11 projects selected for db-SERC awards

Since the Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center’s (db-SERC) founding in 2013, it has funded several annually to natural sciences faculty members in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The awards are for adopting evidence-based approaches in teaching to “transform” the way courses are taught and improve student performance in Pitt’s nine natural science departments.

Faculty members selected for an award can receive up to $10,000 to transform their classes, Marshman said. The amount awarded depends on the specific needs of each course.

The money can go toward equipment, a summer salary for faculty or for paying graduate or undergraduate students for their help in transforming the class, Marshman added.

Course Transformation Awards

Development of goal-based scenarios to enhance the communication and collaborative decision-making skills for environmental professionals
Danielle M. Andrews-Brown, Department of Geology and Environmental Science

Students who take Geology 1313, Communication for Environmental Professionals, work together in groups to analyze and prepare strategies for dealing with contemporary social and environmental issues. In order to make this project more meaningful and engaging for students, Andrews-Brown is revising the scenarios to improve group collaboration and to focus on contexts and issues relevant to Pittsburgh.

The use of guided questions to organize material in Introduction to Psychology
Melinda Ciccocioppo, Department of Psychology

Most psychology textbooks are organized by specialities within the discipline, which makes it difficult for students to appreciate how key ideas can apply to their lives. Ciccocioppo is using TopHat to prepare a reorganized digital textbook that clusters psychology topics around themes such as “how do people learn” and “how do people become addicted to drugs.”

Generating student interest in Basic Physics I to improve attitudes and approaches to problem solving
Melanie Good, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Good says that students in introductory astronomy classes tend to be more likely to use expert-like thinking compared with their peers in introductory physics classes. Thus, Good is working to infuse high-interest topics, imagery and simulations into the lecture, homework and recitation activities for her introductory physics course.

Optimizing Interactive Safety Training Kits and Assessments for a Chemical Safety Course
Ericka Huston and Jackie Powell, Department of Chemistry

Building on a successful past award for which they were recognized by the American Chemical Society, Huston and Powell are developing and deploying safety training kits and curricula for an immersive chemistry safety course that is serving as a national model.

Development of an Undergraduate Laboratory Class on Introductory Chemical Biology
Kabirul Islam, Department of Chemistry

Islam is developing a chemical biology laboratory course in which students will examine how proteins perform a range of organic reactions to achieve biochemical transformations essential to life processes. This new lab course will help prepare students for research in biosciences and medicine.

Developing scientific writing abilities through scaled guided and active learning cycles
Eugene Wagner and Clinton Johnson, Department of Chemistry

Scientific writing is an important skill, but difficult to teach. Wagner and Johnson are developing curricular materials that support upper-level chemistry majors develop strong scientific writing skills through an iterative writing cycle.

The impact of presentation exchange on learning and professional development of undergraduate students
Kirill Kiselyov, Department of Biological Sciences

Kiselyov’s unique peer-reviewed presentation exchange gives students the opportunity to engage with contemporary literature in the field by presenting a paper review online. This year, he will connect his students with experts in the field to gauge the effectiveness of the presentation exchange.

Computational Methods in a Flipped Format
David Nero, Department of Physics and Astronomy

After demonstrating learning gains for students in introductory physics courses, Nero has undertaken a project to apply the same techniques to Physics 1321, Computational Methods in Physics. In this flipped class, students will watch videos at home and use class time to work on group projects.

Second Opinion: Diagnoses in Literature and the Literature
Nancy Pfenning, Department of Statistics

Pfenning is developing an exciting new interdisciplinary course for the University Honors College in which students read a literary account of a medical condition and then report on the condition from both a literary and a scientific point of view. The course will include readings about Alzheimer’s (“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova), arsenic poisoning (“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert), autism (“The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida), and many more.

Using 3D printed models to promote student understanding of macromolecular structure/function and spatial interactions
Zuzana Swigonova and Laura Zapanta, Department of Biological Sciences

Understanding the function and interactions of macromolecules is essential for modern biology and biochemistry, but students often struggle to visualize these complex structures. To help students, Swigonova and Zapanta are 3D printing color-coded, structurally informative, scientifically accurate models that they will use as a focus for student learning activities in their classrooms.

Developing a Laboratory Component for Geology 1515: Environmental Geochemistry
Kyle Whittinghill, Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences

Whittinghill is developing a new lab component for this core course for environmental science majors. The lab is focused on helping students master key concepts in environmental geochemistry and developing practical and analysis skills.

Mentor-Mentee Awards

Developing primary research literature reading comprehension skills in first year students
Eugene Wagner (mentor) and Sunayana Mitra (mentee), Department of Chemistry

This project aims to expose honors introductory chemistry students to research literature in a piecewise manner that helps students to understand the key arguments being made.

UTA and UTU Mentors for Students in Introductory Chemistry
Margaret Vines (mentor) and Ryan Lidgett (mentee), Department of Chemistry

This project assigns TAs and UTAs to serve as mentors for students who have lower prior knowledge in an entrance assessment for Vines’ introductory chemistry class.