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Cuesta College Hybrid Seminar

In 2012, California community colleges adopted a rule that students could not repeat any course. While this rule was aimed at "students" who took choir (or basketball) every year for decades as their sole course, all courses, including the Astronomy Research Seminar were barred from being repeated. In the case of the Seminar, this turned out to be fatal because the Seminar had depended on new students learning from experienced student leaders. Students learn well from other students, and over the years student leaders naturally emerged. Repeat Seminar students recruited other students into the Seminar, providing them with a team to lead that consisted of friends and acquittances.  This allowed the Seminar to be self-perpetuating. Once repeats were not allowed, the Seminar went from a full enrollment of 18 students to five students in 2013, even after a sizable instructor recruitment effort, and was discontinued the following year.

If enough students could not be recruited from one school to constitute a viable Seminar, perhaps one team at each of several schools could provide enough total students to meet minimal course enrollment requirements. Since it would be difficult for the Seminar's instructor to travel to several different schools to meet with each student team, the decision was made for the instructor to meet individually online with each team in synchronous "Zoom" meetings. An informal "assistant instructor" at each of the participating schools recruited the teams and met with their team in-person at least once a week, and with the official Seminar instructor and the student team online once a week.
The Seminar was reborn as a hybrid in-person/online Seminar. Several student teams met with a volunteer assistant instructor at one of 10 separate schools in California, Hawaii, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. Instruction was provided through online learning units on double star research, planning and managing a scientific research project, writing scientific papers, and presenting research results at conferences. The Seminar's overall instructor (Russell Genet) met online once a week with the individual teams and their volunteer assistant instructors. The entire multi-campus group met together (via Internet meetings) for PowerPoint presentations by each team on their planned research and, near the end of the Seminar, their research results. 

One team, in San Luis Obispo, California, made measurements of a double star with an astrometric eyepiece (Collins et al., 2016). Six teams made double star measurements using "regular" CCD cameras. Another team, at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, California, made in-person CCD observations with an 11-inch telescope at Robert Buchheim's Altimira Observatory, while another team at Leeward Community College in Pearl City, Hawaii, made in-person CCD observations with a 20-inch telescope at the College's observatory, located just a few feet from the edge of Pearl Harbor.  


Two teams at the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California, used CCD cameras on robotic telescopes in the iTelescope network for their observations. The teams were let by Pat and Grady Boyce with support from the Boyce Research Initiatives and Educational Foundation (BRIEF).

Two small teams in Arizona used Richard Harshaw's 11-inch telescope and high-speed CCD camera at his Brilliant Sky Observatory in Cave Creek to make speckle interferometry measurements of several close double stars, while a team at Lincoln High School in Stockton, California, developed software for plotting orbits of binary stars. 

While the Cuesta College Hybrid Seminar was only offered once, it led to Seminars independent of Cuesta College being launched.  Pat and Grady Boyce and BRIEF went on to establish a number of Seminars at high schools in the San Diego area, and help establish Seminars at three community colleges in the area.

Hawaiian team students, from left to right, Stuart Martin (Leeward Community College), Diana Castaneda, Cathrina Ramos, and Linsey Daclison (Waipahu High School).

From left to right: Allen Priest, Stephen Priest, Faisal AlZaben, and Rex Oiu, members of one of the Army and Navy Academy teams. 

One of the Arizona team members, Ethan Wurthrich, was not only first author of a published paper, but his double star research won first prize in a science fair.

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