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Charlton honored with inaugural Teaching and Learning with Technology Impact Award

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31 May 2017

Jane Charlton Jane Charlton, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, has been selected to receive the inaugural Teaching and Learning with Technology Impact Award. The award celebrates faculty whose work has transformed education through the innovative use of technology. In addition to raising awareness of exemplary uses of technology in the classroom, the award recognizes work that may inspire teaching innovation across Penn State.

Charlton was recognized for her creative approach to teaching an online version of the undergraduate course Astronomy 001. Instead of providing a typical series of filmed lectures, Charlton engages students by immersing them in the learning environment using a science fiction story-based approach. In an early version of the course, students role-played and interacted with “alien civilizations” as they explored planets, solved problems, and gathered information about the makeup of the universe. Due to its popularity and increasing computer capabilities, Charlton led a team to create a video game that would both tell a story and immerse students in the content. After three years of development, the updated version was offered in 2014. The course is enthusiastically embraced by students, with approximately 2000 resident and World Campus student completing the course each year.

“As the University embraces transforming education, Jane's work embodies the commitment to creating engaging learning experiences for her students,” said Jennifer Sparrow, senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology. “It is an honor for TLT to be able to recognize Jane's work in advancing new approaches to teaching and learning.”

In her research, Charlton studies the formation and evolution of galaxies by charting the development and production of metals in the universe. Her research program has both theoretical components and observational components using data collected by ground-based observatories and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. She learns about galaxies in different stages of development by studying the spectroscopic information picked up by the light emitted by quasars -- the most powerful type of galaxy nucleus -- as it travels across the universe. She also uses the spectra from quasars to study the physical conditions in the vicinity of the quasars and to learn how the central engines of quasars are fueled. In addition, Charlton surveys the interactions and mergers between galaxies to understand the mechanisms that are important to determine the size, shape, and origin of galaxies.

Charlton’s dedication to teaching and research have been recognized on numerous occasions. She received the Annie Jump Cannon Special Commendation Honor from the American Astronomical Society in 1992. Charlton was honored with the Faculty Associates Award for Teaching and Service at Penn State in 1997, the President's Award for Excellence in Academic Integration at Penn State in 2015, and one of three Penn State Teaching Fellow Awards in 2015.

Charlton earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and physics at Carnegie Mellon University in 1983. She earned master's and doctoral degrees in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago in 1984 and 1987, respectively. Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Charlton was a research associate in astronomy at Cornell University from 1987 to 1989 and a research associate at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona from 1989 to 1992. She became assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State in 1992 and was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and to professor in 2003.

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