Instructors Information

So you're asking "How would I use this for a class?" I know I ought to have some well-assured party-line answer, but I don't. I'm not sure of the best way to use the javalab in class -- I've tried different things, and some worked and some haven't. Realize that these applets are being brought online continuously, and not all have been tried in the class.

But here's the way I think they ought to be handled: They are not meant to be used in a vacuum -- don't just hand the student the web address and say "do it."


One of the main things I am trying to get across in these javalabs is that often there is no single right answer to a question. Instead, I want the student to muddle around a bit and see where the problem is well defined and where it isn't. The questions in the lab reflect this approach.

In GalCrash, for instance, I ask the students to make models of real galaxies. Actually, the problem is quite degenerate; many different solutions can all reproduce reality. This result itself is important! But students -- particularly beginning students -- often don't appreciate this (both figuratively and literally), so they need some guidance from the instructor about what pitfalls they might encounter, or how they might focus their exercises on pertinent points.

So do the labs yourself first. Teach the students the background, and then point them at the javalab "Background" sections for reinforcement. Give them some guidance on the labs, but not TOO much -- that's the point of the javalab, for them to experiment and try things. But some of the labs are intentionally open-ended, so if they start banging their heads on the wall, step in.

Realize also that the audience for the different javalabs varies. Moons is appropriate for beginning students, while SOS is more for upper level astrophysics undergrads or even grad students. GalCrash has material that can be -- and should be -- used in non-science survey courses, but some of it is definitely for more advanced students. Don't point the intro non-science majors at it and blindly ask them to "do the labs"...

If you use the labs, either as student exercises or as demonstrations, I'd appreciate hearing about it. How did you use it? What did you find useful? What was confusing? Any suggestions for improvement? I find this information helpful, and my funding agencies want to know if they're funding something useful, so I really need to know!

Good luck, and I hope to hear from you.

Chris Mihos
mihos AT case DOT edu