After completing their projects, Drs. Brodskiy, Davis, Ostrowski and Vander Zanden report the following results:
Nikolay Brodskiy, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, has been creatively developing his calculus courses for many years, with the goal of helping his students develop a higher level of understanding than traditional approaches afford. Two key perspectives inform Brodskiy’s approach to calculus instruction and the design of his courses:
- Calculus has a multi-level structure analogous to Bloom’s Taxonomy, and teaching goals and design can be stated in terms of that structure.
- Different points of view (Algebra’s, Geometry’s, and Physics’) on the content of Calculus expose students to different ways of thinking about a problem.
His 2012 Creative Teaching Grant helped him extend the pedagogical changes he implemented in Calculus III (supported by a 2010 grant) to his Calculus II course. A cornerstone of Brodskiy’s course redesign was the development of a publicly accessible student and instructor resource website named Calculus +. The website, which contains video lectures and explanations, problem sets, and other resources, is gaining popularity worldwide. For this public service he was honored with a UT College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Academic Outreach Award in 2013.
While developing his Calculus II course Brodskiy had an insight that is of fundamental importance not only for understanding student difficulties with calculus and helping them overcome those difficulties, but also helping students prepare for real world problems and decision making. “Calculus is conceptually different from any pre-Calculus course. Unfortunately, this principle is usually not emphasized and the typical Calculus course differs from pre-Calculus courses only by content. Calculus is the first course that deals with a new kind of problems. I call them infinite problems. A problem is called infinite if it does not allow a finite solution (i.e. a solution consisting of finitely many steps). I believe that a lot of real world problems are infinite, thus emphasizing the infinite nature of Calculus problems would benefit students in the future.” Brodskiy present his findings regarding infinite problems in the Education section of the Wolfram Technology Conference in October 2013 in Champaign, Illinois.
During the summer of 2013 Brodskiy participated in the TennTLC/OIT Summer Teaching Institute where he further extended his website and course development in preparation for a fully online offering of Calculus III, scheduled for summer 2014.
Cindy Davis, Professor in the College of Social Work, developed a new graduate course titled International Social Work. While the course was originally designed exclusively for MSSW students at UT, Davis had the obvious insight that a course on international social work without an international component was less than advertised and considerably less than it could be. Social work and social welfare models used in the United States are only a subset of the range of approaches developed to respond to the needs of diverse communities and societies across the globe. To prepare her students for international social work, and/or to work with immigrant and refugee populations in the United States, Davis wanted her students to work with social work faculty and students in other countries. She used her Creative Teaching Grant to develop an online Blackboard based course that could have the participation of students and faculty in universities outside of the United States. Then she used her extensive network of international social work colleagues to identify programs with the infrastructure and social work program flexibility to join her and her UT students in the course.
A total of 23 graduate social work students and 4 faculty participated in the course in Spring semester 2013: 11 students in the UT MSSW program, and 4 students each from Hong Kong, Mexico, and South Africa. “Students engaged in critical thinking and analysis of global welfare issues including poverty, child welfare, health, issues particular to women, and the results of catastrophic events including conflict and natural disaster.” Students and faculty participated in weekly blogs, discussion boards, live online lectures, and critical thinking exercises, providing opportunities for both peer-learning and learning from faculty working in different cultural contexts. From Davis’s analysis of student comments it is clear she was successful in achieve her goals of engaging students in ideas in social work beyond the narrow perspectives of their home countries. Many students commented on the value of rich and unexpected content of the course, and many were also moved to view the course as truly transformative in their professional development as social workers and as global citizens.
In addition to serving her goals and enriching the personal and professional lives of her students, Davis’ course served as a pilot for the development of international social work courses and courses in other programs that can benefit from international participation and dialogue. Her approach of using the university’s existing course management system is a cost effective way of teaching across borders and providing UT students the opportunity to engage with students from around the world.
Jim Ostrowski, Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering, was dissatisfied with a disconnect between the aims of operations research and the tools available to help his students learn operations research: “Operations Research (OR) deals with developing mathematical models of real world systems in order to aid decision makers. OR textbooks are very successful at teaching the mathematics behind the models, but less successful at teaching students how to implement them. Implementation skills are usually acquired from case studies.” However case studies are a very limited learning tool as they are typically a one page write up of a problem of limited scope.
For his IE 310 course Ostrowski decided to use a deceptively simple board-game, “Ticket to Ride” to help his students attain course learning objectives and gain experience in the integrated use of operations research tools. In the game players try to connect cities by building railroad track. Players are assigned pairs of cities that need to be connected, and they use their resources to build these connections. Resources are limited, so it is important that the connections be built as cheaply as possible. Also, the number of possible connections is limited, so one player’s actions can impact the ability of other players to complete their objective. Working in teams of four, student’s developed a set of questions defining their objectives and information needs, such as “What is the cheapest way to build all of my connections?” and “Is my proposed solution vulnerable to other player’s actions?” From these sets of questions the teams then identified appropriate OR mathematical modeling tools for addressing the questions and information needs. Using MATLAB students developed their own shortest path algorithms to generate possible solutions and identify additional information needs. The teams then evaluated the models and results as to their appropriateness, and iteratively explored, developed, and evaluated additional OR modeling tools. After completing their work in developing and refining models for as many scenarios and contingencies as they could imagine, teams competed in a tournament using the software each team had developed
In end of course interviews student’s singled out the board game process as uniquely helping them to not only learning about the various OR modeling tools and how to use them, but why to use them to address specific questions and information needs.
Brad Vander Zanden, Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, knows that what is exciting to his students about computer programming is the doing: experimenting with code and seeing how the code performs when executed. Frustrated that class time spent presenting necessary “facts” about programing left little time for him to guide his students in actually writing and experimenting with code, he decided to “flip” the Fall semester 2012 offering of his COSC 102 course. He began the transformation of his course with a UT Office of Information Technology RITE grant which allowed him to develop a web-based programming tool for use by his students. He also recorded his lectures during his Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 classes, to use for his Fall 2012 offering. During the Summer of 2012 he developed online quizzes and in-class programming activities for the Fall course.
The out-of-class portion of Vander Zanden’s flipped course design consisted of students viewing online lectures and taking an online quiz prior to coming to class. In class he reviewed the online quizzes and especially difficult or relevant aspects of the online lectures, and guided his students in working programming problems. Most of the 64 students (66%) in Vander Zanden’s class said they preferred the flipped approach to a traditional lecture format, and 84% agreed or strongly agreed that the online quizzes followed by in-class review helped them better understand course content. Most importantly, programming assignment scores increased significantly from previous semester. However, as Vander Zanden concluded, “As one might expect from a first time use of a flipped classroom, there were both plusses and minuses …” Satisfaction with his use of class time and contribution to the course actually declined from previous semesters, and there was no increase in overall course scores.
From his assessment of student perceptions, satisfaction, and his use of class time, Vander Zanden knew why his course design was not the complete success he was aiming for. Students did not fully utilize the online lectures recorded during previous semesters because they were too long and the video of poor quality. This obliged him to spend more time reviewing the lecture and quiz material than intended in his design, cutting into class time intended for hands-on programming. That his students prefer the flipped format and demonstrated significantly improved programming problem scores was sufficient incentive for Vander Zanden to continue despite the mixed results of his first effort.
For spring and fall semester 2013, Vander Zanden developed new, short lectures specifically for web delivery. Using the results of online quizzes paired with the newly crafted lectures he reduced the time devoted to in-class review by focusing only on those areas where students had particular difficulty. With more time for hands-on programming in class student scores and satisfaction with the course increased in both semesters.