Provost Awards Funding For Projects Promoting Innovation in Education

Issue Date: 
April 9, 2007

Eleven teaching proposals have been selected for funding under the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence’s Eighth Annual Innovation in Education Awards Program.

The projects range from developing virtual hospitals to enhancing the civil engineering curriculum.

The awards, instituted in 2000 by Provost James V. Maher, encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence. Council Chair Andrew Blair, vice provost for faculty affairs, said the council seeks to identify high-quality proposals that give promise of introducing innovative, creative approaches to teaching that can be adapted for use in other courses.

“The quality and creativity of the proposals submitted this year continued at a high level, and the submissions came again from academic units across the entire University,” Blair said. “It is evident that this awards program provides faculty at this comprehensive research institution with the opportunity to think seriously about ways of demonstrating the centrality of teaching excellence.” Funding for this year’s awards totals $159,577.

Winners of this year’s awards and the titles and summaries of their proposals follow.

Ahmed Amer, assistant professor of computer science, “The Virtual Systems Laboratory.”

This project aims to establish the first virtual systems laboratory, which will offer students the opportunity to use multiple dedicated computers for each project they attempt within a course, nor simply a single dedicated computer for a course. Also, by combining virtual computer emulators, the project will construct a laboratory of computers that students can use from any computer with network access as well as freely available standardized software.

Mary Hall, associate professor of English at Pitt’s Titusville campus, “Writing Improvement Through Team Tutoring (WITT).”

In order to provide continuity in the instruction of writing composition, this project seeks to establish a non-credit program to helps struggling students improve their writing skills. The program will coordinate faculty and staff efforts to improve students’ writing ability across all disciplines by establishing more communication among faculty and tutors, a common analytical vocabulary, and tutorials that build on previous ones.

Kent Harries, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Luis Vallejo, professor of civil and environmental engineering, “Development, Construction, and Deployment of Instructional Shake Table.”

Structural and soil dynamics are critical aspects of civil engineering practice; all structures are subject to dynamic loading whether it is due to earthquake, construction, or ambient vibrations ubiquitous in modern society. This project will give students more exposure to dynamics. The development of an Instructional Shake Table, a piece of experimental equipment used to investigate the dynamic behavior of building structures, earthworks, and soil bodies, will introduce undergraduate engineers to practical issues of structural dynamics and earthquake engineering and will be used at the graduate level to investigate and demonstrate more complex problems of earthquake engineering.

Tara Gesior, assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics, “Finding a Needle in a Haystack: Learning the Art of Literature Retrieval Through Use of an Interactive, Web-based Tutorial.”

This project aims to teach clinicians the fundamental skills to carry out effective literature searches in order to provide successful patient outcomes. Many practitioners lack these needed skills because of the difficulty of teaching the subject in a classroom. This project proposes the incorporation of a self-paced interactive tutorial delivered online via Blackboard Academic Suite that would include an animated video and an instructional guide.

Alexandros Labrinidis, assistant professor of computer science, “Virtual WebDB Laboratory.”

The development of new courses on design, implementation, and evolution of Web issues will provide a capstone experience for senior undergraduates in computer science and computer engineering programs by purposefully looking at the complete picture instead of isolated individual technologies. Through these courses and an establishment of an evolving, ever-increasing online repository of designs, methods, techniques, samples, and other supporting material for building Web 2.0 sites, students will become better prepared, investing themselves in building large-scale realistic projects.

Daniel Mossé, professor of computer science, “Can a Radically New Presentation of Old Course Materials Make a Difference?”

This project will fill the need for a new approach to teaching the first courses in the Department of Computer Science—by offering separate courses for majors and nonmajors. Because the types of students attracted to the field has changed over the last few years, reorganizing courses could help recruit a larger and more diverse group of students to the field. The project would offer a course to nonmajors that focuses on creativity. The project would also reorganize the curriculum of the first-year course for computer science majors, favoring the use of Microsoft Robot Studios instead of Java.

Jonathan Ritz, assistant professor of English at Pitt’s Johnstown campus, “Designing and Piloting a Seminar-style Freshman Composition Course.”

This project will create a new framework for the first-year writing composition courses at Pitt-Johnstown. This new course, called First Year Writing, will be offered in a tutorial format, and a significant portion of the contact hours will be devoted to student/instructor conferences focusing on student writing in progress.

Richard W. Rubin, assistant professor in the Department of Dental Public Health, “Dr. Wizard’s World of Dental Public Health.”

Rapidly changing demographics and globalization have increased the importance of healthcare professionals’ ability to gain a more unified view of health, including social relationships, living conditions, and neighborhood and community dynamics. This project will design a Wiki-based system to aid students in the exploration of sociocultural, biological, and physical components necessary to create a healthy community environment.

By the end of the program, students should be able to more effectively evaluate a community’s oral-health needs by investigating appropriate population dynamics.

Claire Bradin Siskin, professor of linguistics, “A Tool for Assessing Oral Proficiency in Foreign Languages.

This project will create the University of Pittsburgh Oral Proficiency Language Assessment Instrument, a software tool by which students’ oral proficiency in French, German, and Spanish can be measured. This tool, crafted in accordance with guidelines set forth by the nationally recognized American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, will enable large numbers of students to be tested simultaneously and evaluated according to a fixed and objective set of criteria.

Christinger Tomer, associate professor of information sciences, and Kelly Otter, associate dean of the College of General Studies, “The Planning, Development, and Implementation of an Online Information Literacy Curriculum.”

Today, successful learning depends upon the ability to skillfully manage an expansive and multifaceted world of information. The goal of this project is to create an information literacy curriculum, which will benefit students by teaching information literacy skills that will enhance the remainder of their educational experience at the University and establish a basis for lifelong learning.

Gail A. Wolf, professor of nursing, “The Virtual Hospital: A Business Simulation Model for Nursing Leaders.”

This project identifies the recent dramatic change in the role of nurses who hold administrative positions. Typically educated as clinicians, these nurses find themselves in executive and management roles in which they must balance financial and clinical responsibilities. The development of a virtual hospital that serves as a repository for organizational, clinical, and financial information will allow students to test innovative and traditional solutions to complex problems without jeopardizing the organizational performance of an institution.