way of getting students to become more familiar with the textbook and to try to get them to become lifelong learners and be in the habit of looking for current events related to astronomy. 

Details are posted on OER Commons – Current Event in Astronomy

9.  Star Project – In an effort to personalize learning, each student is assigned their “own” star from one of the brightest 25 stars in the night sky.  They are to study that star in greater detail by applying material from the textbook and online to answer specific questions related to that star (age, distance, location, temperature, mythology, historical context, etc….).  This project is worth 10% of their overall grade.  To discourage procrastination, I provide a 10% grade boost if turned in at least a week early.

Project Details are available on OER Commons - Astronomy Star Project

10.  Lunar Observation Project – In an effort to get my students to actually go outside and look up at the night sky, I have them do a month-long lunar observation project.  They are required to observe the Moon every other night for a complete lunar cycle (30 days) by completing observation sheet.  Then they are to compare their lunar phase observation with tidal differences to show how the Moon affects tides.  Finally, they are lead through a series of questions to analyze their data to help understand the different phases of the Moon.  This project is worth 20% of their overall grade.  To discourage procrastination, I provide a 10% grade boost if turned in at least a week early.

Project Details are posted on OER Commons – Lunar Observation Project







Fall 2013


3 Credit Hours


This is an Online Course


Instructor:           Professor Erik Christensen                Phone:   863.784.7363

Office Location:   HSC 222                                              E-mail:

Office Hours:       Mondays          9:00-9:30 AM   3:00-4:00 PM

                              Tuesdays          9:00-9:30 AM   1:00-4:00 PM

                              Wednesdays     9:30-11:00 AM  12:30-1:30 PM

                              Thursdays        9:00-9:30 AM   11:00-1:00 PM

                                  or call/email me and we will arrange a time

                                           that is mutually convenient

  Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another

- Plato

Welcome to AST 1002 Descriptive Astronomy! 

The overarching goals of this course are; (1) to encourage a sense of awe, wonder, and curiosity about the Universe, (2) to foster an appreciation for the beauty of nature’s physical laws, and (3) to develop a lifelong interest in astronomy.

Catalog Description:

        An introduction to the astronomical universe for non-science majors including astronomical instruments, methods of discovery, motions of celestial objects, evolution of stars, and a description of the members of our solar system, our galaxy, and the Universe.

 Prerequisites/Corequisites:    None.  However, if you are also taking AST 1002L Descriptive Astronomy Laboratory there is a separate syllabus which includes a weekly astronomy lab and separate lab exams.  All labs are linked to materials studied in this course.

Course Materials: 

Required:  Astropeda: Universe Revealed, by Chris Impey.  This open education resource (OER) textbook is available free online at both as a standard html document and as a wikimap.

Instructional Methods: This course will be offered in the online format.  The textbook is available online.  You will be required to access the course’s D2L website regularly for online discussions, notes, and to take both quizzes and exams.  There are no required face-to-face meetings.  All exams and quizzes will be administered online.

Course Resources: – our course D2L website. - our online textbook Astropedia - alternate way to access our textbook – astrophysics – great source for Moonrise and Moonset information – a great source for Moonrise and Moonset information – a great source for tidal information – another great source for tidal information - good tidal information – a great source for information about the Moon and tides

Class Attendance Tardy Policy: 

You are expected to follow the schedule at the end of this syllabus and to participate with all online discussions and activities on a weekly basis.  Failure to do so will severely impact your overall grade.  Experience has clearly demonstrated that students who participate in these discussions and activities are highly successful in this course.

 Course Requirements:

 INTERNET:    You must have access to the Internet to complete the requirements of this course and access the online textbook.  You will be expected to access the class D2L website weekly to obtain assignments, take quizzes, access course material, and take exams.  

ORIENTATION ASSIGNMENT:  In order to be successful in this class you must have a good grasp of the various functions on D2L.  To receive credit and to confirm your enrollment in this class, this assignment MUST be completed before the end of the Week 1.  The five parts of the Orientation Assignment are:

 ·         Discussion Board – post your introduction

·         Discussion Board – post your Backup Plan

·         Dropbox – post your signed Course Contract

·         Set up a Twitter Account

 These are explained more in the D2L Content section.

