Fall 2011

Descriptive Astronomy
ASTR 108

Syllabus for Online Course

I. Course Description

Introductory survey of our universe; from observations of the Sun, Moon and stars in the sky to our understanding of planets, stars, galaxies and the overall characteristics of the cosmos.

Pre-requisites: None
Please be aware this is a demanding and rigorous course. To succeed in this course it is necessary that you possess solid college-level reading, writing and critical thinking skills. Most importantly, you must demonstrate good time management skills and be highly self-motivated and self-disciplined. No previous knowledge of astronomy is assumed. Math at the high school algebra level will be used. This online course will require you to interact on a high level with computer technology delivered over the Internet. You must have a reliable, high-speed Internet connection as well as the necessary computer hardware, software, and skills to complete the course assignments (see below).

II. Textbook
cover: Essential Cosmic Perspective, 5e At minimum, each student is required to have her/his own account with MasteringAstronomy and access to the e-book version of the current edition of our text. This can be purchased on-line through the MasteringAstronomy website.

J. Bennett, M. Donahue, S. Schneider & M. Voit (2009), The Essential Cosmic Perspective, 5e with MasteringAstronomy, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-321-69684-0

II. Professor: Richard Gelderman

Ph.D. Astronomy, 1994, University of Virginia
M.A. Astronomy, 1990, University of Virginia
B.S. Physics, 1986, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

230 Thompson Complex, Central Wing,
Western Kentucky University
1906 College Heights Blvd
Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101-1077


Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

A. Identify and construct the hierarchy of objects in the observable universe.

B. Explain the current theories of the origin of the universe, the observational tests for these theories, and how the universe and its components change with time.

C. Understand the motions of celestial objects as seen from Earth: the apparent motions of the stars, planets, Sun and Moon; and phenomena such as eclipses, comets, and meteors.

D. Describe the scientific method and its importance. Distinguish evidence-based scientific theories from thinking that is not scientific. Transfer data from/to tables and/or plots and be able to reach conclusions based on observational data.

E. Summarize the history of astronomy associated with the attempts to explain astronomical phenomena, including the seasons, the phases of the Moon, eclipses, and planetary motion.

F. Explain how the cosmos is "knowable" by the laws of physics we have discovered on Earth and how the physical laws are responsible for the behavior of the universe. Identify the astrophysics behind news stories about the latest discoveries in astronomy and space.

G. Explain the theories of the origin and evolution of the sun, planets, moons, and minor objects in the solar system.

H. Explain the theories involved in stellar energy generation and stellar evolution and describe the basic methods involved in determining the brightness, distances, masses, and sizes of stars.

I. State the basic characteristics of our galaxy and compare these with the basic characteristics of other galaxies.


A. General Comments
The design of this course for online distance learning allows us to overcome many, but not all, restrictions imposed by space and time. For instance, while students must complete all course requirements in their assigned sequence during the academic term, this course will not require any of us to ever be in the same place at the same time. There will be occasions when each student has to be somewhere particular but not at a particular time, only within a time range. The primary "gathering" will be at the end of each module, when each student must submit the test for that module during the established range of times. For most of the term you will be free to work (or not work) at your own pace from whatever location suits you.

This course and all associated communication within or as part of must adhere to the WKU Technology Ethics Policy.

B. Communication
We will primarily communicate with each other both through Blackboard and via your WKU e-mail account. You are expected to carefully read all announcements and e-mails. Overlooking the provided information is not an excuse for not knowing that information. Every student is expected to check the Blackboard Announcements page and her/his WKU e-mail account at least once every two days. Not checking the Announcements page or your WKU e-mail is not an excuse for not knowing the provided information.

The best way to contact your instructor is to use the Blackboard Discussion Board. E-mails directly to your instructor should be sent only to communicate issues you do not wish others to read or that you think need personal attention. Be certain that your name is easily found in every e-mail you send -- either in the subject line, the salutation, or the closing. In addition, every e-mail must include in the subject line the course name [ASTR108] and a brief description of the topic. Messages with blank subject lines will be discarded as spam.

Except for weekends and holidays, you can expect me to respond to questions posted in the Blackboard Discussion Board area within 18 hours.

C. Netiquette
It is a requirement for this course that you use appropriate professional etiquette when you e-mail me or your fellow students. Unclear or unprofessional messages will simply be ignored. This concept of "netiquette" is explained further at the following websites:
Top 10 Netiquette Guidelines
Core Rules of Netiquette

D. Time Magnagement, Assignments & Due Dates
Plan to start the course promptly and complete each assignment well before its deadline. I highly recommend these streaming videos about time management and how to study in college. This course is divided into learning modules organized by subject matter. There is a required test corresponding to each learning module. The module test is not available to a student until s/he successfully completes a series of assigned online activities and/or self-guided tutorials and passes the pre-test quiz.

