Online team work in space science and astronomy at the Open University

The UK Open University (UKOU) operates a distance-learning model supporting students who are geographically dispersed and studying part-time. Development of team-working skills is particularly challenging within such a model, but is considered a necessary partof the higher education experience of space scientists and astronomers. We report on three team-working projects in space science and astronomy that we run at the UKOU at advanced undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels. The projects are: (i) an investigation of quasar spectra using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), (ii) characterisation of variable star light curves using observations from a robotic telescope, and (iii) a Mars rover mission simulation. The robotic telescope and the Mars rover simulation are part of The Open University’s award-winning OpenSTEM Labs. All three projects involve teams of students working remotely from each other and communicating through asynchronous and synchronous (shared audio and whiteboard) methods. The projects are somewhat open-ended and require teams to make collective decisions about their actions.We describe how these projects are being studied in order to better understand the student experience of on-line team-working.