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Teaching Innovation

Igniting a passion for learning science

Teaching Innovation

Igniting a passion for learning science

KC Walsh writing equation on translucent board in front of black backdrop
KC Walsh boosts student success in physics, flipping the classroom to maximize engagement and learning.

The drive for innovative teaching in the College of Science stems from dedicated faculty who understand that preparing students to become global science leaders in science begins with an outstanding education. Our professors reconceptualize the teaching process to deeply engage students and foster rich learning experiences in and outside of the classroom. They are reshaping courses in large and small ways by integrating technology, experiential learning opportunities, professional development tools and interdisciplinary projects into their courses.

A national model for physics teaching

Oregon State’s Department of Physics is a national model for its holistic approach to improving the educational experience for undergraduates. Our flagship Paradigms in Physics Project reformed the entire upper-division curriculum for physics majors, which involved rearranging content to better reflect the way professional physicists think and infuse evidence-based interactive pedagogies. Today the curriculum includes a variety of active-engagement and innovative teaching approaches: interactive small-group problem-solving, project-based classes, kinesthetic activities, technology-based visualization activities and more.

The Department of Physics is one of three universities to receive a national award for improving undergraduate physics education in 2018. The Department of Physics is now leading a five-year, $2.2M effort to help physics departments at colleges nationwide improve their programs and instruction. This EP3 Project gathers research-based knowledge, tools and information in one place and in an easily accessible format to assist department chairs and other program leaders. Whether the task is increasing the number of physics majors, improving departmental climate and inclusivity or introducing research-based pedagogical practices into physics classrooms, we can help, the department makes up-to-date know-how readily available to every physics department in the United States.

Teaching innovations in college algebra

College of Science mathematics faculty are replacing the traditional classroom model to improve student success in introductory algebra courses through technology, new active learning approaches and measurement of student performance and understanding. Through the use of adaptive courseware—a personalized learning tool that students can use to review, practice and develop the requisite mathematical skills for a particular course—mathematics instructors have implemented bold new solutions that will help OSU students succeed in math. This has improved retention, performance and student engagement in 100- and 200-level mathematics classes at OSU.

Active learning in biology

Since construction of OSU’s state-of-the-art Learning Innovation Center in 2015, our dedicated professors have integrated multilayered interactive technology, active learning processes and instruction to enhance engagement and learning in large-format lecture science courses. Biology instructor Devon Quick teaches 277 students in a circular arena classroom equipped with wall-to-wall screens with 10 well-trained undergraduate student learning assistants (LAs). The LAs circulate and work with students on an assigned question, engaging them through questions and dialogue to probe the conceptual thinking behind their answers. Quick teams up with colleague Lori Kayes to teach large classes. Both are 2016 Action Research Fellows. In 2016, Quick received the OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award.

In partnership with Ecampus, biology faculty helped to create a groundbreaking, first-of-its kind 3-D Virtual Microscope and online introductory biology course series, winning a 2017 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award for technology-based solutions that transformed the college learning experience. The award recognizes OSU’s innovative, technology-based solutions that transform the college learning experience.

BoxSand in physics charting new ground

2015 Fellow and physics instructor KC Walsh is conducting research to understand how his students interact with online physics content. This “flipped” classroom—hence BoxSand —has students engaging with course content online and use class time for problem solving and critical thinking. He is focused on what content students access, the order they access it, and how that correlates with performance. Reflective of other out-of-the-box thinking, Assistant Professor of Physics Liz Gire is a co-PI on a new NSF-funded project “Raising Physics to the Surface.” The project involves creating dry-erasable surfaces and other manipulatives that can be used to teach advanced physics by helping “students coordinate their understanding of contour maps, physical 3D surface and equations to study physical systems.” Both Walsh and Gire have made valuable contributions to the nationally acclaimed Paradigms in Physics program.

Computational skills for the 21st century

Recognizing that creativity in mathematics teaching is critically important as failure rates in college mathematics classes climb, prompting many faculty to overhaul math classes and the way they are taught. Elise Lockwood, an internationally known expert in the area of mathematics education research, is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early CAREER Award for her project examining undergraduate students’ computational activity within the specific mathematical context of combinatorics. In 2018, she received the John and Annie Selden Prize for Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education from the Mathematical Association of America. A 2019 Fulbright research scholarship will take her to Norway where she will investigate the role that computing can play in students’ learning of mathematical concepts.

In the same department, Professor Tevian Dray received the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). and the 2016 Outstanding Educator in Mathematics by the Oregon Academy of Science. Mary Beisiegel, an assistant professor of mathematics and an OSU alumna (’96), received the 2017 Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member from the MAA. The award recognized her excellence in teaching mathematics which is shown to have influence beyond her own classroom.

Online innovation in chemistry education

For more than 15 years, the College has pioneered online chemistry courses that have proven popular among students, providing access to courses previously unavailable. In response to a need for better quality virtual lab instruction materials—initially provided by an outside vendor—chemistry professors Richard Nafshun, Michael Lerner and Mike Schuyler, created OnlineLabs to deliver superior virtual lab software to students and educators online. They masterminded a way to deliver engaging online chemistry laboratories to college and high school students and educators nationwide. Students and instructors both reported a significant improvement in outcomes as a result of the improved virtual lab experiences.

A new collaboration between the Chemistry Department, Ecampus and Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning and instructional design company, will enable chemistry faculty to design their own, scientifically meaningful, wet lab experiments that can serve as stand-alone experiences, be used to reinforce material or help prepare students for on-campus lab work. The project is initially focused on general chemistry course sequences for non-science majors.