OnlineAstronomy 161 (Fall Semester, 2002)

Dr. Mike Guidry, 602 Nielsen Physics Building, University of Tennessee-Knoxville
(EMAIL:     PHONE: 865-974-7810)
FFICE HOURS: 2:00-3:00 pm Tuesday/Thursday, 10:00-11:00 am Monday, and by appointment

Welcome to OnlineAstronomy 161. I think you are going to like this course. We are going to learn about astronomy (and about how to use the World Wide Web for many useful purposes), and we are going to do it without you having to sit in a single lecture! This is a web-delivered, completely online course and its central theme is to learn astronomy using interactive animation. The "textbook" for the course isnít a textbook in the traditional sense at all. It is a completely electronic syllabus built around 350 interactive animations called Online Journey through Astronomy (OJTA). But it has everything that you need to learn astronomy: clear text descriptions, informative and often beautiful images, interactive animation that will teach you astronomy in a way that no static textbook can, and online quizzing to test your understanding. And itís also just plain fun!

Registration for Online Journey through Astronomy

In order to access the material for this course you must first register on the Online Journey through Astronomy website. You may do so by logging onto the World Wide Web with any more recent version of Netscape or Internet Explorer web browsers and following the stepwise instructions that are given under the Registration button at the web address

You will need the PIN number that should be enclosed with the astronomy material that you obtained by purchase at the bookstore. This PIN number gives you initial access to the registration process. You will choose a username and password and that username and password will then be used for all subsequent accesses to the syllabus during the semester. Remember the username and password that you choose in the registration! The PIN number is used only to register. After registration, all access is through your username and password.

Each Student Must Have a Unique Username and Password

Sharing of usernames and passwords is not permitted. Each student must have a unique username and password because the electronic recording of grades will be according to username and password. Thus each enrolled student must purchase a separate PIN number through the bookstore and use that PIN number to set up a unique username and password. This password should be valid for both semesters of Astronomy 161-162.

Just So You Will Know . . .

Online Journey through Astronomy is a commercial product marketed internationally by Brooks/Cole publishers. The authors are UT professors, including your instructor, Dr. Guidry. The authors receive royalties on sales of Online Journey through Astronomy, but we voluntarily (because weíre Volunteers!) donate all royalties from sales to UT students to a Physics and Astronomy Department fund for the improvement of astronomy instruction. Thus, we do not profit personally from our requiring that UT students purchase the textbook that we have written.

Online Lectures

There are no formal lectures for this course. The only class meetings that you are required to attend are the first day orientation, the midterm test, and the final test (and 6 laboratory sessions that will be described below). The material that would normally be presented in lecture will instead be your responsibility to assimilate from the online syllabus at Your detailed weekly assignments will be given later.

Be warned however. "No formal lectures" does not mean that you can relax for the rest of the semester. On the contrary, the structure of this course is such that you must keep up with the material on a weekly basis. If you donít do that, you are going to have difficulty learning the material and large parts of your grade will depend on work that must be done on a weekly schedule.

Astronomy 161 Newsgroup

We will place strong emphasis on electronic communication (email and newsgroup discussions will be the primary modes of communication), but there will also be ample opportunity for more traditional communication through professor and lab instructor office hours, laboratory sessions, scheduled optional help sessions, and the help desk described below.

A central means of communication for the class will be the class newsgroup, which can be accessed at the address . The newsgroup is your friend. Get used to using it to post questions and comments, and to learn from the questions and comments posted by others. It plays the role of in-class discussion in a regular lecture course and also the role of class bulletin board for announcements. You are expected to check the newsgroup daily; if you do not monitor it closely, you will miss important information and important class announcements.

Rules for Newsgroup Usage

Restrict usage of the newsgroup to topics associated with Astronomy 161. It is legitimate to post a message asking why light canít escape black holes or asking if anyone wants to get together to study astronomy. It is not legitimate to post a message about two extra tickets for the ĎBama game or asking whether anybody wants to go get wings at Spicyís. Student participation in the newsgroup is expected to conform to reasonable standards of civil behavior. You may disagree with the opinions of others, but you are to be kind to others in your postings. All newsgroup postings must contain the name and email address of the author. Violation of newsgroup rules will constitute grounds for discipline. Serious infractions may lead to dismissal from the course with a failing grade and report of the conduct to the University. Examples of behavior that will not be tolerated: inappropriate comments to or about others or posting under a fictitious name or email address.

