Sharing Astro Course Notes and Classroom Activities [Wiki]

by Jessica Lu on April 16, 2012

AstroBetter course materials wiki page

There is a large pool of resources for Astro 101 level courses organized on the AstroBetter wiki. Advancements in education research are frequently incorporated in Astro 101 classes, thanks to the availability of these resources. However, there is much less available for higher level courses, including those for undergraduate astronomy majors and graduate physics and astronomy courses.  This has a double negative impact; not only do our majors and grad students not get the benefits of improved teaching, but also some are future teachers and they will carry these typically less effective lecture-style experiences into their own classrooms.

In order to take a small step forward, I have added a new section on the wiki specifically for classroom activities designed for these higher-level classes. I have posted an activity I designed when I was a teaching assistant so that it may be used by others and also serve as a template for other people interested in posting their activities. I encourage you all to consider posting your own classroom activities, no matter what state they are in.

I have one question for AstroBetter readers: how should we handle licensing? Personally, I am willing to share the activity I created for anyone who wants to use it in their classroom. But, I am not sure I would like it if it was used in a for-profit text book without my permission. Does anyone have experience or recommendations for licensing this kind of content?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ryan T. Hamilton April 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm

There are probably others out there, but I would suggest a Creative Commons variant; there is the “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0” ( or “Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0” (, the difference comes down to your feelings on license lock-in. There are more restrictive licenses available as well, though these two permit remixing and changing but not for commercial purposes.


2 Marvin April 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm

I also think CC is good for sharing and creating.

I myself is running a similar website on astro-ph (on cosmology, actually), which allows the authors to choose the license. The default license I suggest to the authors is CC BY-NC-SA.

3 Hannah April 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm

The links to the Stellar Evolution course are broken! Can you fix that?


4 Jessica April 17, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Coincidentally, there is an interesting post about “GitHub for Education” at the Software Carpentry website. I think it is a very interesting concept to have education materials in some sort of repository that could be forked/branched and possibly re-merged, etc. Notably it allows you to track the evolution of the content.


5 Bill Wolf May 3, 2012 at 5:41 am

Jessica, it’s interesting that you mention this. I just finished a graduate course on stellar structure and evolution and TeXed up notes as a combination of in-class material as well as the professor’s extensive hand-written, but often less readable, notes.

I hosted the notes on GitHub (It seems they may be helpful here, too, since the current link is broken… I’ll check with the professor who taught the class to get his permission to share them here) and shared a link with the class. My hope was to have others read through the notes and add clarifying bits, figures, and typo corrections as we went along. It didn’t really catch on until a few days before the oral final, when one of the other classmates made a few commits. However, throughout the course, many of the students mentioned that they appreciated having them available, so I know they were being used.

I got the idea from an earlier graduate quantum mechanics class in which we were given no textbook and no notes, so the motivation to collaborate was a bit higher. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten good enough at TeXing that I can take decently detailed notes in real-time. Regardless, I think the idea of having students collaborate on these sorts of things in the absence of a professor’s available materials (or in this case, despite them) is a great way to check understanding as well as prepare for a future career as a teacher while also promoting in-class teamwork.

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