Provost Advisory Panel Selects 10 Proposals For Innovation Awards

Issue Date: 
June 2, 2014

The University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence has selected 10 teaching proposals to fund under the 2014 Innovation in Education Awards Program. The proposals range from mobile apps to engage students in large-lecture science classes to incorporating digital media in the humanities.

The awards, established in 2000, encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence. The advisory council seeks to identify high-quality proposals that show promise for introducing innovative, creative approaches to teaching and that can be used in other courses.

Laurie J. Kirsch, Pitt vice provost for faculty development, said, “This year, we had an especially strong set of proposals. The advisory council was pleased to recommend 10 proposals for funding, which is a higher number than in the recent past and which reflects the overall quality of the submissions. Innovation in teaching is certainly flourishing at Pitt.”

Winners of the 2014 awards and the titles and summaries of their proposals follow. 

Seminar in Composition Digital Literacy Initiative, Jean Ferguson Carr, professor and director; Jennifer Lee, senior lecturer and associate director; and Brenda Whitney, lecturer, Department of English’s Composition Program

This project seeks to integrate digital and writing pedagogy in the University’s required Seminar in Composition course and in the training program for teaching fellows. The course’s revised syllabus will include assignments geared toward increasing students’ fluency in multimedia, such as the ability to compose digital essays to analyze an assigned reading. The Digital Composition and Literacy course, Carr and Lee write, will allow students to “engage with new media as readers and writers, utilizing digital texts and technologies both as tools for inquiry and as forms of inquiry.” The overall goal, they add, is to make digital literacy a defining component in the University’s literate arts, as it is crucial for undergraduates to be savvy users of multimedia as well as in writing and research.

Using Personal Genome Testing to Teach Pharmacogenomics in a Large Lecture Course, Philip Empey, assistant professor, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy 

Pharmacists’ primary responsibility is to effectively manage drug therapy, a task that has become increasingly difficult with the rapid proliferation of personalized medicine. This project’s goal is to enhance personalized medicine education so that pharmacy students will enter the field with experiential knowledge of personal genomic testing. Empey’s project will redesign a large lecture course in the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum to incorporate optional personal-genomic-testing technology for students and faculty. Empey will create learning activities to use the testing data and to create a database for analysis and evaluation. The course redesign will give “students a new opportunity to experience first-hand how genetic testing is performed,” said Empey, allowing students to assess the strengths and limitations of genetic information.

Learning and Teaching Together to Advance Evidence-Based Clinical Education, Zsuzsa Horvath, director of faculty development, Office of Faculty Affairs, and instructor, Department of Dental Public Health, School of Dental Medicine; Susan M. Meyer, associate dean for education and professor of pharmacy and therapeutics, School of Pharmacy; and Susan A. Albrecht, associate dean for external relations and professor, Department of Health and Community Systems, School of Nursing  

The project’s goal is to enhance students’ clinical learning experiences in the Schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy by providing pedagogical training to clinical faculty. The initiative will comprise a faculty seminar, a workshop, a three-day training session (all taught by an outside consultant), and an in-depth, semester-long course on clinical teaching skills. According to Horvath’s team, the project will “help a significant number of clinical faculty members at the Schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy to implement instructional innovations in clinical teaching,” which will, in turn, improve student learning and eventually, the future health care workforce.

Learning Lake Initiative, Gordon R. Mitchell, assistant dean, University Honors College, and a professor of communication as well as clinical and translational science; and Kathleen M. McTigue, professor of medicine and epidemiology and director of the Clinical Scientist Track, School of Medicine’s Internal Medicine Residency Program 

The Learning Lake Initiative, which is a partnership among Pitt, Pymatuning State Park, and the surrounding community, envisions the 17,088-acre Pymatuning Reservoir as “a dynamic intellectual ecosystem of interdisciplinary learning and research.” It seeks to create a “curriculum incubator and support infrastructure” that benefits both the University and the community. Among the initiative’s projects are an online hub (weblog) to maintain a dialogue between students, faculty, and community members; a local production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to spread awareness and leverage the larger goal of collaboration; and a series of curricular innovations, including a stand-alone course, a module in an existing course, and a mentored research project. The Learning Lake Initiative is open to students in many disciplines—from architectural studies to public health—and it encourages inquiry-based learning in applied research projects directly connected to life near the lake.

