Provost’s ACIE Selects 7 Proposals for 2012 Innovation in Education Awards

Issue Date: 
May 14, 2012

The University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE) has selected seven teaching proposals to fund under the 2012 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 Advisory Council continues to be impressed with the overall quality of the annual submissions under this program and was especially impressed with the quality of the seven that were recommended for funding.”

Winners of the 2012 awards and the titles and summaries of their proposals follow.

Peter Brusilovsky, professor of information science and intelligent systems, School of Information Sciences, “Engaging Students in Online Reading Through Social Progress Visualization.”

This project’s goal is to devise a method to encourage students to complete their required course readings—and to enable their professors to know whether the readings have been finished. Brusilovsky said his team will take an alternative approach, based on recent research, that will comprise three steps: tracking a student’s online reading progress; presenting a student with his or her reading progress; and offering an interface to let students compare their progress with the class as a whole and the progress of individual peers. Brusilovsky said several classroom studies have shown that a combination of those approaches can increase by three- to four-fold the amount of student work that is completed on nonmandatory assignments.

Fiona E. Craig, professor of hematopathology in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology, “The Virtual Pathology Instructor (V-PIN).”

Changes in the way pathology, the study of disease, is taught in medical and dental schools have made it difficult for students to become actively involved in the learning process. Craig’s project will develop an interactive pathology teaching tool, V-PIN, to  engage students with real-life clinical scenarios, test comprehension of key concepts, offer individual instruction, and provide immediate feedback. V-PIN builds on advances in computer-based pathology, including the ability to perform virtual microscopic examinations of slide images over the Internet. The tool will be evaluated during a pilot trial, where it will be used to prepare for small-group pathology sessions in a medical student course. Students will either perform the traditional reading assignment or complete a V-PIN case, and they will be tested both before and after each session.

Paul W. Leu, assistant professor, and Mary Besterfield-Sacre, professor and Fulton C. Noss Faculty Fellow, Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Industrial Engineering, “Learning and Experiencing Engineering Design Processes That Promote Innovative Outcomes.”

Engineering innovation is essential to growth and competitiveness in a rapidly changing global economy. Design is one of the most challenging outcomes, as articulated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology’s educational objectives and outcomes. Educators must now teach engineering students to be technically competent not only in design systems, components, and/or products, but also in certain design processes that result in more innovative outcomes. Based upon Besterfield-Sacre’s recent research on innovation in engineering design, this project will develop specific activities and tools to build innovative design teams, strengthen critical design activities, and enhance innovative outcomes. Among those tools will be team-building and brainstorming activities as well as the creation of team wikis, which are programs that allow users to collaborate in creating content and to promote communication between group members.

Jonathan Pearlman, assistant professor, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and associate director for engineering at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, “Rehabilitation Technology Design for Developing Countries.”

This project will expand to undergraduates a graduate-level series of Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST) courses that focus on developing assistive devices for people with disabilities. In addition, the courses—which concentrate on design and fabrication as well as designing a device for a client—will include an international component, where Pitt students will have the opportunity to perform a service-learning project at one of the many international sites with which RST researchers collaborate. Pearlman said while the graduate-only series of courses were tailored to multidisciplinary students in fields ranging from clinical sciences to engineering, the expanded course offerings will also likely draw students from additional disciplines, including international studies, foreign languages, global health, social sciences, and others found within the University Honors College.

Andrew T. Rose, professor of civil engineering technology, Pitt-Johnstown, “Development and Implementation of a Multi-Course Design Project in the Civil Engineering Technology Curriculum Using a Modified Communities of Practice Approach.”

Rose will develop a multicourse design project that incorporates real-world aspects of building analysis and design. The design project will incorporate three required courses and two elective courses in the junior and senior years of Pitt-Johnstown’s civil engineering technology (CET) curriculum. The goal is to create a unique learning experience by grouping topics and learning activities from several courses into a single multicourse, multisemester design project that is realistic and consistent with professional-level civil engineering. The project will employ the communities of practice approach—grouping students with a shared interest in CET so they can improve their technical and communication skills through frequent interaction.

Tonya Rutherford-Hemming, an instructor in Pitt’s School of Nursing who will become an assistant professor in that school on July 1, “Simulation to Promote Auscultation-Related Knowledge and Skills (SPARKS).”

This project is intended to ensure that advanced-practice registered nurses—such as nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists—are proficient in auscultation, or the act of listening to sounds made by internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs. A Student Auscultation Manikin will be purchased and incorporated into foundational courses for advanced-practice nursing students, allowing them to safely assess and diagnose “real life” medical diagnoses without actual risk to a patient. In addition, it is hoped that SPARKS will increase the complexity of critical thinking required by using a combination of simulation and case studies. Rutherford-Hemming anticipates that SPARKS could be used in nine graduate courses, reaching about 350 nursing practitioner and anesthesia students.

William R. Schumann, assistant professor of anthropology, Pitt-Bradford, “GPS Mapping and Community Development.”

Schumann’s project involves developing walking-trail user data for mobile devices that would serve public use and educational purposes in Smethport, Pa. Two Pitt-Bradford classes taught in the fall will participate. Students in Applied Anthropology will use readings on anthropological methods and the Appalachian region to understand rural community development strategies in Northwestern Pennsylvania. They will travel to Smethport to create a GPS (global positioning system) map of and digitally photograph four trails and also compile natural scientific and historic data on Smethport to add to trail maps. Students in the second course, Family and Community Relationships, will be exposed to the principles of curricular development in creating Pennsylvania-ready learning content that is specific to Smethport’s area schools. The project will also help to fulfill Pitt’s regional mission while training Pitt-Bradford students for future careers.