Course Modules

Astronomical Pedagogy 

Professor of Astronomy William Herbst and visiting artist Marion Belanger co-created a module entitled, "ARST 430: A Photographic Window on Causes of Climate Change."  This course was designed for graduate students in astronomy, as well as junior and senior undergraduate majors.  Students were very familiar with the basic scientific concepts about global warming, had the ability to evaluate scientific arguments, and were versed on the physics of global warming, particularly through their studies of Venus’ warming.  However, they had relatively little, if any, experience with the concept of "visual literacy" and how an artistic approach to (what they see as) a scientific issue can be of pedagogical value.  The goal of the module was to introduce students to an artistic approach through a class-collaborative photographic assignment that resulted in an exhibition in the hallway of Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory.

"Over the course of three class modules, students were asked to consider their everyday lives in terms of what small actions they do or might take to reduce their own carbon footprints.  Just as the written word can be used in a variety of applications such as poetry, fiction, journalism, or technical reporting, we discussed with the class how the medium of photography is also pliable, with many uses.  To introduce the students to the medium of photography as an artistic practice, [photographer Marion Belanger] discussed her photographic work, and she showed them some work from other contemporary photographers such as Robert Adams, Ed Burtynsky, Chris Jordan, and Lewis Baltz, all of whom look to the landscape as it is impacted by often devastating human interventions. [Astronomer William Herbst] presented some of the substantial evidence for global warming and its link to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuel.  He discussed some of the (dire) consequences that will follow if this level of input of carbon into the atmosphere continues unabated.  The students’ assignment was to photographically explore those personal choices, and to choose three images to contribute to a class exhibition."

- Excerpt from Faculty Report by William Herbst and Marion Belanger

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