Visit the Blackboard online classroom at least every other day to read announcements, check the assignment schedule, take tests, and read/post discussion board messages. Students are responsible for keeping up with and adhering to the due dates and other instructions posted there in the course calendar and announcements areas of the Blackboard online classroom.

  1. All assignments required for our course are provided as weekly assignment checklists within your Blackboard account. Click "Assignments" in the lefthand Blackboard menu  to view them. Within every assignment folder is a list of all the topics and tasks for this portion of the learning module, including due date and possible points for each task. In case of a discrepancy, the information on Blackboard will be taken as the authoritative due date or point value.
  2. The assignments for each portion of a learning module includes tasks that must be completed though the MasteringAstronomy website. The grades for these tasks will be kept on MasteringAstronomy. In case of a discrepancy, the information on Blackboard will be taken as the authoritative record of the awarded score.
  3. Each learning module test will be taken online via Blackboard. After completing the assigned readings, reviewing the appropriate topics, and successfully submitting each of the assigned MasteringPhysics tasks, click "Module Tests" in the lefthand Blackboard menu.
  4. Unless otherwise indicated, written assignments will be graded and returned within three weekdays of their submission to Blackboard.

E. Blackboard Policies for this online course
At the WKU Blackboard website, https://ecourses.wku.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp, you will find logon instructions about how to gain entry into the online course for which you have registered. In the online classroom, click the Tools button to find a manual explaining the various functionalities of Blackboard. Please look it over and consult it when you have questions about how to use the various Blackboard elements.

Once you successfully enter our online ASTR 108 coursepage on Blackboard, you can click on the various icons there to read announcements, pick up assignments, take tests, view grades, use the discussion board, use email, and consult other materials placed there.

  1. Announcements
    You are responsible for reading all announcements posted in the Blackboard announcements area. Check announcements each time you login being sure to read all announcements posted since the last time you logged in. Announcements are automatically shown to you on entry to the Blackboard online classroom. Some are permanent and always show. Others only show for a limited time after being posted. To see previously posted, nonpermanent announcements, select one of the tabs (last seven days, last month, etc) and use the scroll bar on the right of the screen.

  2. Pre-Test Quizzes and Required Tests
    There are four tests during the semester that count toward your overall grade. However, each student will be allowed to take a given test only after scoring a satisfactory grade on a Pre-Test Quiz. Blackboard has been programmed to release each test only after you score over 70% on the respective Pre-Test Quiz. Your scores on the Pre-Test Quizzes do not count toward your overall grade; they serve only as gatekeepers to monitor your preparation for the tests. These quizzes are designed to challenge you to prepare at a high level for the material covered in each learning module. A student who understands why her/his answers are correct on the Pre-Test Quiz should score well on the corresponding test.

    Each Pre-Test quiz is only viewable during the days it is available to be taken; you cannot take a Pre-Test Quiz outside the pre-assigned time period. The appropriate Pre-Test Quiz will be accessible from the Quizzes & Tests link in the Blackboard menu from 6:00 a.m. on Thursday through 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. During the announced weeks, every member of our class, from the fastest to the slowest, is working on the same material.

    Each student who scores over 75% on the Pre-Test Quiz will be immediately eligible to attempt the corresponding test. If your score on a given Pre-Test Quiz is not over 75% then Blackboard has been programmed to assign additional work to help you master the material in that learning module. These assignments do not count toward your overall grade. The intention is that the guided study time will prepare you to pass the Pre-Test Quiz when you re-take it. Students who fail to pass the Pre-Test Quiz on the second attempt will be required to conference with the instructor before moving forward to the next section of the course.

    Each of the tests must be taken online in Blackboard and must be completed during its window of availability. The tests are to be closed-book -- no student shall use any outside resource, including, but not limited to, textbook, notes, or the Internet.

    The second test of the semester must be taken at a proctered testing site. You must register with the DELO Testing Center to reserve a time and place to take each test. This should be done as soon as possible, to ensure that a mutually acceptable time and /or location can be arranged. The proctors and/or instructor will clear any locked tests. But don't expect the instructor to be able to unlock it in time for you to retake a test if you get locked-out late on the last day of its availability. It is strongly suggested that you take the test early in the week to avoid this potential pitfall.

    No make-up tests are given for unless the student [1] notifies the instructor prior to missing the quiz or [2] provides acceptable documentation indicating an exceptional circumstance caused the quiz to be missed without prior notification. Since the test is available for several days, it is rare that a student will be allowed to take a missed test.

