January 9, 2012

Inaugural GSI grants announced

10 pilot programs to be unveiled at Jan. 20 symposium

How do you improve on a good thing? Johns Hopkins science faculty and staff have plenty of ideas and next week will show the JHU community what they have in mind.

As part of the university’s Gateway Sciences Initiative, the President’s and Provost’s offices sponsored a grant program to identify and fund a set of pilot projects that will both improve current gateway science courses and point the way to potentially larger changes in pedagogy, course and program design, and instructional methodologies.

The Provost’s Office announced the 10 winners of the inaugural Gateway Sciences Initiative grants on Jan. 5, and the recipients will be spotlighted in the upcoming institutionwide Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences (see box).

The winning proposals include a major redesign of the yearlong general physics courses, a new course called Applied Chemical Equilibrium and Reactivity With Laboratory to target incoming freshmen, the development of hundreds of Khan Academy–like math education videos to illustrate examples from textbooks, a new introductory statistics course that uses a case-study approach, a spatial reasoning assessment for incoming freshmen and an active-learning eStudio project that will provide a shared space for gateway science courses offered across the curriculum.

The eStudio will feature a cluster of movable multistudent pods, each with a tablet PC, a large flat-panel display and a whiteboard. At the center of the eStudio, an instructor’s station will be able to control audio capability, all room monitors and projection screens to highlight student work. Students will be able to share information across pods, and the instructor will be able to project the whiteboard content to large room screens or pod display screens.

The first round of grants attracted 29 proposals that were voted on by the 21-member GSI faculty steering committee, formed last summer by Provost Lloyd B. Minor. The committee—co-chaired by Steven David, vice dean for undergraduate education and a professor of political science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Marie Diener-West, director of the Master of Public Health program and professor of biostatistics in the Bloomberg School of Public Health—was charged with working throughout the year to identify and promote best practices and to develop recommendations for a strategic approach to continuous improvement in gateway science courses in all divisions.

The initiative defines gateway science courses as those that establish the necessary fundamental knowledge base for subsequent or more specialized subject area study and research. These courses include introductory classes in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, statistics, bioinformatics and others with a basic natural science or quantitative focus in fields such as medicine, nursing and public health.

Several proposals stressed the importance of active learning and engaging students in a new way. Julian Krolik, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and one of the grant recipients, said there is a national trend in his field toward this learning approach.

“There has been a lot of research into physics education in recent years, and a major conclusion is that students do much better when they are directly engaged in learning, as opposed to just traditional lectures,” said Krolik, who will spearhead the redesign of the general physics courses. “There are many different ways to engage the students, and we will be looking into best practices.”

The 10 winners were selected and funded for amounts ranging from $30,000 to $200,000, which will allow the proposal authors and their collaborators to undertake research and spend time developing their ideas. The first pilot projects will be implemented in fall 2012.

The winning proposals in the 2011 Gateway Sciences Initiative and their grant recipients are:

“Active Learning in General Physics”: Julian Krolik, professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

“Applied Chemical Equilibrium and Reactivity, a New Course for Students with AP Chemistry Credit”: Jane Greco, senior lecturer, Department of Chemistry, KSAS.

“Epidemiology, Pedagogy and Innovation”: Stephen J. Gange, professor, and David D. Celentano, chairman, Department of Epidemiology, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Online Self-Paced Learning”: W. Stephen Wilson, professor, Department of Mathematics, KSAS.

“Peer-Led Team Learning for Introductory Chemistry”: Paul J. Dagdigian, professor, and Louise Pasternack, senior lecturer, Department of Chemistry, KSAS.

“Proposed Curricular Enhancements for Biology and Biological Sciences: Revamping the Freshman Experience”: Joel F. Schild-bach, professor, Department of Biology, KSAS.

“Spatial Reasoning Assessment and Course”: Ed Scheinerman, professor, Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and vice dean for education, Whiting School of Engineering.

“Statistics Through Case Study: Gateway Science Proposal for Introductory Statistics”: Avanti Athreya, assistant research professor; Donniell Fishkind, associate research professor; Bruno Jedynak, associate research professor; Daniel Q. Naiman, chair; and Fred Torcaso, senior lecturer, Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, WSE.

“The Active Learning eStudio Project: An Experimental Teaching and Learning Environment for Gateway Science Courses at Homewood”: Candice Dalrymple, associate dean of university libraries and director of the Center for Educational Resources.

“Using Technology to Enhance Understanding in Gateway Sciences Courses”: Kristina Obom, program director and senior lecturer; Thomas Koval, senior lecturer; Robert Lessick, associate director and senior lecturer; Sherry Ogg, senior lecturer; and Patrick Cummings, senior lecturer, Advanced Academic Programs. Cummings is also director of the Center for Biotechnology Education.