The Use of Assessment Virtual Patients to Examine Clinical Decision Making, Andrea Hergenroeder and Victoria Hornyak, assistant professors, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Presently, there are no adequate methods to assess physical therapy students’ understanding of, or proficiency in, clinical decision making, Hergenroeder and Hornyak write. This project will develop virtual patient cases that “incorporate narrative and media and are designed to assess students’ [clinical decision-making] skills in patient management.” This measurement strategy will be implemented in the required Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum, giving students hands-on experience before they conduct their clinical internships. Unlike written evaluations, the “assessment virtual patients” are computer-generated simulations that allow students to play the role of health care providers. The project’s goal is to develop and pilot-test this approach to determine if assessment virtual patients are accurate and effective measuring tools for student development.

The Gamification of Oral Diagnosis: Engaging Students in a Large Classroom, Elizabeth Bilodeau, assistant professor, Department of Diagnostic Sciences, School of Dental Medicine

Bilodeau’s project is a Web site that features an oral pathology atlas and interactive games, which are intended to help dental students achieve diagnostic competency—a skill that is difficult to teach effectively in large-lecture settings. “Descriptions of the lesions cannot replace students seeing actual pathology and its associated nuances,” Bilodeau writes. “Practice experiences and training as to how to evaluate these lesions become critical.” The Web site—comprising clinical and radiographic images from decades of visual archives—will allow learners to practice their diagnostic skills, compete in games against their peers, and even post their scores on Facebook.

Online Human Population Genetics Simulator, John R. Shaffer, assistant professor, Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public Health 

The explosion of technology-driven ’omics sciences has spurred unprecedented interest in human genetics, personalized medicine, and other fields that have a foundation in population genetics. However, Shaffer writes, that foundation is historically abstract and highly mathematical in nature. This project’s goal is to create an educational tool—namely, an online population genetics simulator—that will “facilitate the comprehension of principles derived from math-heavy course material” and promote “genomics literacy” across disciplines. The software will be integrated into the required undergraduate or graduate curriculum, offering hands-on experimentation that focuses on high-level learning, which is often elusive in traditional, lecture-based pedagogy. “For example, this tool could be used for modeling a disease-causing gene and then seeing how evolutionary forces act on that gene,” Shaffer writes.

STEM-Sense: Students Building and Using Sensors For Classroom Research, Denise A. Piechnik, assistant professor of biology, Pitt-Bradford, and Matthew M. Kropf, director of the Energy Institute, Pitt-Bradford 

This is a pilot project designed to enhance student learning in a Pitt-Bradford introductory biology course by using a cross-disciplinary approach in research-based lab exercises. Specifically, students will build and use sensor systems in lab exercises and will share their lab data online with students in other disciplines, including chemistry and engineering. Piechnik and Kropf believe the project can have an impact on as many as 150 students annually, creating early, hands-on engagement in STEM disciplines, especially in the natural sciences at Pitt-Bradford.

Chemistry in the Cloud: Hands-on Experience of Three-Dimensional Molecular Structures Using Mobile Devices in Large Lecture Courses, Daniel S. Lambrecht, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry 

“What if, in a chemistry class of 500, every student could have a 3D molecular model to experiment with?” Lambrecht asks in his proposal to develop a molecular visualization app for mobile devices (smartphones or tablets). With more than 70 percent of today’s students owning mobile devices, working in small groups in the classroom will ensure that all have access to what chemists traditionally have displayed with ball-and-stick models. Chemistry in the Cloud will allow students to instantaneously access virtual molecular structures to improve their understanding of concepts such as molecular orbitals, electron densities, and charge maps. The project aims to deepen students’ understanding of 3D molecular structures across chemistry disciplines, Lambrecht writes, by making “models accessible, interactive, and intuitive, particularly in large lecture classes.” 

Innovations in Digital Communication Technologies: Reading, Analyzing, and Producing Interactive Narratives, Jeremy C. Justus, assistant professor of English literature, and Marissa Landrigan, assistant professor of English writing, both at Pitt-Johnstown

This project aims to enhance student digital literacy at Pitt-Johnstown by developing two writing and composition courses focused on interactive narratives, “Contemporary Interactive Narratives” and “Writing Interactive Narratives.” After attending an intensive digital humanities seminar, professors will develop technology-driven, multidisciplinary courses in the fields of digital humanities and new media studies. The two novel courses will challenge students from different disciplines to interact with texts in a digital environment. GPS-informed reality games, visual narratives that rely on user input, and social media stories that integrate multiple user streams are some examples of the digital forms students will interpret and construct. These multidisciplinary interactions, Justus and Landrigan write, will help students develop crucial digital literacy, “positioning [them] to have a greater appeal…in an increasingly interconnected job market.”