Email or Newsgroup?

You have two choices for electronic communication: email, or newsgroup. Which should you use? It depends on the nature of what you have to say. If it is a general astronomy question or comment that various people might respond to, it probably should be posted to the newsgroup. If it is something directly concerning you but probably not others in the class, email to the instructor or your teaching assistant or another student is probably more appropriate. If it is a private matter (for example, a complaint about someone, or a question about grades) email is clearly more appropriate.

HOWEVER, be fully aware that you should never view email as truly private communication. Unless it is encrypted, it is not hard for your email to be intercepted and read by someone wishing to do so, and the University views emails sent through the University email system as matters of public record, should legal issues arise concerning an employee or student. My advice: view email to trusted persons as reasonably secure, but assume that with every email message there is an outside chance that it could be read by others.

Read the FAQs

The class newsgroup has a link to a file of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). It is highly inefficient to ask questions in a newsgroup that have already been asked and answered frequently. It is your responsibility in posting questions to the newsgroup to be sure that the question is not already answered in the FAQs. Check the FAQs before posting, both to avoid wasting the time of participants in the class, and because the FAQs are very useful to you as an astronomy student precisely because they address the most common questions. Repeated posting of questions already answered in the newsgroup indicates that you are not paying attention and may adversely influence your laboratory participation grade.

Help Sessions

At various times during the semester, the instructor or teaching assistants will conduct optional help sessions for those students who wish to attend. Help sessions will be announced through the class newsgroup, but we will only schedule such sessions if a significant number of students participates.

Biweekly Online Quizzes

Approximately every two weeks you will be required to take a short (5-10 question) multiple-choice quiz over the material from the online lectures for the preceding two weeks. These quizzes will be taken and scored online and you will receive your score immediately at the end of the quiz. The detailed schedule given later for the semester gives the weeks and the chapters covered for each of these quizzes. These quizzes must be taken in a designated proctored location in one of the proctored time periods given in the schedule. To take a quiz you must present a valid student ID to the proctor for the quiz. You may use the online tutorial quizzes accessible through the Online Journey through Astronomy interface to test your readiness for these exams. Typically 80% of the questions on these exams will be taken (perhaps in modified form) from the database for the online tutorial quizzes. So use the online tutorial quizzes to prepare for the online graded quizzes, but use them to learn, not to memorize answers. If you memorize answers and donít actually learn the astronomy, you may do reasonably well on the online quizzes (which comprise 35% of your grade), but you are likely to fail miserably on the midterm and final exams (which comprise 40% of your grade).

When and Where?

You may choose when and where to take each online quiz. Since you have an entire week in which to take each quiz, only in exceptional circumstances (for example, documented abduction by aliens for a period exceeding a week) will a makeup be considered for any online quiz. Although you may choose when to take the quiz during the assigned week, if you wait until the last minute you may be unable to obtain a seat in the computer lab to take the quiz during the allocated period. If so, you must take the quiz at a later period. If there is no later proctored period allocated for the week, you will receive a zero for that quiz. Generally, if you have not taken a required biweekly online quiz by the end of the time periods allocated for it, you will receive a zero for that quiz. You are university students. It is your responsibility to schedule your time accordingly. Your score on the biweekly quizzes will comprise 35% of your grade.

A preliminary schedule for proctored labs where biweekly online quizzes may be taken is given below. This schedule is subject to modification through notices in the newsgroup. It is the responsibility of each student to monitor the newsgroup for such notices. Generally, you must present your ID to the proctor, sign a sign-in sheet, and take the exam using an available computer in the lab. You may use no books, notes, or other written or verbal help in the exam. Do not expect the proctor to answer any questions about astronomy. You should print the final screen summarizing your score and have the proctor initial it before leaving. This will serve as your record should any question arise later concerning the electronically recorded score. If a proctor is not present at an assigned time in a lab, you should contact the OnlineAstronomy help desk.

