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Six chosen for sabbaticals to advance Educational Innovation

April 16, 2013 By Käri Knutson

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has awarded six faculty members Educational Innovation (EI) funds designed to provide them the opportunity to extend their sabbatical plans to further an educational innovation project.

EI funds are used to supplement the sabbatical program in order to facilitate EI engagement at a grassroots level.

Recipients include Wei-Yin Loh, Julie F. Mead, Marisa Otegui, Edwin L. Sibert, Lynet Uttal and Peter L. E. van Kan.

“The Educational Innovation sabbatical program was developed to help faculty expand their study leave in areas related to educational innovations,” says Christopher Olsen, interim vice provost for teaching and learning. “As with all EI efforts, the goals for sabbatical funding were projects that enhance teaching and learning, expand our capacity to reach learners, and develop opportunities for economic efficiencies and/or new revenues.”

Projects that faculty members will work on during their EI sabbatical include:

Wei-Yin Loh, professor, Department of Statistics

The UW Department of Statistics is planning to offer a new Big Data Analytics Professional Certificate program beginning 2014, which will initially target nontraditional students from the local business community. It will focus on learning strategies and tools for discovering and communicating meaningful patterns in datasets generated by advances in information technology. Loh will teach a course on decision tree methods in the program and use the EI sabbatical time to design and develop the course, with the material available to future instructors.

“The course can serve as a model for teaching statistics to nontraditional as well as traditional students,” Loh says. “The proposed course and certificate program will have a positive impact on a corresponding EI effort in the Computer Science Department through their own certificate program. The two programs complement each other because they attract similar types of students.”

Julie F. Mead, professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, School of Education

The School of Education’s Office of Educational Outreach and Partnerships (EOP) has begun to develop a series of online credit/noncredit learning opportunities for practicing teachers called “UOnline.” Mead will develop modules that could be marketed to teachers to enhance their understanding of various legal topics. She will also develop several modules that will be added to the UOnline portfolio.

“School law is not a requirement for licensure in the state of Wisconsin and so teachers typically do no receive any training in the legal aspects of their work as undergraduates,” Mead says. “Adding additional credit requirements to undergraduate programs does not appear feasible, but these modules may meet the pre-service needs of students in a flexible, convenient, asynchronous fashion such that they could work one or more modules into their academic year schedules or even take them over the summer.”

Marisa Otegui, assistant professor, Department of Botany

Otegui’s main goal will be to explore and develop the state-of-the-art imaging capabilities of a new transmission electron microscope that was recently installed on campus. She will develop a new module on 3-D electron microscopy for Botany 858 (workshop on plant imaging) and gather teaching material for Botany 300 (plant anatomy) and Botany 860 (plant cell biology) courses. Otegui will work on the restructuring of the graduate course offerings in plant biology and to offer modern courses organized in topic modules and taught by experts in plant and/or biology-related fields.

“There is a great need for hands-on courses at the graduate level on campus,” Otegui says. “We will address this need by developing course modules with emphasis in experimental designs, data interpretation and cross-disciplinary training. We will also integrate an existing workshop on scientific writing to include this important aspect of graduate training into our course series.”

Edwin L. Sibert, professor of chemistry

Sibert will use the time to dramatically extend changes to the gateway course Chemistry 103. The revised course has already significantly enhanced active learning through the use of clickers combined with in-class discussion, group work offered through evening sessions in both the dorms and the Chemistry Building in which challenging material is tackled by teams of students, and through the use of an online homework system. Sibert proposes replacing the less interactive components of the lectures with short, topic-focused videos followed by online questions.

“Students enjoy many aspects of the lectures, especially the clicker concept test integrated with the chemical demonstrations,” Sibert says. “These components will be maintained. Collaborating with others in the department, especially Jim Maynard, our technology expert, will ensure that new online components are not only pedagogically sound but of high quality production.”

Lynet Uttal, professor, Human Development and Family Studies, School of Human Ecology

Uttal will develop HDFS 474, Racial Ethnic Families in the United States, as an online and blended learning course that will simultaneously serve both traditional, on-campus students and nontraditional, social serving professionals (teachers, social workers, nonprofit agency employees).  She will work on creating interactive, online opportunities for co-learning that reduce the potential isolation of online learning.  The online version of HDFS 474 fulfills the University of Wisconsin’s ethnic studies requirement and will reach new audiences who are interested in obtaining continuing education credits for their professional  development.

“How to work with racial ethnic populations in a culturally competent way and understanding immigration issues are hot topics that our students and social serving professionals need more training in,” Uttal says. “This course has the potential to extend this education across the state through online learning as well as heighten contact between future social serving professionals and those who are already practicing.”

Peter van Kan, associate professor, Department of Kinesiology

Van Kan’s main objectives during his sabbatical will be to acquire new knowledge in the area of neural control of movement, to incorporate this new knowledge in the curriculum of graduate (e.g. Kinesiology 721) and undergraduate courses (e.g. Kinesiology 531) and to develop Web-based modules that provide the core content of these courses using a combination of media. The specific objective of the expanded sabbatical project will be to create online editions of these courses that could reach additional students in the U.S. and abroad.

“Establishing distance education courses would contribute to building relationships with other universities, nationally and internationally,” van Kan says. “Distance education directed towards China would provide a logical extension of the Chinese Champions Program and would facilitate future research collaborations and exchange programs for both students and faculty.”