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April 19, 2007

Provost's innovation program funds 11 teaching projects

Eleven teaching proposals have been selected for funding under the eighth annual Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence innovation in education awards program.

The awards encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence.

Funding for this year’s awards totals $159,577.

Winners of this year’s awards and summaries of their proposals are:

• 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, not simply a single dedicated computer for a course.

By combining virtual computer emulators, the project also 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 the 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 help 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.”

All structures are subject to dynamic loading whether it is due to earthquake, construction or ambient vibrations. 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.

• 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 needed to provide successful patient outcomes. 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 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 non-majors.

Reorganizing courses could help recruit a larger and more diverse group of students to the field. The project would offer a course to non-majors that focuses on creativity. The project also would 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 the 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 students’ 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 health care 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 socio-cultural, biological and physical components necessary to create a healthy community environment. By the end of the program, students should be able to evaluate more effectively 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 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 manage a multifaceted world of information. The goal of this project is to create an information literacy curriculum that will teach information literacy skills, enhance the remainder of students’ educational experience 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 change in the role of nurses who hold administrative positions. 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.

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