Proctored Locations for Biweekly Online Exams*

Laboratory Location

Times for Biweekly Proctored Exams

Nielsen Physics 203

11am - 12pm Wednesday,
3:30 - 6 pm Wednesday,
11am - 12pm Thursday,
3:30 - 6 pm Thursday,
10:30 - 12:30 pm Friday

*Only for weeks in which biweekly online quizzes are being given; schedule subject to modification by newsgroup notices.

Midterm and Final Exams

There will be two examinations given during the semester that will not be online, a midterm exam and a final exam. They will be pen and paper exams given in the classroom. These two exams, and the initial class period, are the only times that you are required to come to the lecture portion of the course during the semester. Unlike the online quizzes, which will cover only material from the previous two weeks and will be multiple-choice exams, the midterm and final exams will have a variety of question types, including possible multiple-choice, fill-in, and essay questions. As for the online quizzes, you must have a valid student ID in your possession to take these examinations. The midterm exam will cover Chapters 1-8. The final exam will cover Chapters 9-16. Each of these exams contributes 20% to your final average. Makeups for midterm and final exams will be given only for documented valid excuses. You donít want to take a makeup if you can help it. They will be essay exams, and probably harder than the original exams.


This is a laboratory course and 25% of your final grade will be determined by your performance in lab. The details of the laboratory syllabus will be covered separately, but you will be required to complete 5 "real" laboratories that involve going to the astronomy lab (Nielsen Physics 507) at the time assigned for your section and carrying out exercises under the direction of a lab instructor, and 5 online "virtual" labs, which can be done at your leisure during the assigned week and need not be completed in a proctored environment (they can be completed in your dormitory room, for example, if you have an internet connection). For each virtual lab you will be required to turn in a worksheet at the next real lab, and at the beginning of the next real lab you will take a short quiz over the material in the virtual lab. Virtual labs will be available on the web at .

Your grade in lab will be determined by your performance in the real and virtual experiments, by the quizzes for the virtual labs, by a final comprehensive lab test that covers both the real and virtual exercises, and by a grade assigned by your lab instructor for level and quality of participation in the lab and newsgroup. The breakdown of the lab grade is as follows:

Lab reports for real labs
Lab reports for virtual labs
Quizzes for virtual labs
Final lab exam
Class participation

As noted above, no student will receive a passing grade for the course unless all aspects of the lab have been completed.

Assignment of Final Grades

Your final grade for the course will be computed from the following contributions:

Biweekly Quizzes
Midterm Exam
Final Exam

Grading will be on a 10-point scale (90-100 an A and so on) unless a curve seems warranted after review of final averages. Possible assigned grades are A, B+, B, C+, C, D, F, W, or I. A W may be assigned by the University in accordance with University rules concerning withdrawals. An I will be considered only for cases where a student has a legitimate excuse for not completing all work and has a passing average on work that is complete. This is a laboratory course; in no case will a passing grade be assigned if the lab is not complete. Failure to complete lab will normally lead to an F, unless the student has legitimate reasons for not having completed the lab and has a passing average in both lecture and lab for work completed. In this case an I may be assigned.

Optional Extra Credit Project I

Students have the option of an extra credit project that can add up to 5 points to your final average. The extra credit project consists of constructing and maintaining your own personal astronomy website during the course of the semester. This is not hard to do, and instructions may be found in the Student Webpages link from the class homepage telling you how to proceed. Grading for your optional extra credit project will be done online: you must email to the instructor ( by the last day of class the full web address of your website. The instructor will then view it online and assign an extra-credit grade based on quality and originality.

Optional Extra Credit Project II

Students also have the option of obtaining extra credit by participating in extra credit observing sessions run by Paul Lewis. Schedules will be posted during the semester. Students may participate in more than one session. Observation reports should be handed in to your lab instructors. The maximum number of extra-credit points that can be earned for observing is 5 for the semester (added to the final average). You may do both project I and project II, if you choose.

Summary of Important Addresses

Class HomePage:

Online lectures: (choose 2-semester course)

Virtual Labs:

Class Newsgroup:

Email to Teacher:

Research Assistants' Email Addresses:
John Meyer:
Eric Lingerfelt:

Teaching Assistants' Email Addresses:
James Rasnake:
Kevin Williams:
Leo Nugent:
Reuben D. Budiardja: