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First thoughts (mostly on astronomy learning)
Note: the contents of this section have been copied to Observational astronomy/Planning to encourage participation in the development of these ideas.
- First, a little background... I used to work at a planetarium and I now work at an observatory. One of the problems at an observatory is that a public education program requires clear skies to see objects through the telescope. (There are always clear skies in a planetarium :) I decided to create an activity that uses computers as a sort of virtual observatory. This would not only create a rainy night activity but it would also bring astronomy to a larger group of people who don't have the chance to visit an observatory. I started the Observational astronomy activity to try out these ideas. I'm familiar with other virtual observatory learning activities. (For instance, the Hubble FITS Liberator.) One thing that will distinguish this learning project from others is that it is hosted on a wiki which will allow the students to interact in creating the lessons. I have no idea how that will play out or where it will lead, but I suspect that the results will be interesting.--mikeu
- The idea that I would eventually like to pursue is to allow students to do "real" astronomy. Students usually learn by solving "toy problems" where the only goal is to learn, and the results of solving the problem are then only given to the teacher for the purpose of getting a grade. I'd like to give the participants original data to analyze such that their results are of some use to professional astronomers. This is similar to ongoing projects such as the American Association of Variable Star Observers in which amateur astronomers who own a telescope contribute observations which are then analyzed by professionals. (The National Science Foundation refers to people who do this as "citizen scientists.") However, most of these amateurs are working individually or in small groups that only include those who have reached a certain level where they have the experience and knowledge to make a contribution. I'd like to create an environment where it is easier for someone with no background to get involved and walk them through that first, steep, part of the learning curve.--mikeu
- One example of a citizen science project is Stardust@home. It has a low threshold for getting involved and uses a slick tutorial and interface to train participants and get them started. However, this project is more busy work than a learning experience. The results make a valuable contribution to processing the science data but the only thing the person invlolved gains is a sense of satisfaction at being a part of the project. They really don't learn much about interstellar dust. My contributions here at Wikiversity are an experiment to determine how to create a more meaningfull learning experience while doing real science.--mikeu
- The learning curve for doing astronomical data analysis is very steep for the uninitiated. For example, go through the short tutorial on astrometric calibration with Aladin to see the steps involved in processing a raw telescope image. Is it reasonable to expect someone with no background to go through a complicated process like this as part of a lesson? Probably not, but I plan on creating activities here that will involve doing that.--mikeu
- I'll start by creating some simple lessons that show how to use the software tools that astronomers use to analyze data. The main focus, at first, will be on learning basic concepts in astronomy while getting familiar with these tools. I hope that the wikiversity community can help me learn how to implement the ideas that I have described.--mikeu
Wikiversity random thoughts
- Many pages are created from templates, but the templates are so complicated that very few bother to fully fill them out. This leads to the creation of a multitude of pages that contain more boilerplate text than real content.
- A long list of subjects that don't exist is an impediment to growth. It might entice the ambitious few to expand the content, but it probably turns away the majority of people. There is too much clutter to attract new users who would be willing to do casual editing. New users are going to be confused trying to find content that exists, and it preimposes a structure for the future growth of what will be covered rather than just letting it happen naturaly. These lists need to be checked to insure that they follow established Wikiversity:Naming conventions.
- I was working on the astronomy pages and had some confusion about namespace, problems with searching and a few other things. See Topic_talk:Astronomy#Cleanup_needed for the details.
- I've seen a couple of pages that have a nice welcome for new users. One is the Introduction at the school of mathematics which has a link to the Topic:School of Mathematics Help Desk.
- I decided to change the format of this page. I had originally intended to use this as a scratchspace to jot down my thoughts and then edit them into something more coherent. I was also thinking that this could be a place to collaborate on planning projects. That is different from a blog, and I probably should have created the content outside my user space to encourage participation. This new format will be a log of things that I'm thinking and working on, with links to other pages.--mikeu 13:29, 16 December 2006 (UTC)
- I started to cleanup the astronomy related pages. Many of the pages contain a lot of confusing clutter and things are so disorganized that it is difficult to find what little content exits. I added all of the existing pages that I could find to the main Astronomy category. This is not really the best way to organize things, but there is so little content that it will have to do for now. I moved the index of content that does not yet exist from the main page to a new page and added a welcome section. This needs to be expanded. I doubt most new visitors have much idea about what to expect from wikiversity.--mikeu 16:56, 19 December 2006 (UTC)
- My attention is now on creating specific content. Observational astronomy contains a couple of activities for getting started. The focus is on learning basic principles for someone with no background in astronomy. This page requires cleanup to make it more user friendly. Some ideas for expanding the topic are described at Observational astronomy/Planning. The hope is that others will provide input on the direction the project takes. Observational astronomy/Supernova is an observing program to collect and analyze telescope data.--mikeu 15:50, 25 December 2006 (UTC)