Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) written assignment

Astronomy K Jackson
First Year
Assessment, Open-ended activity
Astronomy / Astrophysics, Physics
Nov 2021

A written assignment where students use a NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day image to creatively communicate science to a general audience.

View Resource | Supporting Documentation

About this resource


A written assignment in a general education online introductory astronomy course. Students are assigned 3 NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) images and choose 1 to creatively communicate science to a general audience. Students submit a draft, reflection on feedback, and a final version. The task description, marking rubrics, and other supporting documentation are provided.



Pedagogical backing


While astronomy is inherently fascinating, students in our general education introductory astronomy course found an essay assessment unmotivating, and plagiarism was a perennial issue. This assignment is designed to address these issues by using NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day images. Students are assigned three images and select one to focus on; this approach aims to use imagery to connect non-science students with scientific concepts[1,2]. Students also choose the style and structure of their assessment. Giving students choice is linked to greater motivation and engagement in learning[3,4].

To ensure students were not overwhelmed by the freedom of choice, the task is sufficiently scaffolded. Students hand in 1) a draft to receive feedback on what they plan to do (rather than a typical draft that is a version of the final product), 2) a reflection on their draft feedback, and 3) their final version. Extensive documentation, including examples, rubrics, drop-in sessions, and FAQs are provided.

[1] Arcadias, L., Corbet, R. H. D., McKenna, D., & and Potenziani, I. (2021). Astro-animation – A Case Study of Art and Science Education. Animation Practice, Process & Production. (accepted)
[2] Van Der Veen, J. (2012). Draw your physics homework? Art as a path to understanding in physics teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 49(2), 356-407.
[3] Evans, M., & Boucher, A. R. (2015). Optimizing the power of choice: Supporting student autonomy to foster motivation and engagement in learning. Mind, Brain, and Education, 9(2), 87-91.
[4] Renninger, K. A., Hidi, S., Krapp, A., & Renninger, A. (2014). The role of interest in learning and development. Psychology Press.

How is the resource used

This assignment has been used as a capstone assessment in a fully online, general education introductory astronomy course, and is suitable for similar purposes because it requires significant effort (in terms of research, design, and delivery) by the student. Depending on other assessment in the course, it could be worth 20-30% of the course grade.

In a 10-week teaching period, the images are allocated to students early in the term (week 2). The draft is due at the end of week 5. The draft has a low weighting (the draft and reflection are worth 1/4 of the assignment grade) so that students are not penalised for designing assignments that are not suitable. Feedback is given to students at the end of week 6, and at the end of week 7, the reflection on the feedback is due. The reflection gives students an opportunity to critically think about the feedback and how they will implement changes, if any. The final version is due at the end of term (week 9).

Student evaluation

This assignment was first implemented in early 2021, and over 1,000 students have completed it.

Student and tutor feedback is vital in informing iterative changes to this assessment. Feedback received has been positive, with students believing the assignment helped them to understand the topic, develop communication skills, and exercise creativity. Tutors commented that the assignments were interesting to read, there were fewer instances of plagiarism, and the draft helped students significantly.


Kate Jackson, UNSW (

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply