Seven Pitt Teaching Proposals Are Awarded Funding Through Innovation in Education Awards Program

Issue Date: 
May 28, 2013

Seven teaching proposals have been selected by the Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence for funding under the 2013 Innovation in Education Awards Program. The proposals range from improving the educational experience of large-lecture classes to the creation of a new course on energy sources and use.

The awards, established in 2000, encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence. The council seeks to identify high-quality proposals that show promise for introducing innovative approaches to teaching that can be adapted for use in a variety of courses.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Juan Manfredi, who chaired the advisory council this year, said, “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, five of which address large-enrollment classes.”

Winners of the 2013 awards and the titles and summaries of their proposals follow.

Brian Beaton, assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences, Innovating Informal Instruction: Creating a School of Information Sciences ‘Research Experience Portal.’

This project is aimed at providing graduate students in the School of Information Sciences with the opportunity to learn outside the classroom by actively participating in “real” faculty-led research projects. Beaton plans to create an online “Research Experience Portal,” a Web-based zone of informal teaching and instruction that will allow faculty to upload interesting research problems and to delineate the research skills needed by students to participate. Students can choose projects based upon their interests as well as upon the research skills they need to develop. Students may use the portal to document research problems or challenges, while faculty can use it to provide feedback on students’ work. In his proposal, Beaton stated that the portal will encourage cross-disciplinary research and increase opportunities for collaboration between faculty and students.

Cheryl Bodnar, assistant professor, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, Virtual Internships: Development of Professional Identity Within Large-Enrollment Programs.

Large-enrollment lecture courses, while increasingly common at universities across the U.S., do not actively engage students, nor do they enable students to develop a good sense of the professions they are pursing, according to Bodnar. She plans to expand the activities of Nephrotex, a successful virtual-internship game for engineers, by adding activities that make students more focused on the consumer’s role in the product-design process. It is hoped that the changes will help students to become more innovative and entrepreneurial. Bodnar will work with the developer of Nephrotex, David W. Shaffer, founder and principal of EFGames. The revised game is to be implemented within the Swanson School Department of Chemical Engineering’s Senior Chemical Product Design class. Bodnar said that while the game is currently aimed at engineers, it will be possible in the future to use the technology across departments and schools.

Lance A. Davidson, professor and Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow, Department of Bioengineering and Developmental Biology, Swanson School of Engineering, and member of the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Assessing the Flip: Reengineering a Large Lecture Course in Bioengineering.

This project seeks to enhance the problem-solving and analytical skills of students taking the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Department of Biological Sciences’ Introduction to Cell Biology, a large lecture, two-semester core class for bioengineering students. An advocate of “flip teaching,” Davidson will “flip” the structure of a traditional course: Students will be asked to learn online the material that was traditionally taught by lectures, and class time will be spent primarily helping students to develop critical-analysis and problem-solving skills. Several online learning objects, or multimedia tools, will be created to enhance students’ online learning. The “flip” structure will be implemented initially to teach three units covering cell signaling and movement and stem cells. The project’s codirector is Carsten Stuckenholz, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Bioengineering and a research associate in the School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology.

Becky Faett, assistant professor, Department of Acute/Tertiary Care, School of Nursing, A Strategy to Improve Professional Competence and Use of Individualized Evidence-Based Patient Teaching in a Large-Enrollment Course Offered at Two Campuses.

Teaching patients how to care for themselves once they leave the hospital is one of a nurse’s key responsibilities. Faett’s project seeks to help sophomore nursing students learn to accurately assess a patient’s need for teaching and then to effectively provide that teaching. Four interactive video modules will be created, filmed, and then presented to 260 nursing students on the University’s Pittsburgh campus and at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown (UPJ). The videos will use actors from the UPJ Theatre Arts Program to illustrate effective and ineffective examples of patient teaching. The modules will focus on asthma, diabetes, heart failure, and metastatic cancer, all of which are costly and frequent sources of hospital readmissions. Faculty will start and stop the videos intermittently, permitting students to verbalize their assessments. The project’s codirector is Alice Blazeck, vice chair for clinical affairs, Department of Acute/Tertiary Care, School of Nursing.

Sean Garrett-Roe, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Computer-Assisted Guided Inquiry Activities for Physical Chemistry.

Garrett-Roe will develop computer-based models to demonstrate such dynamic elements of his curriculum as how molecules move around in a solid, a liquid, or a gas. He will integrate these simulations into the guided-inquiry format used in his classes, where students are presented with a data display and required to explain the physical principles underlying the illustration. Typical guided-inquiry materials are worksheets, which—while adequate for some subject matter—are static and inadequate for demonstrating the dynamic processes of physical chemistry. The use of computer simulations and guided-inquiry materials “could radically change the way students engage with the toughest concepts in physical chemistry,” Garrett-Roe said in his proposal application. He added that he has begun reworking his classes in physical chemistry to comprise computer simulations and the guided-inquiry method; “the approach has been a great success so far,” he added.

Robert J. Weyant, associate dean of dental public health and community outreach and professor and chair in the Department of Dental Public Health, School of Dental Medicine; and Amy L. Seybert, chair and professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy, Evidence-Based Healthcare: Interprofessional, Learner-Focused Small Groups in Large- Lecture Courses in Dentistry and Pharmacy.

This project calls for the redesign of two large-lecture courses, Evidence-Based Dentistry and Cardiology, within the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Pharmacy, respectively. Currently, both courses present the fundamentals of evidence-based health care, which is the translation of clinical research into effective patient care. The classes are taught separately through traditional lecture methods by faculty members within each school. Under this project, the two courses will be redesigned to incorporate three, two-hour joint sessions using the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning, or POGIL, teaching approach, which places students in small groups within the larger classroom to engage in active learning, critical thinking, and problem solving. Dental and pharmacy students will be combined in both classrooms as they work in small groups of four to five students.

Andrew R. Zentner, professor and director of graduate studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, A General Education Course on Energy Sources, Uses, and the Environment.

Zentner will develop infrastructure for a new, large-scale lecture course, “Energy: Sources, Uses, and the Environment,” to be offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Dietrich School. Several unique factors will define this course, Zentner said, including its design for students with no prior experience with university-level physics or mathematics. It will address both energy use and energy sources—and it will focus on active problem solving and data interpretation to help students interpret quantitative statements often found in the popular media. “The manner in which we acquire and use energy may be one of the most rapidly changing aspects of our lives in the coming decades, and it is both the mission and responsibility of the University to prepare students to think critically about such issues,” Zentner wrote in his proposal.