Online team work in astronomy and planetary science at the Open University
10:30 - 10:45
Co-authors: Mark Jones, Judith Croston, Susanne Schwenzer, Sheona Urquhart
The Open University (OU) is one of the largest universities in Europe and unique among UK universities in that its curriculum is open to all, delivered entirely by distance teaching, and studied predominantly on a part-time basis. At present there are approximately 1500 students enrolled on undergraduate or taught postgraduate modules in the astronomy, planetary science and space science domain. To facilitate teaching practical science at a distance the OU developed the award-winning OpenSTEM Labs, providing students with real-time control of remote experiments, including our robotic optical observatories PIRATE and COAST in Tenerife, a radio telescope at the OU’s campus, and a planetary surface simulation yard, currently set up for a Mars rover mission simulation. These facilities lend themselves to team working projects, thus maximising the number of students who benefit from a limited resource, and providing a framework for distance learners - who are not co-located and would normally study essentially in isolation - to develop their employability-enhancing team working skills. Here we report on three different team-working projects in astronomy and planetary science, two involving OpenSTEM Labs assets, and one based on data from the SDSS. The projects are somewhat open-ended and designed such that team decisions are required throughout. We present an early analysis of the student experience on these three projects. We combine quantitative and qualitative analysis of online forum discussions with insights drawn from in-depth interviews with students to highlight the factors that may be important in the success of online team work in an astronomy and planetary science context.