Saturday, 26 March 2016

More thoughts on using a planetarium (UKPSF A1 A2 A3 A4 K4 K5 V1)

This last semester I taught a course called the "Quantum Universe". This module was one of the new Plymouth Plus immersive modules, where the students take a 20 credit module, which last year would have been taught over a year, is  now taught in a single month. The students only take this module in the month. So it is essentially a bootcamp for quantum mechanics and astronomy.

An important part of the content of the module is Astronomy.  As part of the practical sessions in the module we used the Immersive Vision Theatre on campus. I was in charge of this part of the course. It was a bit of strain to develop new material for the two sessions every week.  One important issue is how to make the sessions interactive, so that the students actually do something, rather than just passively watch.

Dr. Helen Goodall from Marjon reviewed one of the teaching sessions in the planetarium.

1)    Further use of questioning and other activities to encourage more participation and engagement.
  2)    Further use of questioning to enable you to gauge students’ level of knowledge and understanding (to inform your future inputs).

One possible system to give questions to the students is to use a system such as socrative.
This allows students to use smart phones or tablets to answer multiple choice questions. One
important issue is that not everyone will have a smart phone, so the system should allow students with no phone to contribute. This is an important diversity issue, because not everyone will be able to afford a smart phone, or they may not like them. Socrative allows tests to be downloaded. See the example below, which I created.

I have just read an old paper on using clickers
in Astronomy Education Review, 2006. 
There is also a book called Cosmic Perspective Clickers, which I will order.  The system allows me
to see the answers submitted by the class.
Interestingly, people claim that attendance improves with the use of clickers.
What is less clear is how to use peer instruction in the planetarium environment. The dark environment and somewhat strange acoustics may make student discussions difficult. 

The course is assessed via 40% online quizzes and 60% a group presentation. In the last class the questions used in the planetarium were not very relevant to the online questions, which were
based on the problems covered in the lectures.  We are planning in making the online quizzes a bit harder next year, so we could build in some of the questions covered in the planetarium.

I did do a literature search on using a planetarium for teaching, but I didn't really find anything useful.