CTL Fellows 2013-14

On the heels of a successful first year for the CTL Fellows program, the Center for Teaching and Learning congratulates the seven new Fellows for the 2013-14 academic year. This distinguished group includes two Hughes Award recipients, winners of research fellowships from the NSF and the NEH, and past recipients of CLI course-development grants, among other honors. In a monthly colloquium next academic year, the Fellows will discuss pressing issues in pedagogy and share the insights arising from their individual teaching projects—which you can read about below. By clicking on each Fellow’s name, you can read their end-of-year report.

Hebe Guardiola-Diaz, Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience


The traditional lecture approach to teaching biochemistry works like this: the instructor delivers information during scheduled class time while students passively take notes.  Students leave lecture and attempt to work on problems or papers outside of class time. Lectures are an effective means to deliver information, but a rather ineffective way to promote learning and to develop important skills in students—skills such as problem solving, interpretation of experimental data, and critical thinking. As a CTL Fellow, I plan to flip this around. I know that I can take advantage of technology available on campus to reduce lecture time to a bare minimum. My approach will be to develop eight pairs of resources that will enhance learning about Biochemistry. Each pair will consist of (1) a preparatory resource to be completed before class and (2) in-class problems or activities. I expect that in a flipped biochemistry class, I will be able to determine if students really understand concepts, I will be able to discuss topics in more depth and that I will get to know my students faster and more intimately. I plan to share the outcomes of this project with my department and may also present this at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Society for Neuroscience.

Laura Holt, Assistant Professor of Psychology


My teaching innovation involves creating a mobile app that students will use to self-monitor numerous aspects of their course engagement (e.g., time they spent reading the textbook, test, assignment, or paper scores, etc.) in General Psychology. Self-monitoring has been shown to be a valuable tool for student learning in that the information gained from monitoring can be used by students to recognize causal links between their behavior and desired/undesired outcomes, to implement changes or modifications in their learning strategies, and/or to establish more realistic future goals. The data will be available to students on an individual basis using various summary functions of the app; in addition, I will present some of the data to the class in aggregate form throughout the semester to share correlations between markers of course engagement and student performance.

Anne Lambright, Associate Professor of Language and Culture Studies


For the past few years, one of the expressed learning goals of the International Studies program has been to teach students to engage difficult texts through the practice of “slow” or “deep” reading. In this vein, I am creating a new course for Spring 2014, INTS 240: “Theories of Race and Modernity in Latin America”. The goal of this course is dual: to teach students about the subject matter—the role of the concept of race in Latin American nationalism and projects of modernity—and also to consider how this subject has been contemplated and analyzed by Latin American intellectuals in the 20th and 21st centuries, how these intellectuals have constructed complex arguments and theories, how and why they ask the questions they ask, and how they engage with other arguments and theories. In most undergraduate classes, we must confront the tension between what students do not know and what the readings we assign assume as common knowledge. We must also contend with students who are not necessarily interested or patient enough to wade through complex articulations of difficult ideas. In the golden age of information technology, students are looking for the “quick fix”. They want the Google or Wikipedia answer. How do we help them slow down and truly engage with a text? “Slow” or “deep” reading asks students to approach texts in a new way. In this endeavor, students will engage a series of questions that should help them both understand better the subject matter of the class and become stronger readers in general. Among the questions that will guide the class are: How do we deal with discipline-specific vocabulary and knowledge we do not understand? How do we treat historical references we do not know? How do we contend with references to other authors and arguments? How do we deal with an inside joke? What about the tension between authorial intent and the meaning that is activated upon each (historically-, culturally-, individually-situated) reading? The course, then, will aim to combine the acquisition of knowledge with the acquisition of a skill that should be useful in future courses and intellectual endeavors—the ability, and desire, to read slowly and deeply.

Lida Maxwell, Assistant Professor of Political Science


With the support of CTL, I plan to learn about a burgeoning new part of my field in 2013-2014—non-Western political theory—with the aim of incorporating it into my courses, especially Introduction to Political Theory.  I will use my knowledge of this field not simply to “add in” non-western theorists to my courses, but also as an opportunity to question the way that political theory is usually taught—namely, as communicating a canon that defines and legitimates the field. I will ask: what might be problematic about trying to teach a “canon” (even with non-Western thinkers added in), and what new possibilities for assignments, delivery of information, and course structures might open up if I decenter the idea of “the canon” from my notion of how I properly teach political theory?

Mary Sandoval, Associate Professor of Mathematics


This proposal consists of redesigning an existing course (linear algebra, Math 228) to realign the course assignments and presentation of material to better reflect the role that this course plays in the departmental curriculum, and the learning objectives that have been developed for this course over the past few years. The redesign will use some principles of redesign from Teaching for Quality Learning at University by J. Biggs and C. Tang, and Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. Some of this redesign will involve putting some instructional video on the Trinity Math Department YouTube channel that is being created this semester with the idea of experimenting with a more blended learning model for this course. Another part of this redesign will also involve building in additional scaffolding, in the form of more structured proof-writing assignments and rubrics.

Scott Smedley, Associate Professor of Biology


Citizen science is an emerging approach that recognizes that the public can join professional scientists to make contributions to actual research projects.  Working with colleagues in IT at Trinity, we have developed crowdsourcing resources that enable interested people to contribute to our research on scavenger ecology.  On-line users identify and count scavenging wildlife in images taken by remote monitoring cameras.  Our recently developed features allow individual participants to form teams, thus setting the stage for some friendly competition. A current pilot test with students in two Trinity courses, finds that these enhanced citizen science resources are quite popular. As a CTL Fellow, I will introduce this citizen program as an out-of-class activity in the introductory course, Biology 182, one of the largest classes on campus. Engagement of its students in the classroom is often challenging. I will create a pedagogical tool by which to capture enthusiasm resulting from the citizen science activity and convey it into the classroom. I am envisioning this tool as a series of mini-case studies, each linking a particular element of the students’ citizen science experience to a major ecological concept that we explore in the course. In essence these case studies would serve as a pedagogical springboard that would launch out-of-classroom interest into the Biology 182 lecture, thus enhancing student engagement.

Barbara Walden, Associate Professor of Physics


This past year, members the Physics Department agreed to changes that will entirely restructure both the laboratory and lecture for Physics-131, the first semester of physics taken by physics, chemistry, engineering, and other physical science majors. This course typically has enrollments of just over 60 students, so these changes will impact students across the sciences, not just those in physics. The format we would like to adopt is known as “studio physics,” or “SCALE-UP physics,” a pedagogy which has emerged from the field of physics education research. This method replaces the weekly lectures and afternoon laboratory with three two-hour sessions in a classroom specially designed to promote interactions. Students work in carefully-structured groups at large tables using experimental equipment, computer visualization, computer modeling, and other strategies to solve problems and explore physical principles in an inquiry-based setting. They spend most of their time thinking, explaining, collaborating, and doing, rather than taking notes. The instructor no longer lectures from behind a desk, but circulates about the classroom assisting students, asking and responding to questions, directing group discussions of activities the class has finished, and occasionally delivering a short mini-lecture. We became convinced to adopt this model because of the impressive learning gains documented by studies involving thousands of students enrolled in these kinds of classes and the significant reduction in course failure rates of women and of minorities, groups traditionally underrepresented in physics. As a CTL Fellow this year I will organize department efforts to identify the activities that will make up the day-to-day structure of this course so that we will be prepared to offer it in the Fall of 2014.