Provost Funds 11 Projects Promoting Innovation in Education

Issue Date: 
April 13, 2009
Andrew BlairAndrew Blair

The Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE) has selected 11 teaching proposals to fund under the 2009 Innovation in Education Awards Program.

The awards, begun in 2000 by University of Pittsburgh 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, “There was a significant increase this year in the number of proposals submitted while the overall quality was sustained. This attests to the continuing vitality of this awards program, which has now completed its 10th annual round of funding.”

Funding for this year’s awards totaled $182,113.

Winners of the 2009 awards along with titles and summaries of their proposals follow.

Amy E. Aggelou, instructor and clinical coordinator in Pitt’s undergraduate Athletic Training Education Program, and Kevin Conley, program director for the Athletic Training Education Program in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition and assistant dean for undergraduate studies in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, “Creating Clinical Competence Through Interactive Technology.”

Developing and assessing clinical competence in athletic trainers can be time-consuming and difficult. Working with real patients is ideal but not always feasible. This project’s goal is the creation of a computer program to help train athletic trainers and assess their competence. The idea was prompted, in part, by the national certification test for athletic trainers, which has a multiple-choice section comprising an interactive looping of questions and information. Each student begins with the same question, but the remainder of the question sequence depends on how the student answers each subsequent question. The hybrid questions are visual in nature and require students to use critical thinking by applying their knowledge in real-life clinical situations. Aggelou said such a program could be helpful in teaching students about athletic injuries that might not occur very often, for example. Also, the format could be beneficial to an array of medical disciplines taught at Pitt.

Kevin D. Ashley, professor of law and intelligent systems and senior scientist in Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center, “A Peer-reviewed-based Student Model for Ill-defined Problem-solving.”

Instructors are increasingly using student peer review as a teaching aid. This project seeks to fine-tune and strengthen the peer-review process so that professors can better gauge how well students are understanding the course material. Specifically, the goal is to develop and evaluate methods to solicit peer-reviewer feedback in a structured way on assignments and to provide instructors with an in-depth report, prepared by a computational model, of how well students understood the assignments’ issues. Ashley, who will be working with graduate student assistant Ilya M. Goldin, said this approach should be especially useful in any University course in which students learn to analyze ill-defined problems—problems for which there is no one right answer but competing reasonable answers. The model will be available on the Internet and will be field-tested this fall in a law course’s peer-reviewed legal writing exercise.

Jean Ferguson Carr, director of Pitt’s Women’s Studies Program and a professor of English and women’s studies, and Frayda Cohen, a visiting assistant professor of women’s studies with a joint appointment in Pitt’s Department of Anthropology, “Theory and Practice: An Interactive Web Site.”

The Women’s Studies Program comprises a wide variety of students who are engaged in research projects and internships related to the study of women, gender, and sexuality. The program draws students and faculty from the disciplines of political science, sociology, anthropology, communication, English literature/writing, psychology, social work, education, nursing, and the physical sciences. This project will create a Web site to provide an interdisciplinary space where faculty and students can collaborate on Webliographies (online bibliographies), personal and group blogs, and wikis, which are server programs that allow users to collaborate in forming a Web site’s content. This collaboration will lead to the creation of a reference data base and links to key research sites. It also will serve as a way for students and faculty to better share their research and experiences within the women’s studies community. Also working with Carr and Cohen is Carly Woods, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication and a teaching fellow in the Women’s Studies Program.

Berrylin Ferguson, a professor and director of the Division of Sino-nasal Disorders and Allergy in the School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology, “NASAL Project: Nasal Anatomy, Simulation, and Learning.”

