NSF grant helps develop next generation of STEM instructors

A national experiment to develop a new generation of college science and engineering faculty, one equipped to excel in the classroom as well as the lab, is about to shift into high gear.

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, of which Vanderbilt University is a member, has received a three-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. CIRTL is partnering with Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching to offer The Blended and Online Learning Design Fellows program.

Two of the four inaugural cohort of fellows include engineering graduate student/faculty teams. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, Orrin H. Ingram Professor of Engineering in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is working with third-year graduate student Zane Ricks, and Douglas Schmidt, professor of computer science, is partnering with first-year graduate student Krzysztof Zienkiewicz. They are designing and developing online modules for integration into a course.

Ricks (left) and Mahadevan-Jansen

Application could include a tool to promote flipping the classroom, a module for a blended course or a unit within a MOOC. In addition, the teams will investigate the use of these modules, collecting data about the effectiveness of the module for promoting student learning.

Mahadevan-Jansen and Ricks are working to create a module to supplement material that is covered in class lectures for a biostatistics course. One of the difficulties faced by instructors is covering a large amount material in a limited amount of class time.  This can lead to a gleaning of topics that leaves students with ambiguities about the material.  They intend to create a module that helps fill in those areas that are missed and offer an alternative look at material that has been covered, ideally in a multimedia format that allows for student participation.

Schmidt (forward) and Krzysztof

Schmidt and Krzysztof plan to use the created modules as review material for the introductory sessions of CS 251: Intermediate Software Design. The modules would drive the flipped classroom sessions allowing instructors to quickly get through the reviews stage of the course and into the core material sooner than is currently possible. The content matter could be used as end of the year review for CS 201: Program Design and Data Structures students.

BOLD Fellows will be guided through the design and construction of an initial module during September and October, with a complete module created by Nov. 1. The program will include sessions on establishing learning objectives, creating assessments, designing activities, presenting content and seeking IRB approval.

This work will be supported by monthly meetings of the BOLD Fellows and individualized support from Vanderbilt’s CFT staff.

With this NSF funding, 7000 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will be part of CIRTL learning communities at 22 major research universities in the CIRTL Network. These future faculty will learn to implement and advance high-impact, evidence-based learning and teaching practices.

Learn more about education research underway at Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering.