Researchers Creating Future of Undergrad Education
4 Professors Awarded UT System Grants to Stimulate New Teaching Ideas
Aug. 20, 2009
University of Texas at Dallas professors Monica Evans, Michael Savoie, John Sibert and Marjorie Zielke are taking on a challenge issued by the UT System: Transform undergraduate education in the Lone Star State.
Research proposals issued by these faculty members have each been awarded roughly $250,000. The awards, known as Transforming Undergraduate Education grants, were authorized by the UT System Board of Regents to stimulate new teaching and learning methods; challenge the capabilities of students; and increase cost efficiency and/or reduce instructional costs.
Arts and Humanities assistant professor Monica Evans and a team will create Digital Calculus Coach, an educational game which teaches basic concepts of calculus through design, visualization, applied problem solving and immersive entertainment. The challenge of building a calculus game is one she’s wanted to take on for a while.
“For me, calculus has always been a sort of benchmark in educational gaming; there are many games that teach, for example, addition, long division, even algebra, but not very many that tackle subjects at the university or adult level,” said Evans. “I firmly believe that all games are educational by nature, and that there is no subject that cannot be approached through the medium, so creating a calculus game is a perfect challenge for me.”
School of Management faculty member Michael Savoie and his grant team are designing an interactive online game intended to help acquaint students – and their parents – with campus life.
“We want to develop a game adaptable for new students at any of the UT campuses to help them acclimate to the culture of campus,” Savoie says.
The game will be built to capture what Savoie calls the “three-dimensional aspects of campus.” Beyond coping with academics, for many students, these may include living away from home, juggling a job and handling their own finances - all for the first time.
“Whether monetary, time-management or social interaction, the game will show [players] the consequences of the decisions they make,” Savoie says.
John Sibert IV, associate professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, submitted a proposal on “Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL): Creating a Community of Scholars in Math and Science,” a highly collaborative program involving the creation of engaging, small-group learning environments in demanding large enrollment gateway courses.
“It is a ‘learning by doing’ approach,” Sibert said. “More specifically, this proposal will introduce a ‘PLTL’ component into organic chemistry and physics courses to complement our initial PLTL efforts in general chemistry.”
Sibert said the target courses are deemed critical to the success and retention of a significant percentage of UT Dallas’ student body.
“The PLTL program takes advantage of a terrific educational resource, namely top tier undergraduate students, by placing them in instructional/mentoring roles with academically younger students to the benefit of all involved,” Sibert said. “The result is a true community of undergraduate scholarship where knowledge and strategies for academic success are developed and shared among fellow students.”
According to Sibert, the results from the proposed work should be of interest to all academic units at UT Dallas in addition to other UT institutions, because the proposed PLTL method is portable and easily modified to fit the learning goals of essentially any course.
In a show of UT System collaboration, one of the funded projects is shared research effort between The University of Texas at Arlington and UT Dallas. Judy L. LeFlore, director of pediatric and acute care pediatric nurse practitioner programs (UTA), and assistant professor of arts and humanities Marjorie Zielke (UT Dallas), will create a virtual clinical experience that will provide realistic setting for nursing students.
“I am enthusiastic and optimistic about our collaboration with colleagues from UT Arlington,” Zielke said. “UT Arlington is a leader in using simulation for nursing education. UT Dallas is a leader in high-fidelity interactive training simulations. I believe our partnership will develop many immersive training projects that will greatly enhance the learning of both students and practitioners in medical fields.”
The UT System Board of Regents approved the Innovations in Undergraduate Education initiative at its November 2008 meeting, allocating $2.5 million from existing funds. In all, 50 proposals were considered for the competitive grants, which were narrowed to 11 winning entries using an expert panel from across the UT System.