2016 Innovation in Education Awards

Issue Date: 
May 16, 2016

Helping students in Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine communicate better with their patients. Teaching engineering students about design issues in the Internet of Things. Purchasing equipment so biology students can better learn a key process in cellular biology. 

These are among the eight teaching proposals that have received funding as part of Pitt’s 2016 Innovation in Education Awards Program. The winners are selected annually by the Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence, based on those projects that show the most promise in introducing innovative approaches to teaching.

The award-winning proposals and their project directors follow.

Readiness Assessment: An Authentic Assessment of Practice “Readiness” Through Blended Simulation Progress Testing

Neal Benedict, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics; and Susan Meyer, Professor, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, and Associate Dean for Education, both in the School of Pharmacy 

Benedict and Meyer will develop a blended simulation test to assess students’ clinical practice capabilities at key points in the pharmacy curriculum. Three complex patient scenarios will be created and students will use simulations of electronic health record reviews, mannequin models, and other tools to make clinical diagnoses. Their performance will be evaluated for clinical decision making, interprofessional communications, and their sense of accountability for patient outcomes. 

Teaching Students to Innovate with the Internet of Things 

Samuel Dickerson, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering

The Internet of Things is an emerging technology where physical objects are given the ability to sense their environment and wirelessly transmit information over a network, turning them into “smart” devices. One current example is the wearable fitness tracker that automatically reports the wearer’s healthcare statistics to the “cloud.” The design of Internet of Things technologies requires knowledge about electronics, computer science, electromagnetics, and networking theory. In this new class, students will apply knowledge from these areas to create their own Internet of Things innovations.

Intergroup Dialogue in American Politics

Kristin Kanthak, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

This project’s aim is to develop a one-credit course that will provide students from diverse backgrounds with the opportunity to discuss important issues in American politics. The pilot will be offered as a supplemental course to students taking the three-credit PS 0200: American Political Process. Students taking the one-credit pilot will work on two large projects intended to encourage discourse and to show how one’s group identity can affect perspective on issues. 

Campus and Community Read: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Pitt Bradford’s Nancy McCabe, Professor of Writing and Director of Writing Program; Kristin Asinger, Visiting Instructor, Director of International Services and Freshman Seminar; Tony Gaskew, Associate Professor and Director of Criminal Justice Program, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences; and Shailendra Gajanan, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Division of Management and Education

This project will introduce to the Pitt Bradford campus and broader community the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed attorney who defends those wrongly condemned. Just Mercy will be required reading in several classes. This course will be designed and taught in conjunction with incarcerated men who work as educators at the Federal Correctional Institution, McKean. The goal is to spur a community-wide discussion of diversity, race, and justice.

Enhancing Learning in a Large Enrollment, Introductory Course by Using Visual and Social Strategies

Pratibha Menon, Adjunct Faculty Member; and Peter L. Brusilovsky, Professor and Chair of Information Science Program, both in the School of Information Sciences

Menon and Brusilovsky will introduce active learning methods in the School of Information Sciences’ undergraduate class called Introduction to Telecom and Networking. Specifically, they intend to use visual concept maps, similar to flow charts, to organize lectures and activities. Students will also work on collaborative case studies and problem-solving activities. The goal is to improve learning of telecom and networking fundamentals, as well as analytical and communication skills required for the program’s more advanced courses.

Jump Starting Conceptual Understanding in Physics with Interactive Simulations

David Nero, Lecturer, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dietrich School 

Nero will create 40 interactive simulations and supporting materials to help students strengthen their conceptual knowledge of physics. He will use the free software GeoGebra to make interactive graphs and physics simulations that students can view on laptops and smart phones. Initially, the simulations will be used by students in the calculus-based introductory physics sequence, but the majority of the materials will also be applicable to the algebra-based introductory physics sequence.

Theatre Techniques to Enhance Interpersonal Communication Skills and Cultural Competence in Dentistry

Joanne L. Prasad, Assistant Professor, Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine; Dennis Schebetta, Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre Arts, and head of Pitt’s MFA Performance Pedagogy Program, Dietrich School

Dentistry and acting will join forces in this project aimed at enhancing the interpersonal skills and cultural competence of School of Dental Medicine students. Three instructional videos will be created to demonstrate acting techniques aimed at helping students learn to focus on the moment and to better recognize verbal and nonverbal clues. The video instruction will complement the school’s use of “standardized patients”— individuals trained to act like patients in mock patient-provider encounters.

Mini Thermal Cyclers + Mobile Technology = Maximum Student Engagement

Kimberly Ziance, Laboratory Instructor; Jennifer Manges and Marissa Brainard, Instructors, all in Pitt Johnstown’s Department of Biology

The Pitt Johnstown biology department shares one large thermal cycler that performs polymerase chain reactions (PCR), which make multiple copies of a segment of DNA. PCR is an integral part of the cell biology lab curriculum, but the thermal cycler’s limited availability means students can only complete part of the process, with the instructor finishing the rest. The department will purchase several portable and affordable mini-thermal cyclers, enabling students to oversee the PCR process from beginning to end.