Eight Teaching Proposals Receive Funding From Provost’s ACIE

Issue Date: 
May 23, 2011
Andrew BlairAndrew Blair

The University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE) has selected eight teaching proposals to fund under the 2011 Innovation in Education Awards Program.

The awards, begun in 2000 by then-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, “The council continues to be pleased with the quality of submissions, especially those recommended for approval this year by Provost Patricia Beeson. The council has now overseen the 12th round of this competition.”

Winners of the 2011 awards and summaries of their proposals follow.

Neil Benedict, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy and critical care pharmacist for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for a project titled “Innovative Instructional Approach to Foster Self-Directed Learning.”

This project will help the School of Pharmacy modify its teaching methods to ensure that students are successfully engaging in self-directed learning. While faculty are to provide a climate of learning that emphasizes self-directed learning principles, the actual process of such learning can be overlooked and its principles assumed, rather than enforced. The project will test a new instructional method that is based on the creation of two “virtual patient” cases as well as social learning in the classroom. The effectiveness of the concept will be measured by comparing test scores of a control group of students who do not assess the virtual cases and a group that does.

Sangyeun Cho, professor in the Department of Computer Science in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, for a project titled “Cracking Personal Supercomputing.”

Cho’s project seeks to expose Pitt’s undergraduate students to the fundamentals of the latest personal supercomputing technologies. True supercomputers have massive computing powers and can quickly perform complex simulations and calculations. They are, however, expensive, and access to them is limited. Cho will establish a computer lab within Pitt’s computer science department that will provide, without a new investment in hardware, basic personal minisupercomputers for each student. Their addition to the lab—and curriculum—will benefit not only computer science students, but also other Pitt students interested in gaining supercomputing experience inexpensively on personal computers they can readily access.

Lydia B. Daniels, lecturer and codirector in Undergraduate Programs for the Department of Biological Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, for a project titled “Losing the Lecture: Student-Centered, Inquiry-Based Learning in an Entry Level Biology Course.”

This project aims to bring the process of guided discovery into the large biology lecture classroom to more effectively develop the questioning and reasoning skills needed by the next generation of scientists. Specifically, the project seeks to shift the teaching of science from the passive-lecture model to a student-centered model focused on developing reasoning skills, an understanding of evidence, and a grasp on how the scientific process generates new knowledge via hypothesis testing. In an effort to develop students’ skills in applying knowledge to solve problems, class times will be devoted to interactive and collaborative activities.

Christinger Tomer, professor in the Library and Information Sciences Program of Pitt’s School of Information Sciences, for a project titled “Information Professionals and Student Interactions.”

This project will create a forum for students in Pitt’s Master of Library and Information Sciences (MLIS) program to interact with information professional alumni. The MLIS program has 200 students who are enrolled full- or part-time either oncampus or online. This project will develop six edited video recordings of alumni presentations that focus on specific topics and fields of practice within the MLIS curriculum. Alumni guest speaker presentations will be followed by one week of student/presenter online discussions. The interaction is intended to help students develop professional insights and skills beyond the traditional classroom experience.

Mary Lou Leibold, assistant professor and academic fieldwork educator in the Department of Occupational Therapy within Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS), and Nancy A. Baker, professor in SHRS’ occupational therapy department, for a project titled “Maximizing Clinic Readiness Through Classroom Learning.”

This project’s goal is to ensure that occupational therapy students are able to perform accurate and efficient upper-extremity assessments and that the students are “clinic” ready, not just “classroom” ready, for the task. Such an assessment requires both high-level cognitive and psychomotor skills; Leibold and Baker said they have identified a need to develop a stepped learning program. The new method will comprise six components, each progressively more complex, including such steps as having students watch a professional perform an upper-extremity assessment, practice an assessment on fellow classmates, and study their own upper-extremity assessments, which will be videotaped.

Jingtao Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science in the School of Arts and Sciences, for a project titled “Software as a Service for Mobile Computing.”

Wang’s project involves creating a new upper-level undergraduate course to give students the technical know-how to build effective mobile applications for mobile phones and portable Internet tablets. While many students today may have expertise in building effective desktop graphical user interfaces, those skills are no longer applicable to such mobile devices as the iPhone, Android, and iPad. The project also includes three other facets: identifying, creating, and maintaining a library of mobile interface design patterns; exploring the usage of a class-specific question-and-answer Web site for sharing knowledge and expertise; and creating a community of mobile developers at Pitt.

Amy Williams, assistant professor of composition/theory in the Department of Music in the School of Arts and Sciences, for a project titled “Collaboration in Music and Dance.”

Williams and members of Attack Theatre, a professional dance troupe, will design and teach a new graduate course on collaborations in music and dance. The class will culminate in two public performances of new works created by graduate composers enrolled in the course. According to Williams, working collaboratively is enormously eye-opening for artists, but composers at Pitt rarely have the opportunity to create work together with artists outside the music department. The project is intended to help students develop common vocabularies for analyzing and assessing each other’s works—as well as to build bridges between the University and the wider artistic community in Pittsburgh. The course will ideally be offered every three years.

Eunice E. Yang, assistant professor in mechanical engineering technology at Pitt-Johnstown, for a project titled “Use of a Spiral Curriculum to Enhance Learning in an Engineering Technology Measurements Course.”

This project will develop an integrated curriculum for the Engineering Measurements I course at Pitt-Johnstown. Currently, the course teaches experimental design, data analysis, and sensor theories in three weekly lectures, while students gain data acquisition experience using sensors to measure pressure and other values in one weekly lab. The course will be taught using a more spiral approach instead of through lectures that progress sequentially through a breadth of topics. The new curriculum will require students to use prior knowledge of engineering as well as new concepts learned to solve problems during lab sessions. This method will require students to work as a team to design and perform experiments to address experimental objectives.