Chabot College Astronomy & Physics Department

2009 Program Review for Astronomy & Geology


Scott Hildreth

April 2009





The Astronomy Program at Chabot includes two introductory 3-unit, no-prerequisite lecture classes and one introductory 1-unit lab.  Typically (6) lecture sections, and (2) evening lab sections, are offered each term and an additional 1-3 lecture sections offered over the summer.   Each of the full-time faculty in Astronomy and Physics usually teaches two astronomy lecture sections and one of the labs; two other lecture sections are routinely taught by emeritus/adjunct colleagues.  Two of the lecture sections are offered online.

The Geology Program at Chabot does not exist, other than the occasional offering of perhaps one lecture section of Geology 10 during the year taught in the past by one particular adjunct colleague.  This situation will be discussed in greater detail with the program review report.



Section A – Basic Discipline Data Review


I. Basic Success: Astronomy & Geology Classes

We asked a number of questions in our preliminary review of available data from Fall 2005 through Spring 2008, supplied by our Institutional Research team.  Their timely help was absolutely crucial to our efforts.  Our questions, and what we learned from the data, included:

1)      What are the enrollment and success rates of Astro and Geology students compared with overall enrollment and success for all of Chabot’s student populations?

Over the time span studied, Astro 10 success was 58%, non-success was 18%, and withdrawal was 24%; Astro 20 success was 53%, non-success 18%, and withdrawal 29%.   For the lecture classes as a whole, we averaged 56% success.  We show approximately a 10% lower success rate, and higher non-success and withdrawal rates, for Astronomy than for the College as a whole averaged from 2005-2007.[1] 

Students taking the astronomy classes during summers did show a better success rate than during the semesters, likely reflecting a higher percentage of university-bound or already at university students attempting to fulfill a last requirement before graduation. There did not seem to be an obvious trend in these data over the last 3 years, either increasing or decreasing in any category. (Appendix I.1.Success)

Success rates for Geology 10 are a bit lower over the last two years (averaging 47% successful), with slightly higher non-success results (averaging 35%) and lower withdrawal rates 17%.  Given that both Astro and Geo courses are taken by students looking to satisfy the same degree/transfer requirement, and both courses have no pre-requisites, the 10% difference in lower success and lower withdrawal rates in Geology, and higher non-success rates, more than likely reflects instructor differences, as we have only had one adjunct faculty teaching geology for the past 5 years.  (Appendix I.1.Geology)

The lower overall success rate for Astronomy did raise a flag for us.  Are students doing worse in Astronomy because it is a challenging science class, that includes concepts most students have not seen before?  Is Chabot’s astronomy program more difficult than others?  As part of the program review process, we also surveyed other community colleges in the Bay Area, requesting student success information about similar astronomy courses taught.  Data from this effort is slowly trickling in, with colleagues from Evergreen/San Jose City Colleges having responded, and data from College of Alameda and Los Medanos Colleges obtained online. Responses are still hoped from Contra Costa, Diablo Valley, Laney, Las Positas, Marin, Merritt, Mission, Ohlone, Peralta, SF City College, San Mateo, and West Valley.  The solicitation letter sent out in the beginning of February, 2009 is attached in the appendix.


Data from Evergreen College during 2001- 2006 indicates an overall success rate of 61% for students in Astronomy 10.  Data from San Jose City shows a bit higher percentage of success, about 65%, from 2001- 2006.  Alameda[2] offers only one astro class, with a success rate of about 55% reported from 2003-2005.  Los Medanos[3]  data combines all physics, astronomy, and engineering classes into one cohort, with an average success of 67%, which cannot be compared directly with our rates. El Camino College’s Astronomy Department program review for 2006 offers another data point for comparison, with a reported retention rate of 70% and success rate of 48%.[4]  El Camino’s instructors offered an opinion that their lower success rate in Astronomy might have been due to the rigor of their program. It is interesting that in the El Camino College report, a claim is made of overall statewide success rates for astronomy as being “65%”.  It will be interesting to investigate this claim further.


Although there certainly is quite a bit of variability in the data, it does appear that our success in Astronomy 10/20 is lower than that obtained in comparable classes at some other colleges in the area.  How much of this is related to how we are teaching, and how much might be due to a different demographic, is an area for further study.

