BU Astronomy Courses go Open-Source

(Credit: Krista Murray/The Quill)

With the recently announced possibility of tuition increases of 5% plus the rate of inflation coming down the pike in 2018, it seems that belt-tightening is something Manitoba post-secondary students will have to learn to do even better. This isn't always possible however, because of the similarly rising annual costs of textbooks.

Fortunately, BU's Physics & Astronomy department has a solution - the department's introductory Astronomy courses "Solar Systems Astronomy 74:184" (1st Term) and "Galaxies & the Universe 74:185" (2nd term) have moved away from requiring $160 (or more) textbooks used in the past to requiring a free one - published by the nonprofit open-source publisher OpenStax. Starting this fall, the openly licensed book entitled "Astronomy" published by OpenStax (http://www.openstax.org) will be freely available in PDF form for 74:184 and 185 - and it is not necessary to physically print the book either.

"It has taken a few years for the quality of open-source astronomy texts to catch up to the quality of traditional costly texts, but it has finally happened" says Dr. Tyler Foster, one of the department's two astronomy faculty members. "We are excited to move our courses to open-source material - after reviewing several book for the past few years we have finally found an excellent open-source introductory astronomy textbook, written by well known working astronomers for non-science students". Foster says the main feature lacking in past open-source books was high-quality diagrams and figures - something very important for making a physical science like astronomy, which is based on visual observations, easily understandable in a qualitative way. The new OpenStax text has simple, colourful easy-to-understand diagrams that do the same job as the professional graphic artist-designed diagrams in traditional textbooks without the added complexity or cost.

Solar Systems Astronomy and Galaxies & the Universe are popular courses that can be taken by all students whose majors and programs of study require a science elective or two. The courses are a non-mathematical survey of the wonders of the universe, and includes visual observing treats at the BU Astronomical observatory to help solidify understanding of the beautiful, sometimes bizarre objects that nature has built in the cosmos.

To get more information on these courses, please contact Dr. Tyler Foster (fostert@brandonu.ca) or Dr. Austin Gulliver (Gulliver@brandonu.ca) in the Physics & Astronomy department.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 28, April 4th, 2017.