This project focuses on the development of a sino-nasal simulator device, NASAL, that will be used to train nurses, nurse anesthetists, and medical students on how to place feeding tubes and nose-to-stomach tubes in patients. These procedures can be painful if performed incorrectly and difficult if a patient has anatomic abnormalities, such as a separated septum. The NASAL simulator has sensors in areas that could cause pressure, pain, or injury in a conscious patient. A laptop interface will allow for direct measurement of how the procedure was performed on the simulator and how well the students scored. It is anticipated that less than 10 minutes of practice will be required for a student to master “painless” nasal intubation. Ferguson estimates that the NASAL system will help train about 400 Pitt medical and nursing students a year. Other project members include co-director Joshua

Dunklebarger, a third-year resident at UPMC in otolaryngology; Carl Snyderman, a professor of otolaryngology in Pitt’s School of Medicine and codirector of the Center for Skull Base Surgery; Susan Dunmire, a professor of emergency medicine in the School of Medicine; Sam Tisherman, a professor in the Departments of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery, School of Medicine; Alice Jane Haines, an instructor in Pitt’s School of Nursing; and John O’Donnell, director of the Pitt School of Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesia Program.

Margo B. Holm, a professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, “How Reliable Am I?”

The goal of this project is to develop online interobserver training modules for students who need to establish reliability in scoring and interpreting patient observational assessment tools. Interobserver reliability is one of four types of reliability estimates, and it is used to assess the degree to which different raters give consistent estimates of the same phenomenon. (An example would be assessing the degree to which two nurses give consistent estimates of a patient’s mental alertness on a scale of 1 to 5.) The project idea stemmed from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ 2007 directive that hospitals and health care providers, to be reimbursed for Medicare outpatient services, must evaluate patients using valid and reliable tools and be reliable in scoring and interpreting them. “How Reliable Am I?” will use online clinical video cases to teach students to reliably score and interpret observational screening and assessment tools. This approach allows individualized pacing and repeated practice and enables students to “pre-establish” screening/assessment tool reliability prior to clinical internships. In actual clinical settings, there is no opportunity for “replay” or practice, because patients with fragile conditions do not have the endurance to repeatedly perform tasks until a student can reliably assess their performance. Although designed for Pitt’s Master of Occupational Therapy students, the training modules will also be appropriate for students in the Department of Physical Therapy and the School of Nursing.

Amy E. Landis, Melissa M. Bilec, and Piervincenzo Rizzo, assistant professors in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “Enhancing Crosscutting Sustainability Education in Civil Engineering.”

Citing the need to actively infuse sustainability concepts into the Swanson School’s civil engineering courses, Landis, Bilec, and Rizzo said the project will use three active, team-based learning activities to link three classes: Design for the Environment, Introduction to Nondestructive Evaluation and Structural Health Monitoring, and Green Buildings: Design and Construction. As concerns about global climate change and energy independence increase, sustainability concepts are critical components of civil engineers’ education because these engineers will play significant roles in designing, constructing, and maintaining new energy infrastructure systems. The courses will be linked through three activities that have students from the different courses working together on mapping energy losses in buildings around Pittsburgh and then proposing energy-efficient solutions, creating a case study to calculate a building’s energy using an infrared camera and comparing indoor environmental quality between green and regular buildings.

Karen T. Lee and Bruce W. Robart, professors of biology in the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ), and Frances M. Zauhar, a professor of English and chair of UPJ’s Humanities Division, “Developing a Multidisciplinary Student-faculty Learning Community at UPJ.”

Beginning in Spring 2010, UPJ will enroll its first students in a course on natural resources that will be team-taught by faculty from the natural sciences, education, humanities, and social sciences departments. Students will engage in independent research, as well as scholarly and creative projects, and will have the opportunity to attend films, field trips, social activities, and guest lectures. Students from the President’s Scholars program will be recruited for the pilot class in Spring 2010, but UPJ hopes to ultimately use the model for at-risk and undecided students and perhaps as part of students’ freshman-year curriculum. The project’s goal is to create a multidisciplinary learning community comprising students and faculty and to introduce students to undergraduate research, scholarly, or creative collaborative experiences. UPJ faculty mentors for the project include Matthew Burstein, assistant professor of philosophy; Michael Cox, assistant professor of English writing; Carrie Davis Todd, assistant professor of geology; Catherine Kloss, a professor of English; Nina Girard, a professor of mathematics education; Mary Lavine, a professor of geography and director of Environmental Studies; Daniel Santoro, a professor of sociology; and Xanzhi Song, assistant professor of chemistry.

