Funding Given for Innovation in Teaching of Natural Sciences

Issue Date: 
September 19, 2016

Pitt’s Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC) has awarded funding to seven projects intended to bring innovation to the teaching and learning of the natural sciences. The funds, provided through dB-SERC’s Course Transformation Awards, support the center’s mission of promoting evidence-based teaching practices. The center was created in 2014 by the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. 

Transforming a Neurophysiology Course to an Honors-Level Neuroscience Course
Debra Artim, Lecturer, Department of Neuroscience 

A neurophysiology course will become an honors-level neuroscience course that will include primary-literature readings and computer simulation modeling. There will be discussions and group presentations of the primary literature to help students develop critical reading and thinking skills and to understand neurophysiology research methodology. Computer simulation modeling programs will help students gain a better understanding of neurophysiology concepts and applications. 

A Platform for Peer-Reviewed Presentations in Cell Biology
Kirill Kiselyov, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

A cell biology course is being transformed to facilitate students’ analysis of primary research literature. Students will investigate a cell biology topic, audio record a presentation, and submit it online. The presentation will be distributed to other students in the class who, along with the instructor, will participate in peer review of the topic. The process aims to provide feedback to the student presenter—and to help the instructor assess the students’ learning progress.

Integrating Undergraduate Curriculum with Research-Based Laboratory Courses
Lingfeng Liu, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry 

An introductory chemistry lab will become part of a new, three-semester sequence of classes in which students will learn approaches to discovering antibiotics. The Departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences will collaborate to create the sequence, in which students will conduct interdisciplinary research that integrates required biology and chemistry labs. Biology will be the first course in the sequence, and students will isolate bacterial strains that display antibiotic activity. That will be followed by a two-semester chemistry course in which students will isolate and characterize the antibiotics.

Less Lecture, More Doing: Increasing Interactivity and Student Engagement During the Research Methods Laboratory in Psychology
Klaus Libertus, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, and Research Associate, Learning Research and Development Center

A portion of the Department of Psychology’s Research Methods Laboratory course will be taught using a flipped classroom format, where students will conduct homework interactively in the classroom and learn new materials at home, often by watching video lectures. A writing requirement will be developed based on open data from published research reports. Students will explain the experiment’s design, analyze the data, and write parts of a scientific report. After each assignment, students will read the original research report to compare their own writing to professional writing in psychology.

Honors Supplements to Introduction to Physics: Physics of the Human Body
Matteo Broccio, Lecturer, Department of Physics and Astronomy 

The courses Introduction to Physics 1 and 2 will now include honors-level, one-credit supplements that will apply physics principles to the human body. The supplements will teach the material at a conceptually more advanced level compared with the standard sequence. Students will also be exposed to open scientific questions as opposed to long-established concepts. The material discussed in class will routinely cross boundaries in disciplines (from physics to physiology and back), so students on the pre-medical track or related areas may find greater coherence in their curriculum.

Creating a Comprehensive Bank of Assessments for Use in Applied Statistical Methods (Stat 1000)
Nancy Pfenning, Senior Lecturer, Department of Statistics

The course being transformed is Statistics 1000: Applied Statistical Methods, an introductory course taught by numerous instructors. Nancy Pfenning and Brian Leventhal, a doctoral student in psychology in education, along with other faculty members, are developing a packet of information—sample syllabi, lecture material, quizzes, lab assessments, and examinations—to give the course consistency and to assist new instructors. This collaboration incorporates general principles of pedagogy along with those specific to statistics education.

Transition of Introductory Physics Labs to an Inquiry-Based Format
Russell Clark, Senior Lecturer, and Adam Leibovich, Professor and Chair, both in the Department of Physics and Astronomy 

The course Phys 0219: Basic Laboratory Physics for Science and Engineering will be expanded to include a set of six inquiry-based experiments. Presently, the class’s lab experiments are traditional, with students following a methodical procedure to confirm previously known results. The new inquiry-based labs will enable students to work on open-ended tasks and explore theories by making predictions and comparing their results to those predictions.