Success in the Astronomy 30 Lab class is traditionally much higher than the lecture course.  We are looking forward to additional data from the Institutional Research Team to investigate this class, and how it might rank relative to other lab offerings in science.  Since Chabot offers the lab class separate from the lecture, while some other physical science classes include lab as a component, success for the lab alone will be harder to quantify.

2)      How does the success rate in Astro 10/20 or Geology 10 compare with the success rates in that same mix of alternatives available? Can we draw any conclusions about how Astro or Geo are doing as a discipline relative to others areas on campus offering the same transfer/degree completion opportunity?

Over the three-year span of data, Astronomy students are not succeeding quite as much as students in Bio 10 or Geography 1. (Average success ~56% for Astro, vs. 72% for Bio 10, and 63% for Geography 1).  (Appendix I.5.Success) 

If we assume the students are similarly prepared, the differences in these data could reflect:

- Difficulty of the material, as students coming to Astronomy have less familiarity with the subject matter (given   that only 1 of 5 or 6 high-school students take physics, but all take biology);

- Expectations of Instructors, including the fact that both full-time instructors require students to participate fully in the classes and take advantage of online teaching tools to enhance learning and student success – for those students willing to make the time to use them.

- Variation in the type of class offerings, as Astronomy continues to offer 2 fully online classes, making up one-third of the lecture course offerings, which traditionally have a larger withdrawal rate than comparable on-campus sections.)

We see Geography 1 apparently having a much smaller withdrawal rate, but a larger rate of students not passing the class.  This might be a result of approach (amount of homework, requirements for students to use the online Mastering Astronomy tools, expectations for participation) and/or a result of material or online delivery modes, with astronomy students opting to withdraw earlier in the term rather than stay and risk not passing. 

We see that online versions of Astronomy have a higher withdrawal rate compared with on-campus lecture classes.  We have investigated hybrid alternatives in the period since the last program review as one of our previous rocks, creating a telecourse version of the class with limited or optional on-campus meetings and less emphasis upon online lectures.  Enrollment in that section was significantly less than that in the online sections, and all but (3) students who apparently wanted a telecourse-only experience, with no online interaction, withdrew from the course, leaving it effectively an online section. 

From this we have learned that the age of the telecourse, with limited on-campus meetings and passive delivery of lecture through video, is over, at least for Astronomy.  The interactive online tools, the chance to ask and answer questions online with discussion tools, and the opportunities to deliver lecture material even more appropriate than canned videos, all speak to the power of the online learning model.

3)      What are the enrollment and success rates of Astro and Geology students in terms of English and Math courses?

For Astronomy, these data were strongly skewed towards students who had English 1A doing better in the class than students with English 101/102 level skills, and significantly better than students with no English coursework completed.  The data shows that students with English 1A level skills were almost twice as likely to succeed as students with no English coursework.  (Appendix I.2.English)

There was an even larger difference in Astro 20 in the success of students with English 1A or English 101/102, possibly reflecting that some of the concepts are more challenging in Astro 20 (including black holes and cosmology) and that there are typically 2-3 more chapters of reading required in that class.

For Geology, the results were similar, typically showing students with English 1A were more than twice as likely to succeed as students without English 101/102.

The 2-1 ratio for success of students with English 1A skills is not surprising, given the reading and research required in Astronomy, and the difficulty of terminology that non-science students are encountering for the first time.  Still, we are reticent to suggest that English 1A be a prerequisite for Astro 10 or 20, as that requirement is not in place at any other community college.  Incorporating it into Chabot’s catalog might significantly reduce enrollment.  Given that our student success rates in the class are similar to those in other science classes without an English prerequisite established, it does not seem wise to put Astronomy on a different plane.

Similarly, students who had taken at college-level Math showed that they did much better than students with Math 65 or 105 level skills, and were almost twice as likely to succeed as students with no Math courses. The similar success rate improvement for students with more mathematics is also not surprising given the many (astronomical!) numbers encountered in the subject.  Powers of ten notation is present throughout the textbook, and typically reviewed in the first week of the course.  Again, establishing a prerequisite of Math 65 or 55 for the course seems like it may adversely affect enrollment. (Appendix I.2.Math)

An important question to ask is, if the number of students attending Chabot with limited English and Math skills is increasing, then we should by these data expect a lower success rate over the next few years in our Astronomy/Geology program. This would point to a need for Astronomy faculty to stay abreast of and participate in Title III efforts addressing basic skills, reading proficiency, and basic math skills.