 READING:  Each week you are to read a chapter in the online textbook as indicated on the course schedule at the end of this syllabus. 

 VIDEO:  Each week there will be assigned video(s) to watch.  You will be provided links to these videos which are on YouTube.  You should consider watching the videos comparable to attending a lecture and so it is strongly recommended that you take notes while watching the videos.  A good way to do this is to open two windows on your computer – one for the video and one with your word processor and then take notes as you view the video.  Former students have also found it very helpful to have read the textbook before watching the videos.

 VIDEO QUESTION:  Along with each weekly video will be accompanying question(s) for you to comment on related to watching the video.

 HOMEWORK:   Each week there are a variety of assignments that are due by 8:00 AM the following Tuesday.  These are all listed on the course schedule at the end of this syllabus.  It is strongly suggested that you use the course schedule as a checkoff list to make sure you have completed the assignments for the week.

 QUESTION OF THE WEEK:  Each week a conceptual question of the week will be posted on the D2L Discussion Board.  You are required to post an answer to the question along with your rationale AND then also comment on at least TWO responses from other members of the class – either agreeing or disagreeing and stating why.   You will be graded on your active participation.  Only your top twelve Questions of the Week scores will count towards your final grade.

 QUIZZES:     An online quiz will be posted each week covering the material from the previous week.  You can take the online quiz anytime between 8 a.m. on Tuesday until 8 a.m. on the following Tuesday.  These will typically contain 10 multiple choice questions that you will have 15 minutes to answer.  These are mastery-type quizzes which you are free to retake as many times as you desire during the week.  Quiz questions will be randomly selected from a larger database so no two quizzes will have all the same questions.  Many of the questions will be conceptual in nature and will require you to apply what you have learned from watching the videos and reading the book.  Only your highest score obtained each will be recorded.  Only your top twelve quiz scores will count towards your final grade.  There are no makeup quizzes

 EXAMS:  There will be a comprehensive final exam administered online the last week of the semester.  The final exam is worth 200 points (20% of your overall grade).  The best way to prepare for the final exam is to keep up with the weekly course schedule and use the weekly quizzes as a way to check your understanding.                 

CURRENT EVENT IN ASTRONOMY:  You are to find an interesting astronomical event from the newspaper, magazine, or the internet.  Any news worthy event (meteor shower, spacecraft launch, exoplanet discovery, Congressional funding related to NASA, etc…) and discuss it in a paragraph (minimum of six sentences.)  You do not have to go into depth, but try to give an indication as to why you personally thought the event was worthwhile or important.  This is to be posted on the appropriate Discussion Board and must contain the following:

 ·         Title

·         Description of the event

·         Why you think this event is significant

·         How it relates to our course (identify specifically which chapter)

·         Include at least one photo

·         Cite your references (hyperlinks are acceptable)

 STAR PROJECT:  You will be assigned you own “personal” star the first week of class (check on D2L content).  You areto study this star in greater detail by applying the material from the textbook and videos as well as researching it online.  If you work on this each week as we study the different concepts, you will easily be able to complete this task in bite-sized pieces and hopefully you will find this an excellent way to deepen your understanding of the material in a personal way.  Your entire completed Star Project MUST be submitted via the D2L Dropbox according to the schedule at the end of this syllabus.  This project is worth 100 points (10% of your overall grade.)  Late projects will be penalized 20 points per day late and will not be accepted if more than one week late.  Bonus points will be awarded if submitted early as noted on the course schedule.

 LUNAR OBSERVATION PROJECT:  You are required to complete a Lunar Observation Project.  There are five parts to the Lunar Observation Project as detailed on the D2L website.  This consists of making observations of the Moon approximately every other night for a month and then reporting your observations, recording and plotting tidal information, and summarizing your resultsThe entire project must be submitted via the D2L Dropbox.  This project is worth 200 points (20% of your overall grade.)  You will be penalized 40 points per day late and it will not be accepted if more than one week late.  Bonus points will be awarded if submitted early as noted on the course schedule at the end of this syllabus.

