Alexander L. Rudolph    Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Cal Poly Pomona


Vita, Research, Publications, Other professional activities




Previous Page
  • Vita
    My current resume

  • Selected Publications
Introduction of interactive learning into French university classrooms
A.L. Rudolph, B. Lamine, M. Joyce, H. Vignolles, and D. Consiglio, Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, accepted for publication (2014)
preprint (pdf file)
Do You Always Need a Textbook to Teach Astro 101?
Rudolph, A.L., Astronomy Education Review, 12 (1), 010112 (2013)
preprint (pdf file)
Time-monitoring observations of the ro-vibrational overtone CO bands in young stars
J. A. Eisner, G. H. Rieke, M. J. Rieke, K. M. Flaherty, T. J. Arnold, Jordan M. Stone, S. R. Cortes, E. Cox, C. Hawkins*, A. Cole*, S. Zajac*, and A. L. Rudolph, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 434, 407 (2013)
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stt1029
A Classical Test Theory Analysis of the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory National Study Data Set
Schlingman, W.M., Prather, E.E., Wallace, C.S., Rudolph, A.L., & Brissenden, G., Astronomy Education Review, 11, 1 (2012)
reprint (pdf file)
Using Research to Bring Interactive Learning into General Education Mega-Courses
Prather, E. , Rudolph, A., & Brissenden, G., Peer Review, 13, 3 (2011)
(on-line link)
A National Study Assessing the Teaching and Learning of Introductory Astronomy. Part II. The Connection between Student Demographics and Learning
Rudolph, A.L., Prather, E.E. , Brissenden, G., Consiglio, D. & Gonzaga*, V., Astronomy Education Review, 9, 1 (2010)
reprint (pdf file)
*Undergraduate co-author
Teaching and Learning Astronomy in the 21st Century
Prather, E.E. , Rudolph, A.L., & Brissenden, G., Physics Today, 62 (10), 41 (2009)
reprint (pdf file)
A National Study Assessing the Teaching and Learning of Introductory Astronomy. Part I. The Effect of Interactive Instruction
Prather, E.E. , Rudolph, A.L., Brissenden, G., & Schlingman, W.M., Am. J. Phys., 77 (4), 320 (2009)
reprint (pdf file)
A Distance-Limited Imaging Survey of Substellar Companions to Solar Neighborhood Stars
Carson, J.C., Hiner*, K.D., Villar*, G.G., Blaschak*, M.G., Rudolph, A.L., & Stapelfeldt, K.R., Astron. J., 137, 218 (2009)
reprint (pdf file)
*Undergraduate co-author
Abundance Gradients in the Galaxy
Rudolph, A.L., Fich, M., Bell*, G.R., Norsen*, T., Simpson, J.P., Haas, M.R., & Erickson, E.F., Astrophys. J. Suppl., 162, 346 (2006)
reprint (pdf file)
*Undergraduate co-author
A Molecular Line Study of the HH 7-11 Outflow
Rudolph, A.L., Bachiller, R., Rieu, N.Q., Trung, D.V., Palmer, P., & Welch, W.J., Astrophys. J., 558, 204 (2001)
reprint (pdf file)
  • Selected Presentations
Interactive Learning: Using Research to Promote Student Understanding in the Science Classroom
LERMA seminar, Observatoire de Paris, 2 July 2010
(download - 28.3 MB)
Interactive Questioning and Learning
Regional Teaching Exchange,Mira Costa College, May 8, 2010
(download - 21.3 MB)
The Effect of Interactive Instruction in the Astro 101 Classroom: Report on a National Study
SCAAPT Fall Meeting, November 14, 2009
(download - 16.7 MB)
  • Research

Astronomy Research

I study a number of interrelated problems in astronomy including:

    • How do stars and planets form from the clouds in the interstellar medium?
    • How common are planet-forming disks and what is their structure?
    • What is the structure of the Milky Way (our home galaxy) as traced by these star-forming regions?
    • How does the outer part of our Galaxy differ from the inner part?
    • How do forming stars change their surroundings as they go through the formation process?
    • How frequently do forming stars have low-mass brown dwarf companions?
I study these problems observationally at many wavelengths, primarily radio and infrared, using telescopes from around the world. Among the telescopes I have used are:

Astronomy and Physics Education Research

I also do research in astronomy and physics education, in particular, studies of the effect of interactive learning strategies on student learning in introductory astronomy courses; the role of demographics in student learning and the efficacy of different learning strategies; and the use of classroom response systems (clickers) in physics and astronomy education.

We have conducted a nationwide study of student learning in general education astronomy classes (commonly known as Astro 101). The study measured pre/post-instruction conceptual gains in introductory astronomy classes using the Light and Spectrocopy Concept Inventory (LSCI), developed by Bardar et al. (2007). This work was done in collaboration with the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE) at the University of Arizona, and supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0715517, a CCLI Phase III Grant for the Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS). A copy of the article can be downloaded here or above.

