Abby Drake, senior lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) in the shared department in the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Arts and Sciences (A&S), used an Innovative Teaching and Learning Award to develop an active-learning based online version of an evolutionary biology course. The results of that project would later help Cornell pivot to online learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Innovation award recipients look to the future of student learning

When Abby Drake, senior lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), a shared department in the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Arts and Sciences (A&S), used an Innovation Teaching & Learning Award to develop an active-learning based online version of the evolutionary biology course she was co-teaching, few could have predicted the results of the project would one day help Cornell pivot to online learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that work developing online active learning at scale helped to prepare the Center for Teaching Innovation to offer support campus-wide at a moment few in higher education could have anticipated. And while the world is unpredictable, that project – how it emphasized scalability and impact on student learning – is rooted in the spirit of the Innovative Teaching & Learning Award program.

With a goal of facilitating vibrant, challenging, and reflective learning experiences at Cornell, the Innovative Teaching & Learning Awards sponsor projects across the colleges that explore new tools and emerging technologies, approaches, and teaching strategies.

Since the first round of awards were granted in 2019, CTI’s Innovative Teaching & Learning Awards have funded fourteen total innovation projects across Cornell, with four additional projects slated to be completed by summer 2023.

The awards help faculty to launch projects beyond the ability of individual departments to support, and CTI instructional designers partner with faculty to help design, implement, and assess each project. Each project is evaluated with an emphasis on each project’s potential impact, as well as its ability to be scaled and implemented more broadly on campus.

The result is measurable changes in the learning experiences of thousands of Cornell students, and ripple effects from past projects can still be seen across campus. One project tested VR and the use of Oculus headsets in Cornell classrooms, and now those headsets can be loaned to courses and programs across campus. A neuroscience project developed an inexpensive microscope that allowed students to see neurons in action.

In 2022-2023 five Innovative Teaching and Learning Awards funded projects in the following departments and colleges: 

  • Economics, Romance studies, and science & technology studies, College of Arts & Science (A&S) 
  • Food Science & Technology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)
  • Integrated Data Science Ethics, Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science (Cornell Bowers CIS).

CTI is now accepting pre-applications for the 2023-2024 Innovative Teaching and Learning Awards. The deadline is April 17.

The five ongoing 2022-2023 Innovation Teaching and Learning Awards funded projects are:

“Becoming the Outcome (of a Predictive Model),” Elizabeth Karns, Integrated Data Science Ethics (Cornell Bowers CIS)

When Elizabeth Karns, senior lecturer in Integrated Data Science (Cornell Bowers CIS), applied for an Innovation Award, she wanted to build empathy and a moral imagination into four of her courses in Cornell Bowers CIS, by creating short immersive experiences. Her project, “Becoming the Outcome (of a Predictive Model)” allowed her students to step into the shoes of a person affected by a model prediction. The goal is for those students – typically in the role of model developer ­– to understand how the models they develop can impact those required to use them, sometimes in life-altering ways, with a goal of mitigating future harms.

“Improving Student Comprehension Through Interactive Model Visualization,” Doug McKee, Economics (A&S).

Senior Lecturer in Economics (A&S) Doug McKee’s goal was to deepen student understanding of economic models and improve his Economics students’ ability to apply and extend economic models to new situations. He developed a large set of new exercises for his ECON 3030: Intermediate Microeconomics Theory course, a requirement for the major whose typical attendance is 350 students per year. The new exercises would require students to engage with interactive model visualization tools. 

“Our project reimagines how students in our intermediate microeconomic theory course conceptualize and use economic models. These visualizations will give them a much richer understanding of the component parts, and thus a greater ability to apply these models in novel situations,” McKee said.

From here, McKee plans to work with his colleague Philipp Kircher to determine whether the exercises can be further developed and integrated into similar activities across the Economics department – including, potentially, ECON 1110: Introductory Microeconomics, which is taken by 1,300 students per year.

“Pandemics Past and Pending eBook” Juno Parrenas, science & technology studies (A&S)

Juno Salazar Parrenas, assistant professor of Science and Technology Studies and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies (A&S), designed SHUM 4675/6675: Pandemics Past and Present, a course in which undergraduate and graduate students collaborate on an eBook that examines the relationship between society and culture, and pandemics and epidemics, as well as the extent to which misinformation and bias has impacted past pandemic response and, if not mitigated, will continue to do so in the future. The eBook will undergo peer review, with the goal of publication through a university press or as  open-access multimedia for other students in other classrooms around the world.

“Giving Purpose to Students' Second Language Practices: Fulfilling Meaningful and Authentic Tasks through Task-based Language Teaching,” Emilia Illana Mahiques and Juan M. Escalona Romance studies, A&S

Sometimes innovation is less about technology, and more about bringing students back to basics.In Romance studies, lecturers of Spanish (A&S) Emilia Illana Mahiques and Juan Escalona saw their students struggling with burnout and overwhelm at the myriad technological platforms they sometimes struggled to master. Illana Mahiques and Escalona proposed using task-based language teaching (TLBT), a pedagogical approach that encourages students to build language skills by applying them in real world contexts. The result was the creation of common ground quality materials for three sequential Spanish courses:  SPAN 1210 (Elementary I), SPAN 1220 (Elementary 2), and SPAN 1230 (Intermediate I).

“Improving student learning outcomes and satisfaction in large STEM lecture courses,” Abby Snyder, Food Science & Technology, CALS

Abby Snyder, assistant professor of Microbial Food Safety (CALS), also had student overwhelm on her mind when she applied, and designed a project to help students in the biological sciences build a comprehensive, intuitive understanding of foundational course material. Her project emphasizes the strategic use of low-stakes testing, developing shared note-taking as an instructional tool, and implementing instructor-led study days in FDSC 3940: Applied and Food Microbiology.  Ultimately, Snyder would like to see the project model the use of the three tools to support other foundational STEM lecture courses.

“The goal of this project is to make the implicit explicit for students by modeling productive metacognitive processes,” Snyder said, adding that the grant would help not only “to pilot a novel approach to student learning, but also to better understand why it works in order to facilitate scaling an adoption by other instructors.”

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