We discuss a set of fifteen new interactive, educational, online software modules developed by Harvard University graduate students to demonstrate various concepts related to astronomy and physics. Their achievement demonstrates that online software tools for education and outreach on specialized topics can be produced while simultaneously fulfilling project-based learning objectives. We describe a set of technologies suitable for module development and present in detail four examples of modules developed by the students. We offer recommendations for incorporating educational software development within a graduate curriculum and conclude by discussing the relevance of this novel approach to new online learning environments like edX.
The WorldWide Telescope Ambassadors Program (WWTA) is new outreach initiative run by researchers at Harvard University, WGBH, and Microsoft Research. WWT Ambassadors are astrophysically-literate volunteers who are trained to be experts in using WWT as teaching tool. Ambassadors and learners alike use WWT to create dynamic, interactive Tours of the Universe, which are shared in schools, public venues, and online. Ambassador-created Tours are being made freely available and will ultimately form a comprehensive learning resource for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
In this short talk, we will describe the results of a Pilot Study where volunteer Ambassadors helped sixth-graders use WWT during their six-week Astronomy unit. The results of the study compare learning outcomes for 80 students who participated in WWTA and 80 students who only used traditional learning materials. In the comparison, we find that, after the six-week unit: twice as many "WWT” as "non-WWT” students understand complex three dimensional orbital relationships; and tremendous gains are seen in student interest in science overall, astronomy in particular, and even in using "real” telescopes.
Plans for WWTA include expansion to five US sites within the coming year, and ultimately to an International Program. Online materials will ultimately be available through several sites (at WGBH, Harvard and Microsoft), and will be integrated with existing online curriculum programs such as WGBH's Teachers’ Domain and Microsoft's Partners in Learning. More inormation is presently available at www.cfa.harvard.edu/WWTAmbassadors/.
The ADS All-Sky Survey (ADSASS) is an ongoing effort aimed at turning the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), widely known for its unrivaled value as a literature resource for astronomers, into a data resource. The ADS is not a data repository per se, but it implicitly contains valuable holdings of astronomical data, in the form of images, tables and object references contained within articles. The objective of the ADSASS effort is to extract these data and make them discoverable and available through existing data viewers. The resulting ADSASS data layer promises to greatly enhance workflows and enable new research by tying astronomical literature and data assets into one resource.
sets, though, interactive exploratory data visualization can give far more insight than an approach where data processing
and statistical analysis are followed, rather than accompanied, by visualization. This paper attempts to charts a course
toward “linked view” systems, where multiple views of high-dimensional data sets update live as a researcher selects,
highlights, or otherwise manipulates, one of several open views. For example, imagine a researcher looking at a 3D volume
visualization of simulated or observed data, and simultaneously viewing statistical displays of the data set’s properties
(such as an x-y plot of temperature vs. velocity, or a histogram of vorticities). Then, imagine that when the researcher
selects an interesting group of points in any one of these displays, that the same points become a highlighted subset in
all other open displays. Selections can be graphical or algorithmic, and they can be combined, and saved. For tabular
(ASCII) data, this kind of analysis has long been possible, even though it has been under-used in Astronomy. The bigger
issue for Astronomy and several other “high-dimensional” fields is the need systems that allow full integration of images
and data cubes within a linked-view environment. The paper concludes its history and analysis of the present situation
with suggestions that look toward cooperatively-developed open-source modular software as a way to create an evolving,
flexible, high-dimensional, linked-view visualization environment useful in astrophysical research.
The WorldWide Telescope computer program, released to researchers
and the public as a free resource in 2008 by Microsoft Research, has changed the way
the ever-growing Universe of online astronomical data is viewed and understood. The
WWT program can be thought of as a scriptable, interactive, richly visual browser of
the multi-wavelength Sky as we see it from Earth, and of the Universe as we would
travel within it. In its web API format, WWT is being used as a service to display professional
research data. In its desktop format, WWT works in concert (thanks to SAMP
and other IVOA standards) with more traditional research applications such as ds9, Aladin
and TOPCAT. The WWT Ambassadors Program (founded in 2009) recruits and
trains astrophysically-literate volunteers (including retirees) who use WWT as a teaching
tool in online, classroom, and informal educational settings. Early quantitative
studies of WWTA indicate that student experiences with WWT enhance science learning
dramatically. Thanks to the wealth of data it can access, and the growing number
of services to which it connects, WWT is now a key linking technology in the Seamless
Astronomy environment we seek to oer researchers, teachers, and students alike.
About 50 participants came to a discussion on the benefits and potential obstacles of using astronomy visualization tools for education and public outreach (EPO). Representatives of five different EPO organizations shared information on their project goals and outcomes. Public users need support to learn how to use these programs effectively for education, but the efforts are worthwhile because the thrill that comes from working with real data and the natural beauty of astronomical imagery are great attractors for new science enthusiasts.
The VAO (Virtual Astronomical Observatory) Science Council (VAO-SC) met on July 27-28, 2011 at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge MA, to review the VAO performance during its first year of operations. In this meeting the VAO demonstrated the new tools for astronomers that are being released in September 2011 and presented plans for the second year of activities, resulting from studies conducted during the first year. This document contains the recommendations of the VAO-SC for the second year of activity of the VAO.
Abstract. We review an approach to observation-theory comparisons we call \Taste-Testing."
In this approach, synthetic observations are made of numerical simulations, and then both real
and synthetic observations are \tasted" (compared) using a variety of statistical tests. We rst
lay out arguments for bringing theory to observational space rather than observations to theory
space. Next, we explain that generating synthetic observations is only a step along the way to
the quantitative, statistical, taste tests that oer the most insight. We oer a set of examples
focused on polarimetry, scattering and emission by dust, and spectral-line mapping in starforming
regions. We conclude with a discussion of the connection between statistical tests used
to date and the physics we seek to understand. In particular, we suggest that the \lognormal"
nature of molecular clouds can be created by the interaction of many random processes, as can
the lognormal nature of the IMF, so that the fact that both the \Clump Mass Function" (CMF)
and IMF appear lognormal does not necessarily imply a direct relationship between them.
In the coming era of data-intensive science, it will be increasingly important to be able to seamlessly move between scientific results, the data analyzed in them, and the processes used to produce them. As observations, derived data products, publications, and object metadata are curated by different projects and archived in different locations, establishing the proper linkages between these resources and describing their relationships becomes an essential activity in their curation and preservation. In this paper we describe initial efforts to create a semantic knowledge base allowing easier integration and linking of the body of heterogeneous astronomical resources which we call the Virtual Observatory (VO). The ultimate goal of this effort is the creation of a semantic layer over existing resources, allowing applications to cross boundaries between archives. The proposed approach follows the current best practices in Semantic Computing and the architecture of the web, allowing the use of off-the-shelf technologies and providing a path for VO resources to become part of the global web of linked data.