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CHOICE in Astronomy

Carolyn Hurless Online Instititue for Continuing Education (CHOICE) in Astronomy

 “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.”
Galileo Galilei

CHOICE is an education and outreach initiative of the AAVSO. It is a collection of informal, online short courses on topics chosen to help members of the AAVSO and others contribute more to science. It has two main goals towards this end. First, we hope to train participants to be better observers, analysts, researchers, writers and advocates. Second, by improving the quality of our data products and making them easier to use, it will help astronomers and researchers best utilize AAVSO data.

At a Glance

Most CHOICE courses are four weeks long. They are run via the AAVSO web site using private forums and e-mail at a self directed pace. Participants should expect to devote 8 - 20 hours per week for reading, discussions, quizzes and exams. We offer a variety of topics, from introductory to very advanced, aimed at a wide range of participants, including digital, visual and non-observers. The courses are assessed on a pass/fail basis. Those who successfully complete a course will be provided with a certficate and it will also be included on their web site's user profile page (click here for an example of a past graduate). 

One of the unique aspects of this program is that courses will be peer taught. That is, graduates of one course will have the opportunity to lead the next iteration of that course. Learning occurs best when done collaboratively, and for many, the best way to learn is to teach. Those who take this opportunity will be rewarded with an extra badge on their web profile. Those who agree to lead a course will also have the registration fee waived for one subsequent CHOICE course that they elect to take. So if a member takes a course and later teaches it, they will get a certificate of completion and two badges on their user profile.

All course leaders will have access to AAVSO staff for assistance and guidance as well as access to the course syllabus, PDFs and any other materials developed for the course. In short, AAVSO staff will take care of the technical issues (registration, course materials, etc.) while the leaders are responsible for guiding the students through the course and performing any assessments.

Course Topics

The AAVSO has identified a number of possible course topics that fall along one of three strands: visual observing, digital observing and variable star science. Specific courses offered will be based on demand and the availability of instructors. For a complete course listing click here.


Most courses are available to AAVSO members AND the general public. The fee for AAVSO members is $30.00. Non-members pay $50.00. Registrations are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. When there are open courses registration is handled through our online store.

********* 2nd quarter 2015 CHOICE Schedule *********

To view the entire 2015 schedule click here


April 6- May 1
Variable Star Types and Light Curves  Click here to register
Instructor- Dave Cowall

This course is an overview of the types of variable stars most commonly observed by AAVSO observers. We discuss the physical processes behind what makes each type variable and how this is demonstrated in their light curves. Variable star names and nomenclature are placed in a historical context to aid in understanding today’s classification scheme. You must successfully complete weekly quizzes, a journal paper review and a final examination to pass the course.

April 6- May 1
Developing a Visual Observing Program  Click here to register
Instructor- Mike Simonsen

This four week course is designed to help visual observers get the most enjoyment and scientific return from the observing programs they develop, based on each individuals’ equipment, observing conditions and interests. 


June 1-26
How to use VPHOT Click here to register
Instructor- Ken Menzies

This course is designed to teach observers how to use VPHOT, the AAVSO’s cloud based photometry reduction software. You will learn how to upload and manage your image files, how to perform photometry on single images and time series, how to save your analyses and how to submit your results to the AAVSO. You do not have to own a CCD or have your own images. Sample images will be provided. You must successfully complete exercises and weekly quizzes as well as a final examination to pass the course.

This course is only available to AAVSO members. If you would like to join the AAVSO click here.

About Carolyn Hurless

Carolyn J. Hurless was the most active and prolific female observer in the history of the AAVSO, with a total of 78,876 observations in the AAVSO International Database. But that only scratches the surface of this remarkable woman’s life and career as an AAVSO observer, councilor, officer, mentor and ambassador. For more about this amazing woman's life, click here for her bio.

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