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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 level of certification (another certificate, flag on their data, etc.). 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 two certificates 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. 


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.

********* 2014 CHOICE Fall Course Schedule *********

How To Use VPHOT (August 11- September 5) Class Full- Registration Closed

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.

Variable Star Classification and Light Curves (September 15-October 10) Class Full- Registration Closed 

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.

NEW! DSLR Photometry (October 13- November 7) Class Full- Registration Closed 

This course will utilize the new DSLR photometry manual as its guide. This manual is a basic introduction and guide to using a DSLR camera to make variable star observations. The target audience is first-time beginner to intermediate level DSLR observers, although advanced observers may find the content useful as well. 

This course is under development. Further information will become available in September- October, 2014.

How to use VSTAR (November 17-December 12) Class Full- Registration Closed

This course is intended to provide participants with a systematic coverage of VStar's current functionality, an appreciation of the ways in which it can be extended, and how it can be used for variable star data visualization and analysis.

This is not a course on statistics but relevant statistical concepts as they apply to the use of VStar will be introduced through reading and discussion.

You’ll learn how to create mean plots, phase plots, and perform simple period analysis.

You must successfully complete exercises and weekly quizzes as well as a final examination to pass the course.

VStar is written in the Java programming language, requiring at least version 1.6 to run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and OpenSolaris.

Click here to register for classes.

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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