Nearly 4000 students enrolled in 69 sections of Astro 101 courses taught at 30 institutions around the country (and one in Ireland) participated in this project. The courses were taught at every type of institution (4-year and 2-year), in classes ranging in size from less than 10 students to more than 150 students, and using a wide variety of instructional strategies, including traditional lecture and highly interactive classrooms.

As part of this research, we developed an Interactive Assessment Instrument, designed to provide a first-order indicator regarding the connection between the gain in students’ conceptual understanding and the type of instruction they received, in particular the extent that traditional lecture and different interactive learning strategies were used in the classroom.  This 8-item instrument was explicitly designed to enable us to quantify the amount of time spent on interactive learning strategies that occurred in each classroom but does not directly provide further insight into the effectiveness of an instructor’s implementation of particular interactive learning strategies.  

We use the phrase “interactive learning strategies” to identify those that have been designed to intellectually engage students in critical thinking (and increase their conceptual understanding) while working in a collaborative learning group with two or more peers.  The strategies identified in the IAI (Think-Pair-Share questions, Lecture-Tutorials, and Ranking Tasks) have undergone research-validated studies within the astronomy and physics education communities to show that they are capable of significantly increasing students’ conceptual understanding.  In addition, interactive learning strategies identified in the IAI are appropriate for use in all Astro 101 classes, small and large. 

The IAI is available for download here.

The main findings of the study are:

  1. that a wide range of gains in students’ understanding can be measured and attributed to differences in their instruction
  2. that the level of gain in students’ understanding does not depend on class size or type of institution (all types of 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities were included in the study), suggesting that these results apply to all Astro 101 classrooms, and that the differences in gain are attributable to the type and quality of instruction taking place in the classroom, and
  3. there is a range of gains for both lower and higher-interactivity classrooms; however, only the higher-interactivity classrooms were able to reach the highest levels of gain in student conceptual learning, suggesting that the quantity of class time and quality of implementation of interactive teaching methods are the critical elements driving student learning.
  • Interactive Learning in the Classroom

In the past year, I have been working to incorporate more interactive learning techniques into my classes. Among the techniques I have used include "Think-Pair-Share" questions, a set of well-crafted multiple-choice questions, designed to test students' conceptual understanding. These questions are typically asked after a short (10-20 minute) "mini-lecture" on a topic. The students indicate their answers, anonymously and simulateously, after which, depending on the number who answer correctly, I either know they have largely understood the concept, or that further discussion is needed. In the latter case, the students are instructed to turn to their neighbors and discuss the question, after which they answer again. Usually, there is a signficant increase in the number of students who answer correctly. If that is not the case, or there is a persistent minority that is getting it wrong, I then lead a class discussion of the question.

This technique has a number of benefits:

    • Both the students and instructor receive immediate feedback on their level of understanding of the material
    • The discussion between students, "peer instruction" can be very valuable both for the student who is having difficulty grasping the concept, as well as the student who is explaining the concept
    • Last, but not least, the break from lecture gets the students talking and thinking, reviving them from the inevitable mid-lecture slump

    A survey conducted with 152 introductory physics students found that they find this technique extremely helpful. The students were asked a series of 8 questions to which they responded on a 5-point Likert scale (1=Strongly disagree, 5=Strongly agree). Some of the results were (average Likert score in parentheses):

    Q: Some conceptual questions made me try really hard to make sense of the subject matter (3.8)

    Q: Sometimes I would suddenly understand a concept while we were talking or thinking about a conceptual question (3.8)

    Q: In class, interactions with my peers helped me to understand the subject matter (3.7)

Other techniques I have been using are Lecture Tutorials and Ranking Tasks. These are scripted activities that students work on in groups during class, also after a "mini-lecture". These activities are designed to probe common misconceptions and help students reach a clearer understanding of such concepts. I have largely been using these techniques in an advanced general education (GE) course, Physics 303, The Universe in Ten Weeks. The activities were developed by the Conceptual Astronomy & Physics Education Research (CAPER) Team at the University of Arizona.

  • Classroom Response Systems ("clickers")

The responses to "Think-Pair-Share" questions can be collected in a number of ways, but research has shown that is important that the students' responses be simultaneous and anonymous. A very inexpensive way to do this is to have the students hold flashcards labelled A,B,C,... (or 1,2,3,...) which they can hold in front of their chests when instructed. The major drawback to this method is the inability to retain the results (for example to give participation credit) or to show the statistics in real-time. Both of these drawbacks are addressed by classroom response systems (CRSs) also known as "clickers".

I have been leading an effort within the physics department and the university to use and evaluate these systems. We have used two systems, i-Clicker and CPS from e-Instruction, and have selected i-Clicker, both for the physics department and as a university-wide adoption. More information about clickers at Cal Poly Pomona can be found here. There is also an excellent website on clickers at Vanderbilt University.

©2011 by Alexander L. Rudolph

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The space for this page is provided by Cal Poly Pomona and is subject to its policies. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent official policy of the University. I take full responsibility for the information presented and will appreciate being informed of errors or inaccuracies.

Last modified on 4 February, 2014