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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.

********* 1st quarter 2015 CHOICE Schedule *********

To view the entire 2015 schedule click here


February 2-27
How to use VPHOT  Click here for registration
Instructor- Ed Wiley

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.

February 2- March 17
Visual Observing Basics  Click here for registration
Instructor- Mike Simonsen

This course will use the AAVSO Visual Observing Manual as its primary text. We will cover variable stars, basic equipment, how to make observations and submit data, plotting VSO charts, planning an observing session and many other topics. This course is highly recommended for anyone just starting out in visual VSOing.

The course will last four weeks. There will be an additional two-week period in which to make observations, submit observations, ask questions in the forum and put what you’ve learned into practice. After the six-week period, those who have completed the quizzes, participated in discussions and submitted two positive variable star observations of sufficient quality to the AAVSO International Database will be awarded a certificate of accomplishment along with a badge on your website profile.


March 2- 27
DSLR Photometry  Click here for registration
Instructor- Mark Blackford

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. 

March 2- 27
How to use VSTAR  Click here for registration
Instructor- Brad Walter

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.

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

March 2- 27
CCD Photometry 2  Click here for registration
Instructors- Matt Templeton/Sara Beck

This course will use the second half of the newly-released AAVSO Guide to CCD Photometry and will cover topics including optimal image photometry settings and techniques, transformation, and basic error estimation. We'll also discuss how to plan an observing run to optimize the scientific return of your observations. Part 1 of this course is not a prerequisite, but is very strongly encouraged for new CCD photometrists.  Image processing software is required, but images will be provided for those without their own equipment.

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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