 PHOTOVOICE:  You are to create a PhotoVoice of one topic you find most interesting in the course.  This will be due near the end of the semester and will help you with your review for the final exam.  This consists of a single photo (or image) plus a paragraph discussing the image.  It must be done on a single page using a word processor or PowerPoint and then saved as a pdf file in the D2L Discussion Board.  Additional instructions can be found in the D2L content section.

ONLINE SELF-REFLECTION:  Periodically during the course, as noted in the course schedule, you will be asked to submit an online self-reflection.  I want you to write a short paragraph discussing the following:              

·         What grade to I think I have in the course? 

 ·         What actions do I need to do to improve my learning?

Online self-reflections MUST be submitted via the D2L Dropbox. No credit will be given if submitted via email or any other format.  This will not be accepted if submitted more than one week late.         

SOCIAL MEDIA:  Being able to use social media in the workplace is becoming a necessity.  As such, you are required to use Twitter in this course.  Each week you are to tweet a short summary of what you felt was the most important topic covered that week, either in the class, the reading, the laboratory, or while completing a homework assignment.  Each week a group of two students will be assigned the task of reviewing all tweets for that week, summarizing them, and then posting a synopsis summary of the tweets the following week.  Specifics are posted on D2L.

Technology Problems:  

Should you experience any technology problems accessing the course materials on the D2L website (e.g., you can’t get something to run on your computer or you can’t figure out how to use the Dropbox), please contact the College’s D2L Help Desk at 863.784.7015 or

 Policy on Timely Submission of Assignments:  

Due to the dynamic nature of this course, it is important that all work be completed as scheduled.  Penalties for late submission for each component of the course are specified in the requirements sections above.  Early submission of both your Star Project and Lunar Observation Projects will be rewarded with bonus points.

Format of Submitted Materials: 

All written materials submitted via D2L must be compatible with Microsoft Office.  If you are using Microsoft Works or WordPerfect as your word processor, you must first save your work in a Rich Text Format (*.rtf), a text document (*.txt), or in Portable Document Format (*.pdf.)  If you send scanned (or photographed) materials please send it in either PDF format or as a JPEG file.  You can also submit files in html format.  If you want to submit something in a format other than these please contact me in advance otherwise you could receive zero credit for your work.


Your course grades can be accessed anytime using D2L.  Your overall course grade will be determined out of 1,000 possible points as follows:


Quizzes (12) 240
Final Exam 200
Lunar Observation Project     
      Data Collection (60 points)      
      Data Analysis (140 points)

Star Project 100
Social Media
      Weekly Tweets (12)  (36 points) -     
      Weekly Summary  (14 points)

Video Questions (12) 60
Question of the Week Participation (12) 60
Current Event In Astronomy 25
PhotoVoice 25
Self-Reflections (2) 20
Orientation Assignment  20
Total 1,000




You can earn extra credit points attending the star parties and for submitting your Star Project and Lunar Observation Projects early.

 If you find a mistake on your grade listing, please email me as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to notify me of any errors.   Final course grade computation will be determined as follows:


90%  and above A Outstanding
80% – 89.9% B Above Average
70% – 79.9% C Average
60% – 69.9% D Lowest Acceptable
59.9% and below F Failure


At the end of the term, if your grade is borderline, I will take into consideration the following criteria when deciding your final grade:  your active participation, attitude, and motivation.

Code of Conduct:   Refer to the Student Handbook.

Cell Phones, Pagers, and Other Electronic Devices:  Refer to the Student Handbook.

Academic Ethics Policy:

The faculty of SFSC is committed to a policy of honesty in academic affairs. Conduct for which you may be subject to administrative and/or disciplinary penalties, up to and including suspension or expulsion, includes:

 1.   Dishonesty consisting of cheating of any kind with respect to examinations, course assignments, or illegal possession of examination papers. If you help another to cheat, you will be subject to the same penalties as the student assisted.