We plan to discuss these data, and the implications for enrollment vs. improved student success, with counseling faculty colleagues, our Dean, and the Program Review committee. 


4)      When do students take Astro during their tenure at Chabot?  Is there any way to tell whether students taking Astro 10 or 20 and succeeding do better in subsequent science classes?

It does appear that students who take Astronomy are taking our Astro 10/20 courses within their first two years at Chabot.  Data suggests 30% of the students are taking the class in their first year at Chabot, and about 2/3 of our astronomy students take it by the end of their second year. This conclusion is in line with the lack of prerequisites for the courses, and possibly the lack of advisories about English and/or Math skills suggested for success. 

Tracking whether students subsequently take more science classes, whether they do better in future science classes after completing Astronomy, or isolating whether what they learned in Astro in terms of the process of science might have helped them later, were not possible with our current data.  These are questions for future study. (Appendix I.3.Distribution)

5)      How does the number of students at Chabot taking Astro 10 or 20 or Geology 10 compare with those taking alternatives (Physics 11, Chemistry 10, Geography 1 or 8 for area B1; Anthropology 1, Bio, Environmental Science for area B2)

We assume the bulk of students taking our classes are doing so for the general education physical science requirement for CSU  (#101 GE, area B1) or IGETC (#129, area 5A).  This is supported by polls and student responses to in-class biography assignments.  More students at Chabot seem to take Geography 1 than Astronomy 10/20 (~2140 vs. 1790 over the last 3 years), and about the same number (1800) take Bio 10/50, providing a supporting data point for the number of students looking to make progress towards a non-scientific degree or transfer.  (Appendix I.4.Count)

Research Data indicated that Astronomy 10/20 was usually taken by about 25-35% of transfer or degree-bound students taking science classes from the set of Astronomy, Bio 10/50, Chem 10, Geography 1, and Physics 11.  Of these options, Geography 1 was taken the most, and then either Bio 10 or Astro 10/20. (Appendix I.4.Transfer)

6)      Is there a difference in students taking and succeeding in Astro or Geo by gender, ethnicity, age, GPA? Whether they transfer or not?

We looked at success rates for students in Astro 10 and 20 from Fall 2005 through Spring 20008, and Geo 10 from Spring 2006 and Spring 2007, and found:


For Gender, no obvious trends were apparent.  Some semesters showed more female than male students, but withdrawal rates and non-success rates did not seem correlated.  No obvious difference were noted between the classes, either – in other words, gender did not seem to play a factor in which of the two lecture classes were taken, nor in relative success between the classes. (Appendix I.6.Gender)


For Ethnicity, no obvious trends were apparent.  While African-American, Filipino, and Latino students did not succeed at the rates of Asian students or Caucasian students when averaged out over the entire span of 3 years, there were semesters where the success rates were equally high.  There did not seem to be any trend in success by ethnicity based on class (Astro 10 vs. Astro 20 vs. Geo 10).  (Appendix I.6.Ethnicity)


For Age, no obvious trends were apparent.    (Appendix I.6.Age)

For GPA, expected results were supported.  Students entering either class with GPAs under 1.0 did not succeed.  Students with GPAs between 1 and 2, were occasionally successful (perhaps ~33% of the time). Students with GPAs between 2 and 3 were successful about half the time (~50%).  Students with GPAs higher than 3 either succeeded  (about 90% of the time), or withdrew.  Only occasionally would such students end up unsuccessful. (Appendix I.6.GPA)

I. Basic Success: The Planetarium


One additional area not addressed with institutional research data is the impact of the Astronomy program, and in particular the planetarium, on our campus and surrounding community.  Each semester through Spring 2008, full-time faculty have hosted a very well attended community education evening event, Evening Under the Stars, where we offered the public a short planetarium program and then set up telescopes for viewing of planets, the Moon, and stars.  While these events do not typically attract an current Chabot students, we have found that many attendees went to Chabot ten, twenty, thirty, or even more years ago, and are bringing their young children and grandchildren. 

