8 Teaching Proposals Receive Innovation in Education Funding

Writing children’s books focused on science that benefit the writer as well as the reader. Using Google applications to better understand social work and the complexities of communities. Building a small-scale theater that cuts cost and reimagines the theater design program as an inclusive and tangible experience.

These are just a few of the eight teaching proposals that won funding as part of Pitt’s 2018 Innovation in Education Awards Program. Many of the projects seem to use the “flipped classroom” concept, which provides in-depth online materials for use outside lecture halls to promote in-class discussion and learning of concepts. Such projects, which display the most promise in introducing innovative approaches to teaching, are selected annually by the Office of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence.

The award-winning proposals and their project directors follow.


Propagation of Active Learning Within the Swanson School of Engineering

Renee Clark, Research Assistant Professor
Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Education Research Center

Samuel Dickerson, Assistant Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Swanson School of Engineering

Active learning — having students do something beyond listening and taking notes during class — is desirable and should be used to some degree in STEM courses. This project looks to boost the use of active learning through interdepartmental, one-on-one coaching of Swanson School of Engineering faculty by fellow faculty who currently use such methods. The project stresses the importance of initial coaching of instructors through implementation of techniques and again the following semester to drive sustained use. This program will initially be evaluated via the OMET system.


Design Simulation Lab

Annmarie Duggan, Chair and Associate Professor

Gianni Downs, Lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Head of Design and Production
Department of Theatre Arts
Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Duggan and Downs will collaborate to create a functioning 1:6 scale theater lab in which students studying theater design will be able to explore their set design ideas in a 3D setting. This project will radically change the way students experience their education by taking class projects from the two dimensions of paper to the three dimensions of the spatial world. In addition, students will be empowered to think more with practical learning experiences, and the project will make classes safer, more inclusive and cost-efficient.


Teaching Video for Health Promotion

Elizabeth M. Felter, Assistant Professor
Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Graduate School of Public Health

Felter will introduce a course on health communication through the lens of video technology. In this course, students will focus on script writing and video techniques as a means of promoting health. The aim is to teach students basic video editing techniques through hands-on, interactive in-class activities. In addition, the project will examine the effectiveness of the “flipped classroom” as a way build a critical eye for messaging and providing feedback to colleagues.


The Merged Pharmacology Classroom: A Formative and Interdisciplinary Approach to Physician Assistant Education

Ashley Firm, Course Coordinator Pharmacology I and II, Adjunct Instructor
School of Pharmacy

Emily Murphy, Assistant Professor and Clinical Coordinator
Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

In seeking to redefine the standards of teaching pharmacology, this project will update existing curriculum to fit a program that ensures students have more opportunities to learn potential patient scenarios. The project includes on-demand video lectures as materials distributed before a class that enhance student understanding. In addition, physician assistant students will showcase clinical knowledge and prescription writing through a structured clinical examination, as opposed to the traditional multiple-choice final exam.


Building a Classroom Without Walls: Teaching Neighborhood Assessment with Google Earth

Leah Jacobs, Assistant Professor
School of Social Work

To help local leaders, service practitioners and students better improve community health and well-being, Jacobs will develop a new course that uses Google Earth Pro. The satellite imaging application will enhance students' understanding of the complex needs of communities. This project aims to, eventually, build online and in-class activities that are sustainable and viable for evaluation and that lead to dissemination of a new approach in reducing the STEM-social work divide.


The Science Library Project

Sarah Ruffell, Assistant Professor
Division of Biological and Health Sciences
University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

This project will continue to produce children’s books that highlight key biological concepts learned in the classroom with the goal of improving the way students learn and conceptualize STEM concepts. Students in the program will work with Pitt–Bradford faculty and local teachers while developing their books. The research and work process build networks of STEM-focused individuals dedicated to real-world applications of the biological curriculum. As a whole, students in this project learn their materials by trying to understand how to teach the materials to others. Tommy Mayberry, instructional developer, TA training and writing support, at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence is the project’s associate director.


Enhancing the Introductory Biology Curriculum: Learning in the Context of Current Research Practices and Building STEM Communities Through a Flipped Classroom

Zuzana Swigonova, Lecturer
Department of Biological Sciences
Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Bridging the relationship between the classroom and current research is necessary to students’ sense of involvement in their education. This program aims to develop “active-learning teaching modules” in lectures that directly tie class materials to faculty research. The inclusion of online-response systems will allow students to participate in evidence-based recitation assignments. Through the use of video, professors will be able to dictate and include information about their career path and current research to students. This project will then inform classroom discussion and give students a sense of belonging to scientific communities.


Designing a Personalized Learning Space With the Push of One Button

Patty Wharton-Michael, Associate Professor and Department Chair

Paul Lucas, Assistant Professor

Diane Nicodemus, Associate Professor
Department of Communication
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

As the demand for highly skilled public speakers grows, university campuses must offer more flexible, simplistic and advanced options for students to record and develop their civic engagement skills. This project will build a studio at Pitt–Johnstown where students can, with the click of one button, record video or audio of themselves aided by pre-set templates and automation. With the expanse of recording technologies, there is an expectation that student and departmental content will see a boost in output. Faculty who use the learning space will be given surveys, and after two semesters a survey of quality will be provided to determine its impact on students.


Brandon Glass, bjg62@pitt.edu