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Tshiamiso Makwela – Astronomy Education Research: towards teaching for diversity and inclusivity in South Africa
Apr 15 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Thursday 15 April 2021
Tshiamiso Makwela (UCT)
Astronomy Education Research: towards teaching for diversity and inclusivity in South Africa
South Africa has chosen Astronomy as one of its flagship sciences exploiting the geographical advantage of the southern skies. However, professional Astronomy is not well known amongst the general population and often first generation/ non-traditional university students are attracted to the field by the awe and wonder factor or by the promise of a career. Studying to become an astronomer involves mastering much physics and mathematics in the first instance coupled with astronomy concepts which on the surface appear beguilingly simple but in fact are hard to fully understand. This often leads to under-achievement which impacts on initiatives to transform Astronomy into a discipline that can claim to be diverse and inclusive. As part of initiatives to construct curricula that allow meaningful participation for all, an educational research programme was established to identify such difficulties. This lead to the Introductory Astronomy Questionnaire, which probed student engagement with regard to the key concepts within the introductory astronomy curriculum. One of the key findings was that students have difficulties with the notion of astronomical scales in the course overall. My research probes the nature of this difficulty at a fine-grained level, in particular looking into how students conceive of astronomical distances which are beyond immediate human comprehension. Based on the current experimental findings that can be explained by an “embodied cognition” framework, learning activities were piloted that appear to have had a measure of success.