We routinely have used the planetarium venue for local school visits and special meetings on campus, notably hosting a book reading by a local author and adjunct faculty colleague in Spring, some webinars, and assorted video performances. One idea to consider for the future, once the planetarium  is rebuilt, is whether we can find creative ways to attract Chabot students to the facility, offering movies and shows that take advantage of the new technology.


Compared with planetariums at other community colleges, Chabot’s facility is much older, and requires more work on the part of staff to develop public shows. Although we take advantage of the room for all lecture classes, as well as for some physics classes, we don’t have the equipment or staff to open the facility after hours on weekends for the general public. This can change when the new facility is built, with a new digital projector and improved seating.  Taking advantage of the new facility will still require additional funds for staff help, but following the successful model of other community colleges offering public planetarium shows (including Los Medanos, West Valley, San Mateo, DVC, Delta College, Hartnell, and De Anza.)


II.  Course Sequence 

Neither Astronomy nor Geology offer course sequences that must be followed.  We did ask for data about student success when taking the lab class simultaneously with the lecture class, and when students take both lecture courses:


1)      How do students do in Astro 10 or 20 when they take the lab class, Astro 30, simultaneously, compared to students who do not take the lab?  (Students can take Astro 30 concurrently, or subsequently, but not before.)

Data from three semesters out of four strongly reinforced that students who take the Astro 30 lab concurrently with the lecture class succeed in that lecture class at a higher rate, typically averaging 15% higher.  We can use this result in our marketing of the lab class, and reinforce with our counseling colleagues that students should be encouraged to consider taking the lab at the same time that they take the lecture.  While we currently do not have the FTEF to offer additional lab sections of Astro 30, requesting additional FTEF for a third lab section might be warranted.  We would need to find an additional adjunct colleague willing to teach that class, though, as it is only offered in the evening, and both full-time faculty already teach at least one evening section of Astronomy, as well as offer additional evening viewing for the public.  (Appendix II.1.Lab)

An online lab section, however, would appear to be extremely desirable, and continued development of such a section, possibly utilizing robotic telescope access, is one of our curricular goals.

2)      How do students succeed in Astro 10 or 20 when they have already taken the other lecture course?  (What percentage of students take both?)

Data suggest less than 10% of the astronomy students take both Astro 10 and Astro 20. We are considering a curriculum change to reduce the number of units for students taking the second class in the sequence from 3 semester units to 2, given that some of the material is repeated.  (Appendix II.2.Both)



III. Course Review


Astronomy 10, 20, and 30 have current course outlines (10/2006), and all are taught each semester. 


Astronomy 1 (Introduction to Astrophysics) and Astronomy 50 (Constellations and the Night Sky) are both still in our catalog.  Neither has been offered in at least 10 years; the most recent course outline for Astro 1 is from 1993, and for Astro 50 from 1999. 

Because students need more math to take Astronomy 1, few experienced students remain at Chabot to take the class by they time they have the skills to succeed.  Few community colleges offer a comparable course now, reflective of the less advanced incoming mathematics skills of our student population.

Astronomy 50 was designed to capitalize on academic schedules that offered inter-sessions and other flexible time offerings.  Once Chabot’s planetarium is rebuilt, and its new digital planetarium projector is installed and integrated into the program, it might make sense to revisit this course.

Both courses can be moved to the suspended list, and removed from the catalog.




Geology 10 is taught perhaps once a year, sometimes in summer.  The most recent course outline for that class is from 1994, and this needs to be updated immediately.  We’ll work on this for the next curriculum cycle.


Geology 1A, 1B, 1C, 10L, and 21 are also in the Chabot College catalog, and none have been offered for at least 10 years.  They could be suspended and resurrected if and when the college decides to offer a more robust geology program.


Geology is not offered at Chabot on a routine basis because of many factors:


1)      Our subdivision CAH allocation for Astronomy, Geology, and Physics limits how many classes we can offer.   Because some physics classes are crucial in the calculus sequence, yet at best service perhaps 20 students (or sometimes less), we believe is important to generate as much WSCH from astronomy as possible.

2)      We can and do fill almost every astronomy class offered, and can take advantage of our wonderful multi-media planetarium theater that is a tremendous asset for our astronomy programs.

