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BOLD Fellow Lauren Palladino Develops a Series of Online Astronomy Modules

Posted by on Friday, January 24, 2014 in News.

The BOLD Fellows program is designed to bring together graduate students and faculty members interested in blended and online learning. Graduate students develop online learning modules for implementation in a faculty mentor’s course and then gather data on the effects of the modules on student learning. BOLD Fellow Lauren Palladino worked with faculty mentor Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann to develop a series of Online astronomy modules, and describes her work here:

Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and BOLD Fellow Lauren Palladino.

This module has been incorporated into the Physics and Astronomy Department’s ASTR 353 course: Structure and Dynamics of Galaxies.

Professor Holley-Bocklemann had noticed that teaching the formation model with traditional lecture-style instruction did not promote active learning on the part of the student. She also noted that the level and quality of in-class discussion varied wildly from semester to semester. Hoping to improve the learning experience for the students, we paired to form a graduate student/faculty team in the BOLD Fellows Program in order to design and incorporate course content, activities, and assessments supported by research and our understanding of the learning process.

The module itself is hosted on OAK (Vanderbilt’s version of Blackboard) and is comprised of four online modules containing various activities and assignments. Each of the four segments  takes approximately 1 week for completion, and the entire module is worth points equivalent to one homework assignment. I have provided, for the students, a list of detailed learning goals, so that they become aware of the purpose of the module and what is expected of them.


Within the first segment, students are asked to read the seminal paper: Eggen, Lynden-Bell, and Sandage (1962). They are then asked to write a short 3-2-1 response to the reading, a summary essay of the formation model, and complete a math problem. Once their essay is submitted, a video explanation becomes available to them, narrated by one of the field’s experts, Dr. Jonathan Bird.

The second segment challenges the students to create a visualization of the formation model. Guidelines for this assignment are, intentionally, vague. They are provided with an image bank, and given the option to utilize those provided or to obtain/create their own. This activity allows the student to creatively express their understanding of the process through visual representation.

The third and fourth segments focus primarily on discussion and peer-instruction. One asks the students to write a short description of the data used to inform the ELS model. They are then directed to a discussion board where they respond to the prompt:

“If you had unlimited resources, what data would you collect in order to best constrain the formation history of the Milky Way?”

The other provides a second video, narrated by Dr. Jonathan Bird, in which he describes new results, and how they support/refute the claims of ELS. The students are directed to a second discussion board at the end of the video. Once the discussion board is closed, the students are tasked with writing an essay synthesizing the ELS model and how it fits into our current understanding of galaxy formation.

Assessing the Effectiveness of the Online Module

Pending IRB approval, I intend to investigate the effectiveness of this online module as a teaching tool by monitoring students’ learning gains across three measures.

  1. Students will respond to pre- and post-module surveys. The survey questions are designed to assess the students’ comfort level with, and basic understanding of, the material presented. The post-module survey will also gather information regarding the students’ experience participating in the module.
  2. Students’ performance at the start of the module will be compared with student performance on the course final exam.
  3. Students’ performance on the final exam after participating in the module will be compared to students’ performance on the final exam from previous semesters in which the content was delivered in the traditional lecture-style.

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