When Professor Nahum Arav joined the Department of Physics in the College of Science in January 2008, he says he had a dream: to introduce Virginia Tech students to the beauty and wonders of the universe.

This semester, his dream is becoming a reality. Introduction to Astronomy (PHYS 1055) has been launched as the university’s first undergraduate signature experience, a unique learning environment that integrates a broad base of disciplines to enhance creative teaching and comprehension. Approximately 600 students from all majors are being offered an intense classroom experience, studying astronomy and planetary science in an integrated multidisciplinary context. Concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, history, and philosophy will be discussed to introduce students to scientific thinking and its cultural and technological impact. 

“In this class, we explore the solar system and discuss current astronomy topics such as NASA space missions and asteroid collisions,” Arav said. “It’s consumer friendly for a broad base of students and does not require a strong background in math or physics.”

Arav and a team of experts from instructional design, learning technologies, and assessment have been working together to create a model learning environment, on the basis of established pedagogical knowledge. Regular and guest lectures, high-quality movies, still images, and an audience response system will provide a stimulating classroom experience. A team of advanced undergraduates with an interest in astronomy will serve as learning assistants and will provide individual support to students in small group settings.

“This class and others following this model will give undergraduate education at Virginia Tech a new, distinctive face, and provide our students with unique learning experiences which can only be found here,” said Daniel Wubah, vice president and dean for undergraduate education.

“We have all seen the wonderful images from the Hubble space telescope, and we all wonder whether there is life elsewhere in the universe,” said Beate Schmittmann, physics department chair. “This course gives students a setting to explore these questions and experience first-hand how science works.” 

For more information, contact Arav at (540) 231-8736.



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