Elisabeta G. Marai, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and founder and director of the Pitt Interdisciplinary Visualization Research Lab, “Immersive Software Engineering.”

This project will develop a new software engineering course that—along with teaching the techniques of project management, design, coding, and other requirements—will offer a significant communications component. The class will require students to tackle large, team-based, real-world problems. It also will introduce project management skills, usability testing, customer interviewing, and specification of formal requirements—so-called soft skills aimed at making Pitt graduates more competitive in the global marketplace. Finally, the new class will establish a repository of software engineering code that will be reused and expanded in following editions of the course. It is hoped that the repository will accelerate the learning process for software design. Geeta Kothari, director of the Pitt Writing Center and founder of the Pitt Peer-Tutoring Program, will assist in developing the communication component of this course.

Marlin H. Mickle, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the RFID Center of Excellence, “Remote Experiments for Wireless Computer Networks.”

This project involves the creation of a virtual laboratory to give students in the Introduction to Computer Networks course a concrete understanding of wireless computer networks. One of the course’s main topics is how data signals, or information, are actually transmitted between computers over the air via wireless networks. There are many methods of over-the-air data transmission, and each one has pros and cons. Unfortunately, the equipment necessary for students to actually be able to observe and manipulate data-transmission parameters is expensive, costing more than $100,000 per set. Mickle, working with Peter J. Hawrylak, a research associate with the RFID Center of Excellence, will create a remote laboratory, which students can access via the Internet. The lab will enable a single set of equipment—provided by the RFID Center—to be shared by an entire class. The remote lab could also be extended to other courses.

Susan M. Meyer, associate dean for education in the School of Pharmacy; Helen K. Burns, associate dean for clinical education, School of Nursing; Hollis D. Day, director of the Advanced Clinical Education Center, Pitt School of Medicine; “We Need to Talk: Facilitating Improved Interprofessional Communication Through the Use of Standardized Colleagues.”

The Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Nursing are working together on this project, which is aimed at improving interprofessional communication between pharmacists, nurses, and physicians. Their approach will be based upon the schools’ current use of a standardized-patient teaching strategy where health-professions students learn patient-assessment and communication skills by working with an individual who is trained to act as a patient with specific symptoms. Meyer, Burns, and Day will adapt that strategy to create what is known as standardized-colleague methodology. This process trains health professionals to portray a particular professional role, attitude, and communication style in a teaching situation with a student—and to give continual feedback to the student. The project will develop new course materials consisting of three scenarios depicting colleague-with-colleague communication challenges.

Sarah E. Scott and Linda Kucan, assistant professors of reading education in the School of Education, “Using Innovative Video Technology to Transform the Preparation of Literacy Teachers.”

Scott and Kucan will redesign the Reading and Language Arts in the Intermediate Grades course, seeking to optimize students’ opportunities to learn effective literacy teaching practices in the intermediate grades. Their redesign will situate the monthlong course in the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ summer school programs, where Pitt students will have daily opportunities to work with struggling readers. The project will video-record the Pitt students’ classroom sessions with their young elementary students and will also employ Video Traces, a software program that will allow the Pitt students and their professors to better critique the classroom sessions. The project marks the first step of a larger research and schoolwide endeavor to use technology to transform the nature of supervision in teacher education. Scott and Kucan will also work with Kim Gomez, a professor of reading education in Pitt’s Learning Sciences and Policy Center and the Learning Research and Development Center; Michelle Rimbey and Virginia Jackson, reading education doctoral students; and software and technology consultant Reed Stevens, a professor of cognitive studies in education at the University of Washington, Seattle.