Recent advances in our understanding of the Universe have revolutionized our view of its structure, composition and evolution. However, these new ideas have not necessarily been used to improve the teaching of introductory astronomy students. In this project, we have conducted research into student understanding of cosmological ideas so as to develop effective web-based tools to teach basic concepts important to modern cosmology. The tools are intended for use at the introductory college level.
Our research uses several instruments, including open-ended and multiple choice surveys conducted at multiple institutions, as well as interviews and course artifacts at one institution, to ascertain what students know regarding modern cosmological ideas, what common misunderstandings and misconceptions they entertain, and what sorts of materials can most effectively overcome student difficulties in learning this material. These data are being used to create a suite of interactive, web-based tutorials that address the major ideas in cosmology using real data. Having students engage with real data is a powerful means to help students overcome certain misconceptions. Students master the scientific concepts and reasoning processes that lead to our current understanding of the universe through interactive tasks, prediction and reflection, experimentation, and model building.