Education Innovation Awards Go to Six Projects

Issue Date: 
May 11, 2015

A mobile phone app to help undergraduate students advance their research practices. A media-design course, resulting in a student-developed light-projection installation in a campus building. A prison education program that brings together Pitt students and incarcerated adults for a shared seminar class. 

These are among the six teaching proposals that have received funding as part of Pitt’s 2015 Innovation in Education Awards Program. The winners are selected annually by the Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instruction 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.

The Virtual Patient Game: Transformative Learning in Physician Assistant Education

David Beck, assistant professor and project director, Physician Assistant Studies Program, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences 

This project aims to give physician-assistant students more experience in assessing patients before the students interact with actual—and sometimes critically ill—patients during clinical rotations. The project will incorporate the Shadow Health Digital Clinical Experience (DCE), an online virtual patient simulation tool, into the History Taking and Physical Examination courses. The DCE uses interactive, computer-generated avatars that respond to student queries. It also provides clinical images of body parts or systems, and it gives immediate feedback about what the student uncovered or failed to uncover during the “patient” examination.

Introduction to Media Design for Performance

Gianni Downs, lecturer in scenic design and scenic art, director of Undergraduate Studies and head of design and production, Department of Theatre Arts; Annmarie Duggan, chair and associate professor of lighting design, Department of Theatre Arts 

Downs and Duggan will create a new course, Introduction to Media Design for Performance, in which students will create a projection installation focused on the theme of Pitt’s “Year of the Humanities in the University” during 2015-16. Class members will explore “what the humanities mean to me,” creating a visual essay and design that will be projected onto a campus building’s  walls and ceiling during special events  this fall. The concept stems from the laser light show that was projected onto the outside of the Cathedral during Homecoming 2014.

Teaching Quantum Chemistry through Collaborative Simulations

Geoffrey Hutchison, associate professor, Department of Chemistry; Kay Brummond, chair and professor, Department of Chemistry

Seeking to reestablish students’ connection to chemistry as a “central science,” this project will integrate advanced quantum chemistry calculations into the Department of Chemistry’s curriculum. Existing software, including the Hutchison-developed Avogadro open-source program, will enable students to explore chemistry and spectroscopy, which is the study of the interaction between radiated energy and matter. The project updates an earlier venture, Computing Across the Curriculum, that Pitt began in the 2003-04 year to integrate computational modeling across all courses in the undergraduate curriculum at the Pittsburgh and regional campuses.

Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

Cory Holding, assistant professor of composition, Department of English; Hannah Johnson, assistant professor and director of the Department of English’s Literature Program

Holding and Johnson will pilot at Pitt the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program—a nationally renowned prison education program that brings university students together with incarcerated men and women in a structured and safe seminar within prison. The first seminar, planned for spring 2016, will be a contemporary writing-intensive literature course or a composition class. At first, the seminar classes—one with Pitt students on campus and the other with incarcerated individuals in prison—will meet separately weekly. Then for the term’s remainder, the outside and inside students will meet together inside the prison to discuss texts and workshop writing.

Developing a “Best Practices” App for Research for Pitt Undergrads

Mary Margaret Kerr, professor and chair, Department of Administrative and Policy Studies, and professor, Department of Psychology in Education, both within the School of Education

This project will design an undergraduate student-friendly teaching app for data collection and analysis, using mobile devices. Called the Mobile Application for Undergraduate Research (MAUR), the app will guide and support Pitt students in research practices, including collecting, organizing, and analyzing data. The technology, which will have embedded guidance and instruction, will allow users to share, analyze, compile, and search collected data via a single application. In addition, MAUR will help research faculty and undergraduate students to better integrate their research with one another and with other disciplines.

Augmented Reality Supported Learning: Visualizing the Geometry in Engineering Drawing Problems

Serdar Tumkor, assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Some first-year engineering students in the required Engineering Drawing course have difficulties visualizing, in three dimensions, the objects they are trying to sketch. This project will use augmented reality techniques with virtual reality glasses to help students improve their 3D visualization, spatial cognition, and graphic representation skills. Because augmented reality glasses are expensive, there will be two real sets in the classroom, with the rest of the devices being a Google cardboard version that uses students’ smartphones for a similar application.