Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador 2020: Fredonia – Michael Dunham
Michael Dunham, Ph.D., an assistant professor of physics at Fredonia, earned a B.S. in physics and astronomy from the University of Rochester, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Dunham teaches courses in both physics and astronomy at Fredonia, and conducts research in astronomy aimed at understanding the physical processes governing how stars and planets form. Dr. Dunham has had a strong interest in teaching since the very beginning of his career, working as an undergraduate teaching assistant for introductory physics and astronomy courses at the University of Rochester, where he won an annual department award for his work as an undergraduate TA.
Upon arriving at Fredonia in 2016, Dr. Dunham created an online version of Fredonia’s introductory astronomy course for non-science majors. Dr. Dunham teaches this online course during the intersession terms as a complement to a face-to-face version that he teaches during the regular academic semesters. The goals of this general education course are to introduce students to the subject of astronomy, the contents and nature of the Universe, the process of science, and the connections between science and everyday life. The latter two goals are motivated by the essential need for scientific literacy in an informed democracy, and the course uses the “cool factor” of astronomy to teach about science, scientific processes, and critical thinking. By offering an online version, Dr. Dunham aims to increase the reach of this course by making it available to students who can’t fit it into their schedules during the academic semesters. By using pre-built “modules” consisting of readings, writing assignments, and discussion board activities that can be completed by each student asynchronously, Dr. Dunham allows each student to work on their own schedule while still feeling like they are part of a community of learners working together to discover and master the course content.
Future online offerings developed by Dr. Dunham will continue this basic theme – creating accessible courses that allow students schedule flexibility while still feeling as though they are part of an active community.