Eight Teaching Proposals Receive Funding From Provost's ACIE

Issue Date: 
May 17, 2010

The University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE) has selected eight teaching proposals to fund under the 2010 Innovation in Education Awards Program.

The awards, begun in 2000 by Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor James V. Maher, encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence. The ACIE seeks to identify high-quality proposals that show promise for introducing innovative, creative approaches to teaching that can be adapted for use in other courses. Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Andrew Blair, who chairs the advisory council, observed, “This is a mature competition (the 11th round of funding), and the council was pleased with both the overall high quality of the proposals recommended for funding and the continued vitality of the program, as evidenced by the innovative character of the pool of submissions.”

Funding for this year’s awards totaled $139,494.

Winners of the 2010 awards and summaries of their proposals follow.

Marilyn A. Davies, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Health and Community Systems,  “Developing a Video Resource to Enhance the Learning of Essential Nursing Competencies for Genetics and Genomics.”

Also participating in this project are Michele A. Reiss, an adjunct faculty member in the School of Nursing; and Pitt’s Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE) video production personnel. This project, which will involve a collaboration between the School of Nursing’s Department of Health and Community Systems and CIDDE, is intended to help nurses integrate into their patient care the “core competencies” related to the genetic and genomic factors of health and illness. Nursing core competencies are skill sets in areas in which nurses must be proficient such as taking family histories and providing information about genetic testing.

As a result of the Human Genome Project, genetic and genomic information can now explain the biology of certain diseases, help form new treatments, and identify people with increased risk of developing those diseases. Educating patients about these new diagnostic and medical tools—and helping them come to terms with their ramifications, such as medical privacy concerns—is essential to quality patient care. This project will develop video reenactments of how nurses in the maternal health, pediatrics, and psychiatry specialties have integrated genetic and genomics core competencies into discussions with their patients.

Project director Ketki D. Raina and codirector Joanne M. Baird, both assistant professors in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Department of Occupational Therapy, “Simulations for Teaching Students How to Transfer Medically Fragile Patients.”

This project will employ patient simulators to gauge the best method to teach occupational therapy students how to transfer medically fragile patients from one surface to another in an acute-care hospital environment. This skill is a critical one for occupational therapists, but evaluations of students’ fieldwork experiences indicate that current teaching methods, including lectures and classroom practice, do not fully address acute-care environments.

Students will complete traditional classroom instruction on transfer skills and then report to the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research, which uses mechanical, life-size mannequins to teach medical students various procedures. Students will be randomly assigned to one of three teaching methods involving different amounts of active participation in performing transfers as well as observing other students. “This project will enable us to determine what ‘dose’ of active learning is needed to ensure the best educational outcome in the most cost-efficient way,” Raina and Baird wrote in their proposal.

Eunice E. Yang, an assistant professor in Pitt-Johnstown’s Engineering Technology Program, “Enhanced Lectures via Worksheets and 3-D Computer Models.”

This computer-modeling initiative is aimed at improving the spatial visualization abilities of students enrolled in Pitt-Johnstown’s Statics class, which teaches how to analyze forces on structures such as beams and bridges. About 100 students within the mechanical and civil engineering technology departments enroll in the course annually—and success is imperative because the course provides the foundation for understanding engineering concepts taught in the junior and senior years.

Research shows that students with the inability to mentally rotate, twist, or invert pictorially presented stimuli will perform poorly in Statics. This project seeks to help students with poor spatial visualization skills by providing 3-D computer models as well as lecture worksheets with predrawn images and schematics. The predrawn worksheets will allow more lecture and problem-solving time in class. Beverly W. Witham, a professor in Pitt-Johnstown’s Engineering Technology Program, is also participating in this project.

Hoda Kaldas, principal investigator for this program and an assistant professor in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Renal-Electrolyte Division, “Virtual Patients to Teach Electrolyte Disorders: An Innovative Approach to Integrate Physiology and Pathophysiology During the Clinical Rotations.”

Kaldas is the principal investigator for this project, which seeks to develop an innovative method to teach medical students how to better manage fluid and electrolyte abnormalities by improving students’ patient assessments and analysis of laboratory results. While students learn about electrolyte disorders through lectures or bedside discussions, they need experience in handling many cases to develop competency.