3)      Neither of the two full-time faculty are geologists.  We have only one known adjunct faculty colleague who has taught Astronomy for us.  Chabot’s only other full-time faculty member with experience teaching Geology now only teaches mathematics.


IV. Budget Summary


Astronomy has received approximately $1,000/year of supply money for the past 3 years, used to support the lab program, largely used for equipment like gas emission tubes, eyepieces, batteries, laser pointers, telescope parts, and software.  This amount is insufficient to pay for maintenance on broken equipment.  

We have funded acquisition of new telescopes in 2008 through Measure B Bond funds, which have infused the program with about $50,000 of new equipment to be used alongside the new planetarium.  This equipment will be put into use for the first time in 2009-2011.

Overall, Astronomy/Geology/Physics does not have the budget for a laboratory assistant who can help with lab setup, telescope maintenance, or lab storage organization. 

The Chabot College Planetarium received an annual maintenance allowance of $3,500 through 2007, but in expectation of the Measure B Bond construction for building 1900, that expense item was suspended in 2008, and will again not be needed in 2009.  However, when the new planetarium projector is installed and begins operation, Chabot will once again need to budget for and fund a maintenance agreement for whatever system is chosen, typically costing $2,500 – 4,000 a year (depending upon parts and service calls.)



V. Enrollment Data


Enrollment in Astro 10/20 lecture courses remains very strong; both online sections fill immediately upon opening, and the daytime sections usually have 55+ students wanting to join classes limited by the planetarium seating at 44.  To reach evening students, we’ve traditionally scheduled a one-night-per-week Astro class, usually taught by adjunct/emeritus faculty.  Enrollment in that section is usually a bit lower – approximately 35-40 students.  As shared earlier, an attempt in Spring 2008 to appeal to students who wanted a traditional telecourse experience, with limited meetings, was not successful, and we feel the online mode is a much better fit to the rich available material. 


It is important to note that in the past we were able to offer up to 7 lecture classes, on-campus, in Astronomy, filling the key popular time slots of 9-10:15 and 10:30 – 11:45 on both Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday.  Over the past two years, we’ve had to cut back and typically leave one or two of these popular time slots unfilled. With limited CAH allocation to the subdivision, and our commitment to support Chabot’s mission and our students by offering a complete physics sequence for engineering and science majors who transfer, we have had to reduce the number of astronomy lecture classes offered.  Even if the college is currently “over cap” and not in need of additional students, it is important to recognize that the Astronomy program provides a highly attractive, and very efficient, option for generating FTES – if we had a larger CAH allocation.






Enrollment in the Astro 30 lab class remains fair – we offer two evening classes each term, and both typically reach about 80% of capacity.  We know that students want additional lab opportunities, but they do not seem to want to attend in the evening.   In researching alternatives, we note that our colleague, Eric Harpell at Las Positas College, developed a hybrid lab, with online computer activities and limited on-campus observation sessions. 
While the flexibility of this approach may appeal tremendously to students, it will be important to ensure that an online experience for the lab will work with Chabot’s students.

Enrollment in Geology 10, when offered, has been almost as strong, with class sizes of at least 35-40 at the start of the term.  However, only one Geology class is typically scheduled each year, given the constraints of the overall CAH allocation for the entire subdivision of Astronomy/Geology/Physics.   While we could offer more Geology classes, it would be at the expense of offering astronomy classes, which would underutilize the planetarium, or at the expense of physics classes which are critical to meet the needs of engineering and biological science students. 

If we had a larger CAH allocation that could support at least one lecture and lab class each term of Geology 10/10L, and one lecture class a summer (totaling 13.5 CAH/year, or about 0.45 FTEF, we could at least offer a semblance of a program to Chabot students and the community.  It would seem that there could be demand for at least one more physical science lecture class offered, as in the past Chabot offered 7 astronomy lecture sections each term and filled them all. 

If additional CAH was made available, we would need to find additional capable adjunct faculty to teach these classes. 


VI. SLOs and Assessment


We identified one SLO for each astronomy lecture course in Autumn, tied to critical thinking and the ability of students to identify the process of science.  We carried out an assessment of that SLO in two sections (online and on-campus), and shared the results campus-wide in recent flex-day presentations.  We identified one SLO for the astronomy lab class, and will carry out that assessment this term.  We have not created SLOs for Geology.


