AstroBaseCamp: The Astronomy Educators’ Weekly Virtual Faculty Meeting

Teaching astronomy is a great privilege—sharing the inner wonders of the distant universe with already curious audiences. At the same time, teaching astronomy can be exceedingly lonely because so many astronomy educators are the only teacher of their kind at their institution. Such isolation makes sharing teaching ideas and insights with others difficult in the best of circumstances. Many of us have no one to talk to about astronomy teaching and learning even if you are meaningfully affiliated with a school, college or university. The truth is that most of us do not have any colleagues we can fruitfully interact with on a regular basis.

Undoubtedly, professional conferences serve a critical role in helping one another learn how to be better astronomy educators. Nonetheless, for quite some time now, people have wondered if there was a way to continue rich discussions about teaching astronomy that leverages technology in ways that go beyond Facebook and the AstroLrner and Dome-L e-mail groups, and somehow find a way to meet regularly face-to-face. This is a problem in need of a solution.

Vigorous but friendly debate at the weekly astronomy base camp meeting

Vigorous but friendly debate at the weekly astronomy base camp meeting

Starting as a half-baked experiment originating at the annual Astronomy Teaching Summit in 2018, and robustly continuing today, astronomy educators Katie Berryhill from Solano College and Tim Slater from the University of Wyoming, among other fearless early adopters, take turns hosting a weekly, face-to-face, video-teleconference as an "anti-faculty-meeting" faculty meeting for astronomy educators. The gathered educators call their meeting Astro Base Camp--or ABC for short. It is a weekly virtual gathering built upon the purpose of learning through sharing with colleagues who are dealing with the common issues spanning astronomy education and outreach. By way of analogy, the meeting has evolved to be something half-way between an online mastermind mentoring group and an informal coffee klatsch.

The scheduled meeting time varies by majority vote every few months, and times for fall 2019 haven’t been announced yet; but during the North American spring of 2019, Astro Base Camp was meeting via Zoom desktop video-teleconferencing on Mondays at 6pm eastern, 5pm central, 4pm mountain, and 3pm pacific—ABC participants in Arizona, Hawai'i, and Australia always have to make the time conversions carefully to determine what time and on which day the meeting is actually held. The group meets at http://zoom.us/my/caperteam from a smart phone or an Internet-connected computer.

For some tireless and insatiable astronomy educators and outreach enthusiasts, the ABC group continues their conversations and resource sharing using an asynchronous, online discussion platform known as Slack. Astronomy educators who would like to join the SLACK discussions share materials, and otherwise commune remotely with like-minded astronomy educators for support, brainstorming, and camaraderie may sign up at no cost at https://tinyurl.com/abc-signup-23.

The bottom line is that there are emerging technology solutions that can help dedicated astronomy educators and outreach enthusiasts to extend their learning networks, connect with old friends, make new acquaintances, and not feel so isolated in one’s astronomy teaching endeavors.

Your hosts: Timothy F. Slater, University of Wyoming, timslaterwyo@gmail.com

Katie J. Berryhill, Solano College, katie.berryhill@gmail.com

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