 2.   Plagiarism consisting of the deliberate use and appropriation of another’s work without identifying the source and the passing off such work as your own. If you fail to give full credit for ideas or materials taken from another, you have plagiarized.

Consequences of Cheating or Plagiarism:

Your instructor may take academic action consistent with College policy that may range from loss of credit for a specific assignment, examination, or project to removal from the course with a grade of “F.” Your instructor and you should seek to resolve the matter to your mutual satisfaction.  Failing this, your instructor or you may request action from the appropriate chair, dean/director, and the Vice President for Educational and Student Services (see Grade Appeals in College Catalog) who adjudicates on the basis of College policy. 

Panther Central/D2L (Desire to Learn):

Panther Central is the web portal for SFSC.  With a single sign-on, you get access to information that is relevant to you.  As a student, you’ll have immediate access to each of your classes and e-mail to faculty and classmates. You will also be able to access club information, financial aid, registration tools, the library, the student handbook, and other resources. You’ll also receive campus-wide and personal announcements. Please make use of the training available for Panther Central, and if your password is not working, please call 784-7134 or e-mail  You can access Panther Central at or visit the SFSC website ( and choose the “Panther Central” link on the right. Your username is your SFSC ID number (GID), which begins with an “X.”  You may access your courses resources from the “My Courses” tab in Panther Central.

Students with Disabilities:

In keeping with the College’s open door philosophy and in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, SFSC provides reasonable accommodations to educational and training opportunities for otherwise qualified individuals with documented disabilities. It is the responsibility of the student or prospective student to self-identify with the Disabilities Specialist and provide appropriate documentation.  Individuals who chose not to self-identify may be ineligible for services and/or accommodations. Services include but are not limited to: admission and registration assistance, orientation, note taking, tutoring, test accommodations, readers, audio books, course substitutions and assistive technology. For more information, contact the Disabilities Specialist through: the Web site,; e-mail at; voice/TDD (863) 453-6661 ext. 7331; or in person at the Catherine P. Cornelius Student Services Complex, Suite B152, Highlands Campus.

Observance of Religious Holidays:

If you must miss a class in order to observe a religious holiday, you must notify your instructor at least seven (7) days in advance of the day(s) to be missed. You will have until the next class meeting after the observance/holiday to make up missed assignments. 

Star Parties:

Several times during the semester, we will hold an evening night astronomical viewing session with the College’s 8- and 10-inch telescopes.  Although not mandatory, participation at any night time star party is OPTIONAL but you will have the opportunity to earn up to 10 bonus points to be applied at the end of the term.   Our class star parties will be held near the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) off Baltimore Street.  This is aboutone mile down College Drive from SFSC, just off Memorial Drive.  Please park your car on Baltimore Street just past the ARC.  A map is posted on the D2L webpage to help you get your bearings.  

I will send out an online poll during the first week of the semester for you to indicate your interest in attending a star party and which day(s) of the week work best for your personal schedule.  Star parties are highly weather dependent.  You can check the status of any star party from:

o    Sept 5 (backup date is Sept 6) - Deep Sky Observing  9-10 PM

o    Sept 12 (backup date is Sept 13) - Lunar Observing  9-10 PM

o    Oct 3 (backup date is Oct 4) - Deep Sky Observing 9-10 PM

o    Oct 10 (backup date is Oct 11) - Lunar Observing 9-10 PM

o    Oct 31 (backup date is Nov 1) - Deep Sky Observing 9-10 PM

o    Nov 25 (backup date is Nov 26) - Deep Sky Observing 8-9 PM

College-Wide Outcomes: This course supports the following General Education Outcomes:

1.  You will demonstrate the ability to communicate (read, write, speak, and listen) effectively.

† By the end of the course you will have demonstrated your ability to communicate orally and written through successful completion of the online self-reflection, star project, and the lunar observation project.