We want to add SLOs for all courses, and have asked colleagues from around the Bay Area about the outcomes they have begun to build and assess.  We’ll add to our set of SLOs over this next review cycle


VII. Summary


Regarding our Astronomy/Geology curriculum in general, we need to:

  • Continue to investigate student success in Astronomy 10/20 lecture classes

  • Investigate student success in the Astronomy 30 lab class

  • Update the Geology 10 Course Outline

  • Establish SLOs for Geology 10

  • Continue to develop and assess SLOs for Astro 10/20/30

  • Recommend retirement for Astro 1, Astro 50, Geology 1A/B/C, 10L, and 21 from the college catalog.


Regarding the Geology Program in particular, we need to:


  • Explore whether enhancing the program is worthwhile, by temporarily adding CAH to the subdivision to support a consistent offering of at least one lecture and one lab class each term, and one lecture in summer. 

  • Recruit new adjunct faculty colleagues able to teach the required classes.

VIII. Planning for the Future




The largest issues facing the Astronomy program relate to facilities.  Both full-time faculty, as well as Dr. Billy Smith, Faculty Emeritus for our program, continue to participate actively in the Building 1900 construction project.  In addition, we have worked on plans for Building 1700 (housing the astronomy and physics labs) and Building 1600 (submitting design requirements and plans for a small roof-top observatory. 

In the near term, significant oversight will be required during construction of the new planetarium during 2009-2010.  Starting this year, we will see the beginning of the construction on building 1900.  We need to establish storage space for some of the equipment to be kept, and to participate actively with the contractor as the planetarium is gutted, and the ceiling panels are removed and cleaned.


As construction proceeds, we’ll need to help in the selection and setup of the facilities, and then with the installation and alignment of the new star projector.  This is a new digital projector, with computerized controls, and will require significant training time for our faculty.  If construction finishes by the end of 2009, we anticipate at least 6-12 months of development time required to install planetarium projection, sound, and video equipment. 


We could start on our preparation for the installation by attending user group meetings of the manufacturer chosen for the work (most likely Spitz). 

Alongside this work, we have to begin integrating new equipment purchased through Measure B Bond funds into the laboratory and public viewing experiences offered at Chabot.  Establishing a temporary site for the portable observatory, constructing that facility, and putting it into limited operation will take significant effort.



There are no real future plans for Geology at Chabot.  Unless we can fund additional CAH to explore adding Geology to the physical science course mix on a regular, consistent basis, it doesn’t make sense at this time to push for adding staff.  Given our current faculty (trained as astronomers and physicists, not geologists) and the significant work required to support the planetarium, build new facilities, and add to the lab experience for our students in astronomy and physics, spending time on enhancing the geology program is not our highest priority.




Section B.  “Rock” Inquiry Project Proposals


As illustrated by the institutional research data, our Astronomy program touches more than almost 600 Chabot students each year in both lecture and lab classes.  The overall success of our students, and our program, certainly can be associated with the dedication of faculty, but both are also related to the facilities Chabot offers to enhance the study of the subject.  And with the construction of the new planetarium in 1900, and possible renovation of buildings 1700 (and perhaps 1600), it is our facilities that will be the most affected over the next program review cycle.  It seems natural to focus on our facilities in this round of program review, as we will be spend most of our time and effort on these resources.

Our proposals include:


1)      Investigating the role of the Planetarium in Astronomy Instruction

2)      Investigating Improvements in Laboratory Facilities and Experiments in Astronomy

3)      Investigating the costs and benefits of enhancing our Geology program


Inquiry Project #1. Investigating the role of the Planetarium in Astronomy Instruction


We seek to develop a better understanding of the importance and impact of Chabot’s Planetarium upon student learning, success, and attitude, by studying the following questions:


  • How important is a planetarium to the teaching of astronomy? 
  • How important is learning the constellations to our students, and to their success?
  • Can the planetarium evolve to become an evening star, attracting students and the public to the campus on Fridays and Saturdays?

