Teaching astronomy online gives more students the chance to improve their science literacy, not only in this country, but also abroad. Underserved groups such as the disabled or those far from university campuses would otherwise not have easy access to higher education, nor would they be able to study with experts in astronomy. Yet the online form of independent learning is not for all students, and many still need (or prefer) traditional teacher-student interactions in a classroom. But Internet-based education is growing at such a rate that many classroom instructors will likely have to teach an online course one day. Therefore, it is important for instructors to understand the nature of online learning to help prepare the most effective and appropriate astronomy courses for this new audience.
This article is based on a Cosmos in the Classroom workshop conducted by the authors at Tufts University in July 2004.