UMass Amherst Awarded $295,000 Teaching Grant

AMHERST, Mass. - The Provost’s Office at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been awarded a $295,000 Creating Active Learning Through Technology grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.

“This Davis Educational Grant continues to recognize UMass Amherst as a leader in rethinking how large public universities can deliver quality education to undergraduates, even in times of shrinking budgets and growing enrollments,” says Charlena Seymour, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost.

The new grant builds on the successful work done in two earlier grants on active learning in large lecture courses. The first grant was from the Pew Center for Academic Transformation to the departments of biology and microbiology to redesign their introductory course to engage students in large lectures with a fundamental shift in the teaching methods. A subsequent grant also funded by the Davis Foundation, supported redesign efforts in six different disciplines from across the curriculum. Like the biology redesign, the first Davis grant produced active learning experiences for students in large lecture courses with the results showing improved student academic performance and satisfaction with both the course and the professor’s teaching. In the redesigned courses faculty followed a three-step process. First, faculty used OWL, a Web-based homework and learning environment developed on campus by the Center for Computer-Based Instruction (CCBIT), to create assignments for students before each lecture in preparation for new material. Second, the in-class use of a Personal Response System (PRS) engaged students during lectures. Lastly, students returned to OWL for post-lecture “quizzes” to work with material presented in lecture as well as to self-monitor their mastery.

The new Davis grant will support course redesigns in six departments: chemistry, classics, economics, English, music and dance, and resource economics. Each department will create active learning both in the classroom using PRS and outside the classroom using OWL assignments. This grant extends previous work by integrating the in-class PRS questioning and activities with the out-of-class OWL assignments. This linkage will further reinforce the importance of preparing for each lecture and then participating in the class, as well as help personalize the large-lecture experience for students. With this integration students will participate in class using individualized material developed in the OWL pre-lecture activity. In addition, OWL will handle the data management tasks involved in the flow of information from the students to the instructor.

“We are grateful to the Davis Educational Foundation for their outstanding support for the pursuit of excellence in undergraduate teaching and for this affirmation of the leadership of UMass Amherst in this area,” says Richard Rogers, faculty advisor to the provost and professor of resource economics. Rogers was a co-principal investigator of the first Davis grant and led a team of faculty from resource economics in a redesign of its large Introductory Statistics course. He is now the PI of the new Davis grant and is joined by co-PIs: Norman Aitken, professor of economics; Glenn Caffery, director of the statistical lab in resource economics; Daniel Lass, professor of resource economics; Dave Hart, executive director of CCBIT; and Mei-Yau Shih, coordinator of teaching technologies at the Center for Teaching.

These investigators will team with faculty in redesigning selected courses as follows:

* Chemistry – Beatrice Botch and David Sommerfeld will work with general chemistry instructors to extend the redesign to the large lecture courses in General Chemistry.

* Classics – Kenneth Kitchell, Debbie Felton Miller and Marios Philippides will redesign their large lecture courses on Greek Mythology and Civilization.

* Economics – Norm Aitken and Russell Janis will redesign Introductory Macroeconomics.

* English – Nick Bromell and Deborah Carlin will address issues of participation and democracy in their course American Identities.

* Music and Dance and the Fine Arts Center – Denny Brown, Maren Brown and John Jenkins will redesign The Lively Arts and American Popular Music.

* Resource Economics – Caffery, Lass and Rogers will be joined by Bernie Morzuch and Sylvia Brandt in integrating PRS and OWL activities in and out of the classroom for Introductory Statistics.

The Davis Education Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after his retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.