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Darlene Campbell, senior lecturer in biology, works with students in class.

Reshaping student experiences through new innovations in teaching

This fall, a new group of Innovative Teaching and Learning Award winners are beginning work on projects to enhance student learning environments across Cornell. Projects include active learning to build critical thinking in gateway courses, creating immersive online language activities, developing a course on landscape design to protect wildlife, and re-envisioning teaching and assessment methods in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

Comprised of previous grant winners, the selection committee worked with Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) staff to select 4 new projects for funding in 2021. The Innovative Teaching and Learning Award program offers grants of up to $20,000 to support faculty exploration of new tools and strategies to facilitate dynamic, challenging learning experiences at Cornell.

The selection committee chose the winners based on the ability of their projects to develop innovative, engaging teaching strategies; explore novel ways of thinking about disciplines and integrating approaches to solving complex problems; re-imagine the learning experience in the department; employ inclusive teaching practices; or build upon research-based teaching practices.

  • Chelsea Specht, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Christina Schmidt, active learning lecturer in the Plant Biology section of SIPS, and Mark Sarvary, senior lecturer in Neurobiology and Behavior (CALS), will use their grant for Teaching Active and Applied Critical Thinking in CALS Gateway Courses. They plan to create a pilot program to generate learning materials and opportunities for students to focus on fundamental critical thinking skills and applications that can be adapted to a variety of CALS courses. The project will concentrate on CALS gateway courses to ensure that incoming students of all backgrounds have the necessary critical thinking skills to thrive in CALS and beyond.
  • Slava Paperno, senior lecturer in Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, will use his grant to create Real-life environments and asynchronous collaboration: piloting new digital learning tools and resources with Burmese in Web Audio Lab (WAL). He is working with Yu Yu Khaing, lecturer in Burmese to create virtual environments that simulate real-life interactions for the WAL at the Language Resource Center. Additionally, the project aims to develop asynchronous collaboration tools. In combination the two innovations will make Burmese language instruction at Cornell more interactive and student focused.
  • Joshua Cerra, associate professor and director of graduate studies in Landscape Architecture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was awarded a grant for Building with Birds: Deploying Field Technologies for Enhanced Avian Habitat Assessment and Design Innovation. Cerra will use the funds to develop a new course, Building with Birds, to help students understand ways for their urban and rural landscape design work to benefit birds and other wildlife at various scales. The course will incorporate new software and hardware for rapidly identifying birds and assessing habitat quality so students can spend more time developing ecological design strategies for their projects.
  • Gen Meredith, professor of practice and associate director of the MPH program in the College of Veterinary Medicine, together with ten colleagues in the program, will explore ways of Increasing Active Learning to Foreground Student Competence Development. They will use the funding to document and codify innovative strategies and lessons learned during the pandemic to adapt teaching, learning, and mentoring strategies used across the curriculum to enhance and track development of public health competence. This will involve incorporating online and hybrid learning components to help integrate in-depth case studies and more hands-on active learning.

All the award winners will work with CTI instructional designers over the academic year to refine, develop, and implement their projects.

Contact CTI for more information about these projects and the Innovative Teaching and Learning Award program.

Dave Winterstein is a communication specialist at the Center for Teaching Innovation.

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