Kim Coble (Chicago State University)

Science Talk:

Investigating Student Understanding of Cosmology

Powerful new observations and advances in computation and visualization have led to a revolution in our understanding of the origin, evolution and structure of the universe. These gains have been vast, but their impact on education has been limited. We are bringing these tools and advances to the teaching of cosmology through research on undergraduate learning in cosmology as well as the development of a series of web-based cosmology learning modules. Determining the range and frequency of “alternative conceptions” is an important first step to improving instructional effectiveness. Through analysis of pre-instructional open-ended surveys (N > 700), and follow-up interviews, our research group is attempting to classify students’ ideas about concepts important to modern cosmology, including the structure, age, evolution and composition of the universe. Informed by our research on student learning, the major themes of the modules include: the vastness and nature of space and time, gravity and dark matter, and the big bang. Students will master scientific concepts as well as the reasoning processes that lead to our current understanding of the universe, through interactive tasks, prediction and reflection, experimentation, and model building. This curriculum will fill the acute need for research-based educational resources in the rapidly changing field of cosmology while serving as a model for transforming introductory courses from primarily lecture- and book-based to a more engaging format.