2.  You will demonstrate the ability to reflect, analyze, synthesize, and apply knowledge.

By the end of the course you will have recorded observational data of the motion of the Moon over a month-long period and then analyzed and reflected upon your data to evaluate the influence the Moon has on the Earth’s tides.

3.  You will demonstrate knowledge and application of mathematical and scientific principles and methods.

† This will be assessed throughout the course via the online quizzes and exams.

4.  You will demonstrate the ability to find, evaluate, organize, and use information.

† By the end of the course you will have demonstrated your ability to find and evaluate information from textbooks, videos, websites, and journal articles related to a specific star you will be assigned.  

Course Specific Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of this course, you should be able to:

1.  Accurately describe the primary methods used to collect astronomical data. 

 2.  Accurately identify and describe characteristics of the primary members of our solar system, galaxy, and the universe.

 3.  Accurately understand the relationship between the Earth and movements of celestial objects.

 4.  Accurately describe the role of the Sun with regard to the formation of the solar system.

 5.  Accurately explain the stages of evolution of stars.

 † All of these will be assessed through quizzes and the final exam.

  DISCLAIMER:  Course policies, procedures, and schedule may be changed at any time at the discretion of your instructor.  You will be advised of any changes in writing.


Class Contract

This is part of the Orientation Assignment. You must print this out, sign it, scan it, and post it in the Course Contract Dropbox by the end of the first week.  If you don’t have access to a scanner you can take a photo with a smartphone and post that.


The Class Contract assignment is my method of ensuring that you know what you should expect from me, and what I expect from you.  By returning the Class Contract to me, you are acknowledging that you:

a. Understand the policies detailed in this syllabus.

b. Understand the expectations and due dates listed in the Course Calendar.

c. Understand that you will be held accountable to the standards published in this document.

d. Understand that this Class Contract must be signed and submitted via the D2L Dropbox by the end of the first week of class.


By signing my name I acknowledge the above.


Print Name:                                                                          Date:                                      





Weeks “typically” run from 8:00 AM Tuesday to 8:00 AM the following Tuesday


  Topic Chapter Video Active Exploration Video Question Quiz QoW Tweet Additional Assignments
Week 1 8/26 The First Discoveries About Earth and Sky 2 Orientation Video Various videos 1 1 1 1 1 Orientation Assignment
Week 2 9/3 The Copernican Revolution & Detecting Radiation from Space 3 10 (parts) The Birth of Astronomy 2 2 2 2 2  
Week 3 9/10 The Earth-Moon System 5 The Moon 3 3 3 3 3 Current Event
Week 4 9/17 The Terrestrial Planets 6 The Inner Planets Mars 4 4 4 4 4 Self-Reflection #1
Week 5 9/24 The Giant Planets and Their Moons 7 The Outer Planets 5 5 5 5 5  
Week 6 10/1 Interplanetary Bodies 8 The End of Earth: Deep Space Threats 6 6 6 6 6 Lunar Project Data Collection
Week 7 10/8 How Planetary Systems Form 9 How the Solar System was made 7 7 7 7 7  
Week 8 10/15 Our Sun: The Nearest Star 11 Secrets of the Sun 8 8 8 8 8 Self Reflection #2
Week 9 10/22 Properties of Stars 12 The Family of Stars 9 9 9 9 9  
Week 10 10/29 Star Birth and Death 13 Life and Death of a Star 10 10 10 10 10 Lunar Project Analysis
Week 11 11/5 The Milky Way 14 The Milky Way 11 11 11 11 11  
Week 12 11/12 Galaxies 15 Alien Galaxies 12 12 12 12 12 Star Project
Week 13 11/19 The Expanding Universe 16 The Most Dangerous Place in the Universe 13 13 13 13 13  
Week 14 11/26 Thanksgiving Break – no assignments due this week
Week 15 12/3 Cosmology 17 Beyond the Big Bang 14 14 14 14 14 PhotoVoice
Week 16 12/10 Take Final Exam before 8:00 AM on Tuesday, December 17th


To earn BONUS POINTS:            Submit Lunar Observation Project Analysis before the start of Week 9 and Star Project before the start of Week 11.

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