While the planetarium is out of service, we will be teaching our classes in “normal” lecture rooms, and without the wonderful audio-visual theater.  We’ll have to suspend teaching constellations as part of the curriculum.  However, we can use the one or two semesters to establish a baseline for student success without use of planetarium facilities. Then, in 2010 and beyond, as we incorporate the planetarium once more into the program, we can see if there is indeed a demonstrable impact on student success.  Additionally, we can look at the impact to the college of re-establishing an evening planetarium program, possibly staffed with students as part of a service learning course.  This approach has been used with success at a number of colleges and universities across the U.S.


Elements of the Planetarium Study Project:


  • Surveying students in Autumn 2009 classes about their expectations for learning at the start of the semester, and satisfaction with the experience at the end of the semester, to establish how the lecture classes taught without the planetarium are perceived.


  • Using Spring 2010 to survey students once again, either continuing without the planetarium, or, if construction is completed, using the planetarium for limited “field trips” to show constellations.


  • Surveying students in Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 when it is anticipated that all classes can be held once again in the planetarium.


  • Surveying members of the public who attend on-campus events in the new planetarium.

  • Investigating the development of a Service Learning aspect for lecture students interested in leading public shows to show the new facility.

  • Joining the planetarium user committee for the projector selected in the planetarium remodel, that we might learn from users already incorporating the chosen technology in their classes and public programs.   For example, in developing criteria for the new project, Chabot faculty visited Hartnell College to see their new small digital planetarium projector in action, and we learned how they use the system in their public programs.   

    We could attend planetarium events for other colleges that have public programs using our chosen projector system, as well as attend yearly user-group meetings, to further our knowledge here.

  • Investigating the costs and opportunities of promoting the planetarium more widely in the community for weekly or monthly shows, again by contacting planetarium professionals across the country at community colleges and seeing how those facilities are funded, staffed, promoted, and managed.




We would like to work with our Institutional Research team to design questionnaires that might help us in our efforts. We also will need to research how other planetarium facilities in use at colleges around the region and country are doing, and how we can incorporate successful models at Chabot.



Inquiry Project #2. Investigating Improvements in Laboratory Facilities and Experiments in Astronomy


We seek to develop a better understanding of the importance and impact of Chabot’s astronomy laboratory program facilities upon student learning, success, and attitude, by studying the following questions:


  • How important might authentic live telescope viewing experiences impact students and the public? 
  • How can the Astronomy Program lecture and lab curriculum be changed to take advantage of new facilities? 
  • How can we increase the number of lab exercises that actually involve doing science, rather than just simulating experiments?  How will these exercises impact student learning?
  • How might the opportunity to take real data be leveraged to attract students to Chabot, by arranging for visits from local High School and Middle School science classes and clubs?



Elements of the Lab Facilities Project Investigation:


a)      Establishing a Small Optical Telescope Observatory


With measure B funds, we were also able to purchase a 12” telescope, astrophotography camera, and a small observatory dome.  It was originally hoped to install the dome atop building 1700 as part of the bond reconstruction, and when that proved infeasible, as part of a state-funded BCP renovation for building 1600. With changes in bond funds, and challenges in state funding, it does not appear that we will be able to site the dome on any building in the near future.  We hope to establish a viable temporary site that is accessible, secure, and as away from other lights as possible, and have begun exploring the possibility of using space within one of the Building 2000 courtyards to site a small platform.  It will be severely limited in the portion of the sky we can observe, but will get us started. 


Once the observatory is established, we can investigate the impact of actually doing science with hands-on projects where students can acquire live data through a telescope, and of directly viewing objects rather than seeing static images taken from other facilities.  And we hope to build a case for relocating the observatory to a more suitable location, either on a higher platform in the same area, or atop a building like 1700 or 1600 that is to be remodeled.


b) Establishing a Small Radio Telescope Site


Along with the optical telescope, we have acquired a small used radio telescope system suitable for making measurements of the radio energy emitted by the Sun and Jupiter.  This also needs a secure site for installation.  And as part of a project with Stanford University, we have a solar flare antenna that also needs installation, and coordination with sharing data received and analyzing that data for results. 



The Radio telescopes do not need to be attended, and once installed can collect signals and relay their data electronically.  The best locations would be roof-top somewhere on campus. 


