Three Decades of Distance Education Astronomy at Athabasca University
The first Astronomy course at Athabasca University was offered in 1989 as a correspondence course, using innovative DOS software on the remote students’ home computers. A Sciencestream course, it simulated astronomy research and offered laboratory credit at freshman level. The success of this course led to a qualitative astronomy course being offered in the early 1990s, based on a commercially-available course package (including videos) supplemented by practical activities. It also included an essay in which students critique aspects of astronomy in popular culture, based on what they learned in the course. Both courses were popular, but enrollment has plateaued. For more senior students, we developed the possibility to do research projects, which also met a need for senior credit for program students in the B.Sc. We now offer two complementary courses in planetary science, one from an astronomy/physics perspective, and one focusing on planetary geology. Although distance education has come to be more accepted in recent times, and moved to the internet, transitioning our materials to being fully web courses has been challenging. Recent success in transitioning Physics online courses to use of open textbooks suggests that this may be possible in Astronomy as well. We also hope to integrate our online research facilities more into education.