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May 11, 2017

Innovative Teaching Efforts Win Funding

Creating an e-mentoring program to connect expert instructors with teachers in training. Ensuring greater patient safety by enhancing nursing students’ communication skills. Using 3-D web graphics to model proteins for biology students.

These are among the seven teaching proposals that received funding as part of Pitt’s 2017 Innovation in Education Awards Program. Projects that show the most promise in introducing innovative approaches to teaching are selected each year by the Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence.

“This year, the advisory council received a strong set of proposals that demonstrates our faculty’s commitment to innovation in teaching,” said Laurie J. Kirsch, vice provost for faculty affairs, development and diversity. “We look forward to seeing the impact these projects will have on student learning at Pitt when the faculty members complete their work.”

The award-winning proposals and their project directors follow.

Implementing a Video Coaching Platform to Provide E-Mentoring during Teacher Education Clinical Experiences

Sheila Conway and Michelle Sobolak, assistant professors in the Department of Instruction and Learning, School of Education

The quality of mentorship provided to pre-service teachers is pivotal for their development. This project will introduce the use of distance coaching as part of teacher training. Video coaching or “e-mentoring” will be added to the teacher preparation programs in the Department of Instruction and Learning to improve the quality of instructional feedback, increase the frequency of observation opportunities and reduce the cost of mentorship by eliminating the need for travel by expert teachers.

ProteinVR: Micro and Structural Biology in a Virtual World

Jacob D. Durrant, assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Durrant will develop and disseminate Protein Virtual Reality (ProteinVR), an innovative tool for teaching structural biology and microbiology students. Instructors often use two-dimensional models that obscure the three-dimensional nature of microscopic systems. ProteinVR will use 3-D web graphics and VR headsets to display these systems in full 3-D.

Teaching Sustainable Engineering Through Design Thinking

Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering

This project aims to develop a fully integrated sustainable design civil and environmental engineering undergraduate course, called Design for the Environment. Design for the Environment will teach design thinking approaches such as biomimicry and designing for the developing world, and use new ways of assessing increases in student creativity as a function of active learning. The course will cultivate creative problem-solvers, enhance understanding of sustainable design principles and give students the tools for their professional engineering careers.

A Pre-Assessment Tool for New and Critical Insights to Guide Foundations of Biology

Suzanna L. Gribble, co-director of undergraduate studies and lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The biological sciences include many sub-disciplines, from ecology to computational biology. As a result, there is no comprehensive national standardized assessment for college-level introductory biology courses, and introductory course development can be haphazard, highly variable and potentially ineffective. Gribble proposes to create a biology pre-assessment tool in all sections of Pitt’s Foundations of Biology course to guide course development most effectively.

Teaching Multilevel Statistical Modeling with Innovative Educational Technologies

Christina Mair, assistant professor, Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public Health

Mair’s project will enhance Pitt’s multilevel statistical modeling course using innovative educational technologies and evidence-based pedagogical approaches. She will employ Panopto to create out-of-class videos and Solstice to enhance in-class activities and interactions. The project will also conduct process and outcome evaluations of students’ knowledge, self-efficacy and use of multilevel statistical modeling as well as their experience with educational technologies in the classroom.

Personalized Learning in a Flipped Biostatistics Course

Marie Norman, associate professor and director of the IDEA Lab, Institute for Clinical Research Education, and Amos Glenn, instructional designer, Institute for Clinical Research Education, in the Department of Medicine, School of Medicine

As clinical demands on medical trainees grow, medical education must offer more flexible, individualized and competency-based learning options for medical students to develop research skills. This project will redesign the online modules of a Pitt biostatistics course to provide enhanced opportunities for research practice and feedback, more personalized learning paths for students at different skill levels and better data on student progress.

TWICE: Teaching Workplace Interprofessional Communication Effectively – Innovative Strategies to Improve Communication in the Workplace

Lucille Sowko, assistant professor, and Laura Fennimore, professor, Department of Acute and Tertiary Care, School of Nursing, and Dawn Drahnak, assistant professor, Pitt-Johnstown Baccalaureate Nursing Program

Patient safety can be compromised by health professionals’ failure to communicate important details about patient status clearly, or through misinterpretation of shared information. The goal of the TWICE project is to develop innovative teaching strategies to enhance senior nursing students’ communication skills and efficacy in addressing difficult conversations in the workplace. Through instructional videos, peer-to-peer communication scenarios and close faculty evaluations of student communication skills, the project has the potential to enhance graduate nurse clinical performance.

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