As with the small optical observatory, the radio telescopes provide chances to enhance curriculum as well as directly touch the student experience with hands-on science.  Both projects offer a chance to provide authentic lab experiences to our students.  And both projects will require extensive consultation with experts who already have integrated similar equipment into their programs. 




      We can look at a number of ways to assess the impact on student learning, including:


1)      How many labs are created using the new equipment.

2)      Direct surveys of the students performing actual science vs. simulated science.

3)      Using the photos and data in publicity campaigns to call attention to the opportunities offered at Chabot, and looking at enrollment growth or evidence of increased interest through phone or email inquiries.




Inquiry Project #3. Investigating the costs and benefits of enhancing our Geology program


We seek to develop a better understanding of the benefits and costs of adding full- or part-time faculty to teach Geology on a more regular basis.  While we do not have significant time to explore this question in 2009-2011 while the planetarium is built, we can use that window of time to look at how many Geology classes are offered at nearby institutions, relative to other science classes. 


Elements of the Geology Program Project Investigation:


a)      Survey other colleges for the number of Geology classes, attendance, breadth of offerings, faculty skills, lab facilities, and other pertinent information regarding geology programs.

b)      Discuss with our Geography colleagues in Social Science how much geology is being incorporated as a physical science.

c)      Look for opportunities to create Earth-Science classes that meet the demand  for this subject and perhaps would boost interest in and enrollment in follow-on geology classes.

d)      Look at creating full-time faculty positions for creation of a Geology program.




Project enrollment opportunities and FTEF costs for enhancing the geology program, and decide what additional questions must be answered before recommending additional classes or staff be hired.



Note out to colleagues around the Bay Area regarding input into Program Review


Dear [Colleagues]


My name is Scott Hildreth; I teach Astronomy & Physics at Chabot College in Hayward, along with my fellow faculty member, Tim Dave. 


Every few years Chabot College we are asked to do a Program Review, where we look critically at what we do, whether we are successful, and what we might do to improve student success, retention, community impact, etc.  This process always involves comparing student success/failure/withdrawal rates with comparable courses on campus.  But I’m wondering how colleagues around the area are doing with their introductory astronomy students, too – and what we might learn from all of you that seems to be working well.


And so with this note I’d like to ask for your help, and in return offer any help I might be able to provide if that would be of use to you, too.  Specifically:


1) If possible, and if it doesn’t require a lot, might I ask you if you could share your own student success and retention data, in whatever format is conveniently available?   (Chabot defines “success” as receiving grades A, B, C, or Credit; grades D, F, or No Credit are deemed non-successful.) 


2) At Chabot, our introductory Astronomy courses account for perhaps 45% of students seeking transferrable physical science lecture credit (with others taking Geography, Chemistry, Geology, or Physics).  Is this in line with what you see at your school?


3) One of our challenges as a department is providing an authentic, relevant astronomy lab experience suitable for our non-major students.  As may be the case for some of you, light pollution severely Chabot’s limits our evening campus viewing.  We haven’t yet begun to take advantage of robotic telescope opportunities for our lab students.  Is this something that you or your colleagues have explored?


4) Perhaps also like some of you, we are asked to develop student learning outcomes (SLO’s) for our courses.  We’ve begun to do so, and I’d be interested in seeing what you might have developed, as well as be happy to share those we are working on.  (I’ve also talked about this with Andy Fraknoi at Foothill College, who is also canvassing the Bay Area’s Community College Astronomy Faculty, and who is great at sending out broadcast emails to colleagues near and far.  You might already have been talking with him on this issue.)


Even if you might not be able to help with any of the above, and are yourself already buried by paperwork and student papers, drop me a note if you can and perhaps we can connect later.  For whatever help you can provide, I offer you in advance my thanks and sincere regards,


Scott Hildreth





[1] Course Success and Withdrawal Rates by Course and Students, Fall 1995-Fall 2007. Chabot College Office of Institutional Research.

[2] Tsai, Patty. Physics/Astronomy Unit Plan. Peralta College District. 3/12/08. Accessed 3/1/09 from

[3] Los Medanos Program Review Data for Physical Science/Physics/Engineering. Office of Institutional Research. August 2006. Accessed 3/1/09 from

[4]Astronomy Program Review. El Camino College. 2006. Accessed 3/1/09 from