Frequently Asked Questions in Astronomy Distance Education

by Eric W. Harpell

Please read over the Course Information Page for your class on the course menu blackboard. In addition, the following questions and answers should prove helpful.

1. Do I need to purchase the "official" textbook? Do I have to get it from the bookstore at Las Positas College?

Yes, you need it. For Astronomy 10, we are using the 5th edition of the Cosmic Perspective: The Solar System by Bennett, and for Astronomy 20, we are using 5th edition of the Cosmic Perspective: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology by Bennett (see course information for more details). A new version of the text contains an access code to the Mastering Astronomy Website. If you buy a used book, you can purchase an access code on line for Mastering Astronomy for $27 (subject to change, of course). See below for more mastering astronomy info. If you are delayed in purchasing the text, you can get most of the same information from a number of similar texts in introductory astronomy, available from your local library, LPC learning resource center, and even over the Internet (try google: from stargazers to starships). Trying to succeed in the class without the text for a long period will prove frustrating for most people, however. The version of the text that is available at the LPC bookstore includes two CD's--Voyager Sky Gazer, a home planetarium program, which is used Astronomy 30, and an electronic version of the book.

2. Can I use the 4th edition? Many students ask if they can get by with the 4th edition since it is available very cheaply on-line...... The answer is: it is up to you after you read this: About 90% of the info is the same, but the chapters are arranged differently order, and it doesn't come with an access code to mastering astronomy-- your instructor is not going to patiently answer questions about where to find the info in the 4rd edition. That is your job...using the discussion area in Blackboard might help. You will also have to pay $27 for access to the Mastering Astronomy site for the 5th edition.

2. Do I need to access the Mastering Astronomy Website? How do I do it? What do I do if it didn't come with my textbook? Can I share access codes with another student to save money?

Mastering Astronomy is a website created by the publisher of your textbook (Person Higher Education). If you purchased a new book, you will have an access code for Mastering Astronomy in an insert. Once you register using this code you will have access to and Mastering Astronomy ( There is section in the course info page on Getting Started with Mastering Astronomy. Please read it. You can also check out this link to Using Mastering Astronomy. Although using the site is easy, getting credit for your assignments can be a bit tricky at first. In particular, you will need to join the class using the class I.D. given in the course info page. Note that Mastering Astronomy Assignments are worth about 1/5 of your total points in the class..thats two letter grades! Unfortunately, you must have your own access code, even if your family member or good friend is also in the class. Each semester one or two students do not pass the class simply because they didn't submit Mastering Astronomy assignments. Please don't be one of them.

3. Do I have to use the discussion area? How do I get points for using it?

Yes, about 8% of the points in the class are for using the discussion area. At the end of the class, the instructor will review all of your posts. About 12 good posts will earn full credit, though more posts are recommended. Your grade is at the instructors discretion depending on the quality of your posts. See "rubrics for using the discussion area" in the course information page. There are three purposes to the discussion are: Getting and giving help on quizzes in Blackboard, Getting and giving help on course assignments, and sharing interesting information in astronomy that will also be of use in course projects. Students who use the discussion board tend to do at least one letter grade better than students who do not.

4. What I do if a Quiz or Assignment is not available in Blackboard?

Stay calm, think of pleasant things, and e-mail your instructor. You may have missed a deadline, or there may be a glitch. After the deadline given in the class schedule, you can still complete all quizzes and assignments. Note however, that if the problem is due to instructor error, or a problem with a Las Positas or Mastering Astronomy Server, you will not be penalized. Computer problems on your end, unfortunately, are your please don't wait till the last minute!

5. What happens if I miss a deadline for a quiz or assignment? What about the Final Exam?

You should find a "late submissions" version of the quiz available in the quizzes and exams area in Blackboard. Late Quizzes and assignments can be submitted till the "everything due deadline" for reduced credit (10%). You cannot take the final exam late. See the class schedule for deadlines.

6. Do I have to complete the Mastering Astronomy Assignments by a certain time?

Yes, you need to complete approximately half of the required Assignments by the due date. Late assignments will be worth 90% of the maximum points. See the class class schedule for a listed of required Mastering Astronomy Assignments and the schedule for taking them. Note that you can turn in a portion of an assignment prior to the due date, and a portion after--only the late portion will be subject to the late penalty.

7. How are Mastering Astronomy Assignments graded?

They are automatically graded once you submit the assignment. At the end of the semester, you grade will be inflated by 10% up to the maximum possible points. In other words, your final score will be multiplied by 1.1
You will not be given more than the maximum possible points for Mastering Astronomy.

8. I'm not doing well in the class. How can I improve my grade?

If you are not doing well, consider whether you are putting in sufficient time and taking advantage of the required and recommended resources in the class. Reading the text is not enough. This may work in a lecture course, but you are not taking a traditional on campus class. You should also be and checking out the lectures and links site prior to beginning a quiz. Some questions are drawn directly from the class lectures listed there. Also remember that the quizzes are not timed ..there is absolutely no reason for you to take them at one sitting ...consider printing them out and working on and off line until the due date. These quizzes could be better entitled "directed independent research assignment," meaning that the answers will not all be obvious until you do some research in your text, lectures, and on-line.. Remember that you are expected to check out the discussion board for each quiz to get advice for specific quiz questions. Also, don' t forget that your instructor is willing and ready to answer your questions. If you don't ask, you can't get an answer. No reason to be shy over e-mail!

9. I don't have the time to put in for this class. Should I drop? Does it happen automatically, or do I have to contact the admissions and records office at Las Positas College?

Things come up ...sometimes you need to fight through it, and sometimes you need to pick your battles. The short answer is: Astronomy is optional...if you aren't interested in the material, and don't see your schedule opening in the near future, then dropping the course is a wise move. It is offered each and every semester, and usually in the summer as well. However, you need to drop the class yourself! Contact admissions and records though Class Web or in person to drop the class. To find the last day to drop with a No Grade of Record, or a W, check the academic calendar found on the Las Positas Home Page ( If you do not drop but stop attending the class, don't be surprised to see a "F" on your transcripts! Remember, that after the deadline for a "W" in the class, you cannot drop--verifiable medical emergencies excepted.

10. How do I get in touch with my instructor? How does the instructor get in touch with me?

The best way is via email ( You will also be receiving many email reminders during the semester from your instructor. However, it is vital that you make sure that the correct email is listed for you in Blackboard. Go to Tools and Grades and then Edit Personal Information and make sure the correct e-mail is listed there. You can even test it by going to the email and discussion button, then send email, then select users, check your name from the list and send yourself a nice message! Students without correct email addresses are in danger of getting dropped from the class.