A Brief History of SAO
The initial idea for SAO was conceived mid-1997 by the then head of the Swinburne
School of Biophysical Sciences and Electrical Engineering (BSEE), Prof Dale Murphy.
Dale asked Dr Margaret Mazzolini to design an online Graduate Certificate in Astronomy
as a pilot study for a future online Master of Science in Astronomy program. By the
end of 1997, a business plan was drawn up, as was the course structure, and by the
start of 1998, Prof Matthew Bailes joined Swinburne and created the Centre for
Astrophysics and Supercomputing within BSEE. By mid-1998, the online Graduate
Certificate of Astronomy was accredited by the University with Margaret as
SAO commenced world-wide delivery in March 1999 as a Graduate Certificate course,
thanks to the hard work of Margaret Mazzolini, Jon Booth (technical design), Bronwyn
Lloyd (nee Halls - illustrator), Prof Ray Norris (advice on assessment and
newsgroup design) and support by Swinburne Learning and Teaching Support. About 50
students initially enrolled in the Graduate Certificate program. In January 2000,
CD-ROM was distributed with Sky &
Telescope magazine (thanks to the generous support of the Swinburne University Vice
Chancellor Prof Iain Wallace), coinciding with the launch of our Master of Science
and Graduate Diploma of Science degrees. Dr Sarah Maddison joined the group in
late 1999. Enrolments began to climb (probably due to the launch of ClearSkies!
rather than Sarah's arrival!) and by 2002, SAO's enrolment numbers exceeded 250
students from over 35 countries around the world. The growth of SAO has allowed
the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing to hire more staff,
broadening its teaching base and allowing new courses to be designed and taught "in house".
Sarah took over as program coordinator mid-2001 and was joined by an excellent
. Margaret moved to the Chancellery,
becoming Pro Vice Chancellor (Learning & Teaching), and has recently moved to Victoria University as their Pro Vice Chancellor (Learning & Teaching). Dr Glen Mackie joined the SAO team in 2002 and has acted as the program coordinator a number of times when Sarah has taken leave. The Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing moved to the new Faculty of Information & Communication Technologies in late 2004.
By the end of 2008 SAO celebrated 10 years and 20 semesters of delivering an online astronomy program.
During 2008 and 2009, SAO moved from a hybrid delivery system (with course content delivered via CD-ROM and
the internet used for communication and assessment purposes) to a fully online system (with course content
now delivered online via a Content Management System).
In mid-2012, after 11 years, Sarah retired as program coordinator. During this time SAO
has grown into a comprehensive program offering 18 units (including 4 Major Project units). Glen has
taken over as program coordinator from Sarah, but is happy to note that she will continue to teach into SAO!
To date SAO has produced over 350 graduates