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Student and tutor module reviews

Astrophysics

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: S382
  • Level: 3
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Student reviews

I loved the books and the activities. The forums were well attended and the moderators were helpful. The past papers were useful, as were the TMAs and CMAs. Practice CMAs were provided for revision. Overall I enjoyed the course and did better than expected.

I hated the project, as seemingly did the rest of the group. The group lacked cohesion and was really just individuals doing their own thing. Still, our group mark was reasonable.

I also found some of the tutorials so dull I fell asleep during them. Some tutors presented really well, some didn't.

Regarding the maths - I ended up just ignoring all the derivations, pages & pages of equations that I couldn't follow. They say inability to cope with the maths is the main reason people drop out. In the end there was little maths that was beyond me in the exam & I did really well.

Course starting: October 2015

Review posted: September 2016

S382 is an excellent choice for those interested in astronomy and physics. The module comprises of two books and a project. Although the books are quite modest in size they are very detailed in their discussion of stellar evolution and transiting exoplanets. Both books are mathematical in content although the level of mathematics required is not too demanding. If you are comfortable with trigonometry, logarithms and calculus you should have no issue with the course material here. In addition it would be advisable to have studied astronomy and physics at level 2.

While studying this module you have to complete at least 8 out of the 10 available assessments. These assessments are for learning purposes only and do not contribute to your module result. The tutor support was excellent and there are many online tutorials provided to help with learning at key stages during course study.

For me the most interesting part was the project and you can choose either SDSS or PIRATE. Over a period of 11 weeks you work with a small team of around ten students and produce a piece of scientific writing presented on a Wiki. In addition you submit your own contribution to the project as a document for examination. The project is quite demanding on time and you may need to spend more time on the project than at any point during the module. A good internet connection is necessary and the project contributes to 33% of the final module result.

The exam was as expected for science at level 3 and covers only the material discussed within the two books. I did find the 3 hours allowed for the exam was barely enough time to answer all of the required questions, so it is important to keep an eye on the clock while working through the exam paper. The exam contributes to 67% of the final module result.

Overall S382 is an interesting and challenging module which I highly recommend.

Ian Jebb

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

This course comes full of promise and it is easy to be taken in by the excitement of the cutting edge subject, but this belies the real challenges of S382.

Split into 3 parts the course delivers new challenges in each part, some pleasant and some, regrettably, not so pleasant.

Part 1, Stellar Evolution is very well structured, tells an easy to follow story and gets over in a very effective manner, the complexities of the birth, life and death of stars of every size. Whilst the reading work is intensive and the TMAs and CMAs extend your thinking, you do come away from this part of the course well equipped to tackle the exam in this area.

Part 2 is not the pleasant experience I thought it would be, and I get the impression that many people see the collaborative project as a chance to do real astronomy, particularly as with the PIRATE project you get your hands, all be it remotely, on some real telescope time. The allure of writing your own paper on your observations seems equally inviting. But, and there are a couple of big buts, as you have to collaborate in a group of around 10 people and you are very much on your own.

Challenge 1 is that I am sure that the groups must be picked entirely at random, as it is no mean feat trying to get 10 people from 10 different walks of life with 10 different approaches and expectations of such a project, working together. There has to be a better way of picking teams that CAN collaborate to make this part of the course work for the best of each and every member.

Challenge 2 is the course material. It has to be said that this was as good as thrown together on the course website, was difficult to find at times, and the quality of the large number of documents varied from good to abysmal. This part of the course cries out for a book or collated on line publication.

So to part 3, Transiting Exoplanets, it is hard to think why a subject at the forefront of current astrophysics should be such a hard slog. Maybe it is because, as others point out, that part 3 comes after a 12 week break on the project work and you get out of the habit of normal routine study. But, I think it had more to do with the book. It just seems to dip into each area of the subject quoting endless scientific papers, with a raft of equations in each area. In fact the author recognises this with my favourite quote of the book on page 198, "For readers fatigued by equations"! This is followed a close second by "beyond the scope of this book", phew, could have been another couple of hundred equations in there!

But you do get through it, and the best tip is to get every past paper and do them all, several times over, do the specimen paper, again several times over, and there is no reason why you cannot achieve a good mark. The only problem with that is, the marking scheme results are unintelligible! Whatever happened to a straight percentage for each component that adds up to a simple final percentage? All you get is a set of 10 - 15% wide thresholds for each exam part and project part that total your final grade marking, making it impossible to know where you scored well, or not! What is that about? Still at least you get an expression of regret that you could not be provided with more detailed feedback!

At the end of the day though I did comfortably pass with a good grade and have learnt that courses at Level 3 have higher expectations than you might think. So I would score S382 as 7 out of 10, sorry, part 1 70% - 84%, part 2 40% - 54% and part 3 55% - 69% with part 1 counting for 50% of the final grade, part 2 counting as 25% of the final grade itself divided into two parts where the marks are tempered by a personal approach multiplier of 0, 0.5 or 1 and part 3 is 25% of the final grade based on achieving a 30% average in each of the formative assignments which themselves count for nothing :-)

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

Faculty response

The astrophysical data analysis project gives an experience akin to working in a collaborative astrophysics research project. Team working and proficiency in the use of external resources are explicit Learning Outcomes. The practical activities are clearly structured using the VLE study planner, and supporting documents are all collated in the corresponding VLE resources area, with ample tutor and module team support provided.

Level 3 study in Astronomy exposes students to elements of the research literature, and demonstrates mathematical rigour when dealing with astrophysical concepts.

Providing a score ‘range’ for each of the examinable components is standard University practice.
S382 Module Team

An extremely interesting module which is broken into three parts. Part 1 is concerned with the evolution of stars, Part 2 is a project (that contributes 33% of the overall score for the programme) which is undertaken collaboratively along with a personal write-up element and Part 3 is concerned with Transiting Exoplanets.

I came to this course after studying S282, S283 and MST121. The maths is reasonable for this programme and I do not feel I was disadvantaged by not having done MST209.

I found the project interesting but it also created a 12 week gap when I wasn't studying and it was very difficult to get back into the swing of things afterwards so be warned and ensure you keep your study going during the project.

The exam was as expected with no surprises and I am going to miss this course now it is complete.

Mark J Eaton

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.

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