  3. Final Examination
    The final exam must be taken at a proctored testing center during 'Finals Week', from Monday through Friday during the last week of the semester. Register with the DELO Testing Center to reserve a time and place to take the exam.
    The proctors and/or instructor will do their best to clear a locked exam. But if you get locked-out late in the last hour of the last day of Finals Week, don't expect to be able to unlock the exam in time for you to retake the entire exam. It is strongly suggested that you take the exam early in the week to avoid this potential pitfall.

  4. Pre-test and other Quizzes
    Because these scores are not part of your course grade, books, notes and the Internet may be used when taking the quizzes. However, pay attention to how much you rely on those references. For example, if you have to look up material to accurately respond to every question on the Pre-Quiz for a given module then it is not likely you will do well on the test for that module.

  5. Discussion Board
    Participation in online discussions is required and graded. The discussion board conferences are asynchronous and have definite start and finish dates indicated in the instructions for each conference. The purpose of the discussions is to stimulate study and discussion of the weekly reading assignments.
    Discussion board exchanges are time sensitive and, if missed, may not be made up. However, there are more conference points available than can be used if you earned them all. Missing a conference or two or a quiz or two will not prevent you from earning the necessary points so long as you perform well on the discussions in which you do participate.
    The following Discussion Board participation rules and guidelines apply to all posts:
    ---- Students must make at least two types of contributions to each posted discussion board topic.
    ---- Each new Thread Topics must respond to the discussion board assignment. No credit can be earned in a conference for reply postings unless a new thread is started.
    ---- Replies (or secondary postings) respond to the new threads other students.
    ---- Late postings to conferences will NOT be graded.
    ---- If you participate in more than the required number of conferences then the posts with the lowest grades will be ignored.

F. MasteringAstronomy

A required component of this class incorporates our textbook's online component, known as MasteringAstronomy. There is a cost associated with access to the MasteringAstronomy website. Most students in this online text are expected to purchase access to the site by using a credit card through a secure online transaction. Students will irretrievably lose the opportunity to earn points if access to MasteringAstronomy is not accomplished by the start of the second week of class. After paying to register on MasteringAstronomy, you will need the following CourseID to sign into our online course: Gelderman108Fall2011.
Assignments will be posted online at our course site in MasteringAstronomy. Assignments will be assigned with at least two week's notice. The MasteringAstronomy gradebook is the authoritative record of all MasteringAstronomy assignments.

G. Course Requirements and Grades

  1. Policy Submission of Graded Work:
    No work will be accepted for a grade beyond the due date. Online Activities, tutorials, and quizzes, must be submitted via MasteringAstronomy. Discussion board contributions must be submitted to our Blackbaord ASTR 108 course site. Homework submitted via email will not be graded.

  2. Policy on Collaboration

    All work turned in for a grade must be your own. No credit will be given for work that is not demonstrably your own.

  3. Extra Credit:
    Every weekend during the semester, you can earn a point of extra credit by posting to that section of the Discussion Board the link to a reputable report of a current news event relating to the astronomical topics covered in this semester's class. In addition to the url for the news source, the posting must include your name, the date of the news item, and which chapter in the book the news item most closely relates. Absolutely no other extra credit opport ities will be available.

  4. Assignment Values

    Your grade will be based on your performance on the course requirements. Points are earned based on the values for each course requirement stated above.



    Required Online Activities & Self-Guided Tutorials

    All assignments must be completed through an account on MasteringAstronomy. The assignments are time-sensitive and have firm participation deadlines.

    90 @ 2 pts ea 180

    Discussion Board Conferences (12 required)

    You have 14 chances to participate in 12 conferences. If you participate in more than 12, then the highest twelve grades will be used.
    Conferences are time-sensitive and have firm due dates. There are no make-ups for missed assignments.

    12 @ 10 pts ea 120

    Module Tests (4 required)

    Tests are time-sensitive and must be taken during the period they are offered. There are no make-ups for missed tests.

    4 @ 125 pts ea 500
    Final Exam

    Every student must arrange to take the online Final Exam at an approved proctered testing center.

    200 pts 200


  5. The following grade scale will be used to determine your semester grade.
    Grade Points
    A 900-1000
    B 800-899
    C 700-799
    D 600-699
    F 0-599

    VI. Students with Disabilities

    Students with disabilities who require accomodations (academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids or services) for this course must contact the Office for Student Disability Service, (270) 745-5004 V/TDD. Please do not request accomodations directly from the professor without a letter from the office of Student Disability Services.

Updated 27 August 2010