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Pathway to Space

If you’re a CU Boulder student looking for information about CU’s Space Minor or the Pathway to Space course, visit the Space Minor or Pathway to Space page.


The Academic Technology Design Team (ATDT) partnered with faculty and students to envision and create a sustainable, one-of-a-kind, large lecture STEM experience that welcomes all students: ASEN 1969 Pathway to Space.

From Summer 2016 to Spring 2018, the ATDT and Chris Koehler, Instructor and Space Minor Associate Faculty Director, designed and launched this new course for the CU Boulder campus with the intention of breaking the mold of the traditional large lecture. Using student-centered end-to-end class design and development, we created the “CU Space Show” - an experience that excites and engages students each spring!

Space Minor

Photo of an astronaut's feet dangling in space above an aligned path of planetsThrough this project, the ATDT also supported the launch of CU’s cross-campus Space Minor by creating a marketing campaign that included a website, promotional posters and a video to inform students of this new opportunity. Today, the Space Minor is CU’s second highest enrolled minor.

Key Takeaways

  • 96% of students rated the overall course positively and would recommend Pathway to another student.
  • 95% of students agreed that Pathway helped them develop a better understanding of the various paths one could take to a future career in space.
  • 94% of students agreed that a student from any major could be successful in Pathway.
  • 85% of students agreed that Pathway and the Space Minor helped them feel like they were part of a supportive community at CU Boulder.
  • 40% of students spontaneously brought a friend to class.

*The majority of this data is from the Spring 2018 end of semester survey (n=149).

Designing the CU Space Show

When Chris Koehler first approached the ATDT for course design support for Pathway to Space, he articulated a vision for a “CU Space Show” - an interactive and out of this world large lecture class co-created with students and supportive of students of all majors. Together we defined a set of design principles, which became our Design Manifesto, to help guide and focus our efforts. 

Design Goals

The primary design goals (also listed on the Pathway to Space Design Manifesto) for the course were to: 

  • Welcome all students to space, especially non-STEM students 
  • Create an engaging large lecture experience that both students and faculty want to be a part of
  • Help each student discover their own personal pathway to a future in space 
  • Design a learning experience that is scalable, sustainable and repeatable

Designing & Iterating with Students

To ensure we designed a large lecture course that would be welcoming and engaging, we partnered with 10 undergraduate students, or “classroom assistants” (CAs) to help create and then facilitate the course. The Pathway classroom assistants supported many aspects of the course creation process, including helping to fine-tune the course concept and classroom environment, developing assignment and assessments, and creating captions for original video content. Day to day, the CAs create the classroom atmosphere, manage classroom technology, review student feedback, and provide a steady source of ideas and energy for the instructor. 

Creating Welcoming & Student-Centered Video Lectures

To support the student-centered classroom, we decided early on in the project to flip the classroom and create an original set of instructional videos that feature prominent faculty and researchers. The ATDT supported the creation of over 26 flipped instructional videos for the course. In Spring 2018, 90% of students rated the videos and in-video quizzes as positive or very positive.

When students in the first semester of the course requested more background on the class and class assignments, the instructor created a library of 1-2 min info videos explaining his goals for the various components of the class, to orient students, and to set the expectation that he wants them to be involved and participate.

Class as the “CU Space Show”

Keeping with the “Space Show” theme, the class structure resembles the segments of a talk show. Students lead two components of class, performing original skits and interviewing the special guests. It is fast-paced and involves a lot of active participation to co-create the learning experience.

Based on student engagement data, the structure has been improved over the years to further encourage student involvement. For instance, after the first semester, a student-led activity was moved earlier in the class period to get students up and participating quicker and a “surprise!” segment was added to keep students interested. 

"Pathway to Space is the most innovative and exciting class offered at CU Boulder and other professors should learn from it." - Student comment from end of semester survey

"Not actually in the class, but coming today made me want to join!" - Student comment

"I am visiting from App State in NC and I truly wish we had a class/professor like you at Appalachian State University. You're pretty amazing!" - Student comment

Helping Students Find Their Career Path through Storytelling

The “Your Path” segment of class asks guest contributors to share stories about failure and how they got to be where they are today. This portion of the class proved to be particularly impactful for students, resulting in many “aha moments” about academic and career opportunities. 97% of students Agreed or Strongly agreed that the “stories from special guests” contributed to their understanding of career paths.

"My favorite part of every class is hearing about the different lives of the guests and how/why they got to where they are today." - Student comment

"It's reassuring to know that you don't have to get all A's in college to be successful in the field of space." - Student comment

Comment Rockets

During class, students jot down comments or questions, attach them to a foam rocket, and shoot the rocket to the front of the classroom. Sending an average of 60 comments/class, students reported comment rockets allowed them to have a voice, ask questions they otherwise wouldn’t have, and kept them engaged.

Graph explaining role of comment rockets (CR) in class: 138 respondents said CR allowed students to have a voice; 135 said CR allowed students to ask questions they otherwise wouldn't have; 121 said CR allowed students to raise concerns they otherwise wouldn't have; 85 said CR kept them engaged; 24 said CR were a distraction or waste of time.

Student Engagement in the Large Lecture Hall

To support student engagement, a set of “Prime Directives” was designed to tackle device-related distraction and further clarify expectations for students about how to get the most from the in-class experience. The OIT article, “One Instructor's Approach to Digital Distraction”, details the components and rollout of this policy. This Info Video - Prime Directives provides students with the instructor’s rationale.

To track student engagement, the ATDT leveraged the Behavioral Engagement Related to Instruction (BERI) classroom observation protocol in 2017 and 2018. While the BERI protocol is new to CU Boulder, Pathway to Space’s engagement data is higher than any other course observed on campus to date. 

How did students respond to the Prime Directives?

In Spring 2018, the majority of Pathway students were accepting of the no device policy. 85% of students were either relieved the class was distraction free (n=22) or okay with the no device policy (n=99). And students reported that the “Prime Directives” worked well for this class, helped students stay focused, and provided a nice break from the outside world.

Articles, Conference Presentations and Posters

Team & Course Assistants

  • Chris Koehler, Course Instructor, Space Grant Consortium and the Space Minor Committee
  • Ashleigh Bailey, Space Minor Program Manager
  • Courtney Fell, Learning Experience Designer, OIT Academic Technology Design Team
  • Brad Grabham, Learning Experience Designer, OIT Academic Technology Design Team
  • Peter Cullum, Graphic Designer, OIT Academic Technology Design Team
  • Lakshmi Lalchandani, Learning Data Analyst, ATDT
  • Tarah Dykeman, Learning Experience Design Assistant, ATDT
  • Tim Riggs, Videographer, OIT Video Production Services
Student Course Assistants

Student Course Assistants 2017:

Lara Buri, Marisa Exnicious, Flor Gordivas, Isobel Griffin, Corey Huffman, Julia Kincaid, Owen Lyke, Anastasia Muszynski, Erika Polhamus, Tessa Rundle

Student Course Assistants 2018:

Jess Benjamin, Lara Buri, Linnaea Eger, Marisa Exnicious, Matthew Finney, Joseph Frank, Isobel Griffin, Julia Kincaid, Tessa Rundle, Tyler Schulley, Hadley Tallackson,