The project will use virtual patient simulation (vpSim), an online virtual patient player, to develop an interactive case-based module that will augment the teaching of fluid, acid, and electrolyte disorders. The medical students will play the role of a health care provider by interacting with an on-screen “patient.” Objectives for the course, which include important areas of electrolyte disorders, were developed in consultation with expert nephrologists and internists.

Additional team members for this project include Kristine Schonder, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy; Mark Unruh, assistant professor of medicine in the Renal-Electrolyte Division; James R. “Jamie” Johnston, professor of medicine and the clinical director of the Renal-Electrolyte Division; James B. McGee, director of the Laboratory for Educational Technology (LET) and assistant dean for medical education technology; Teppituk Krinchai, a system engineer/software developer for LET; and Peter Kant, production director for LET.

Adam K. Leibovich,
a physics professor and the director of graduate studies for the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences, “Teaching Computer Modeling in Introductory Physics.”

Leibovich will team with Russell J. Clark, a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, to develop a computer lab curriculum for freshman engineering students taking the Integrated Curriculum versions of Physics 0174 and 0175. The curriculum will include computational problem-solving methods—a skill which is normally taught in advanced courses at the junior and senior levels. Leibovich and Clark conducted a limited feasibility study that showed that, with the proper tools and instruction, freshman students are more than capable of learning such techniques. Because computer modeling is essential to all engineering students throughout their careers, the students should begin to develop the programming skills necessary for their calculations as early as possible, they said in their proposal.

The computer lab curriculum developed in the project will eventually be available for all sections of Physics 0174 and 0175.

Steven P. Levitan, the John A. Jurenko Professor of Computer Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, “Simulating the World.”

The goal of this project is to develop a course that will provide undergraduate engineering and science students with skills in using modeling and simulation methods to design and analyze systems within the domains of physics, chemistry, biology, and several types of engineering. Students will learn to characterize physical systems and create mathematical models that can be used in computer simulations to design systems and predict their performance.

The course is motivated by the need for both scientists and engineers to develop these skills—a need that has been identified at a national level by the National Science Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Simulation-Based Engineering Science. Levitan taught a pilot version of such a course in the Fall Term of 2009 to a group of electrical and computer engineering students. This project will allow the course to be broadened into a more structured course that will be applicable to a wide range of science and engineering students across the University.

Brian S.  Butler, a professor of information systems in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and a professor of clinical and translational science in Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, “The Virtual Firm: An Interactive Environment for Teaching Information Technology (IT) Opportunity Recognition.”

This project will create a real-world interactive virtual firm aimed at helping students to learn how to identify and evaluate information technology innovation opportunities. The project’s premise is that although billions of dollars are invested each year in IT systems, much of this investment is wasted because of misaligned priorities and unrealized potential. Key to both individuals’ and organizations’ abilities to benefit from IT investment is the ability of professionals—regardless of their specialty—to recognize opportunities to use IT to increase efficiency, support growth, and enable innovation. But efforts to teach students how to do so are limited.

There is support from six Katz faculty members for using the virtual firm concept in five different courses. In addition, faculty from other Pitt programs have expressed interest in using the materials, which will comprise a collection of data about the firm, a Blackboard computer-based repository with teaching notes for faculty, and an interactive virtual world implementation of a corporate facility.

Additional team members for the virtual firm project are Russell Robbins, a visiting assistant professor of business administration in the Katz School; and Jacqueline Pike, a visiting instructor and doctoral student in the Katz School

Gary Tabas, a professor of medicine in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Division of General Medicine, “A Novel Approach to Teaching Clinical Decision-Making Using Virtual Patient Technology.”

The teaching of clinical decision-making is one of the most crucial aspects of medical education. The goal of this project is to develop a Web-based program that uses vpSim software developed by LET to teach effective clinical decision-making. The project’s first phase will be to develop a program to help medical students learn about diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition that develops when a person has dangerously low insulin levels. The virtual patient simulation method will be administered to about 200 students in Pitt’s School of Medicine and School of Pharmacy. Tabas, the project leader, will work closely with the LET and University faculty to assess the students’ decision-making abilities concerning diabetic ketacidosis.

Other project team members include Neal J. Benedict, an assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics in the School of Pharmacy; James B. McGee, a professor in the Department of Medicine, assistant dean for medical education technology, and director of Pitt’s LET; Peter Kant, production director for LET; Teppituk Krinchai, system engineer for LET; and Harsha Rao, a professor of medicine and chief of endocrinology at the VA Medical Center Pittsburgh.