Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
CAS Connect September 2014

Innovative teaching strategies net rewards

CAS faculty on the Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver campuses received eight of 13 grants recently awarded for the development of innovative undergraduate teaching strategies.

“We had a record year in terms of the number and quality of proposals,” said Mary F. Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Many of the projects build upon strong preliminary data or are taking best practices in new directions. It’s exciting to anticipate the cumulative impact on student success in the coming years.”

WSU teaching faculty were challenged to focus proposals on one of two areas: increasing student success in large classes or devising model assessments for student learning in lower-division UCORE (general education) courses.

The Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment was established in 2000 by alumni and friends following the retirement of WSU president Samuel Smith who led the university for 15 years. The Smith grants are intended to “recognize and reward innovative ideas to enhance learning and teaching at WSU.”

The recipients and their projects are:

Paula CoomerPaula Coomer, instructor, English: “Archives and Special Collections and the Future of Undergraduate Education: Teaching and Assessment Modules.”

Building on her past use of archival materials to facilitate student engagement in research-based writing and as sources of profound human experience, Coomer will build teaching modules in conjunction with WSU Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections.

“The modules will cover an array of subjects and will be designed to serve across disciplines,” Coomer said. They will include faculty- and student-preparatory materials and activities and questions to guide and facilitate interaction with individual objects. Assignment and assessment tools also will be part of the teaching modules.

Theresa JordanTheresa Jordan, clinical assistant professor, history: “Improving Student Writing without Rewriting or Re-grading Essays.”

Jordan will develop methods of sharing her proven strategies of improving student writing while conserving faculty grading time.

“In large classes, it isn’t possible to have students rewrite their essays, but it is possible to have them apply the comments on their graded essays to subsequent writing assignments,” Jordan said. Her approach rewards students for reviewing their graded papers, noting specific comments on the paper’s rubric, and making improvements upon successive papers.

Paul Krouss
Kristin Lesseig

Kristin Lesseig, assistant professor, mathematics education, and Paul Krouss, instructor, mathematics, WSU Vancouver: “Flipping the Classroom: A Study of Effectiveness and Systemic Improvement of Math 103 (Introduction to Algebraic Methods).”

This project seeks to restructure Math 103 to allow instructors more opportunities to monitor and respond to individual students and to foster productive interactions among student groups. Students’ short- and long-term success will be evaluated.

“As our world becomes more and more connected via technology, we are looking at effective ways of taking advantage of technology in the education setting,” Krouss said.

The flipped-class format Krouss and Lesseig devised will provide students access to video lectures and self-assessment checks so they can explore material before the face-to-face class. This will free up class time for students to work in groups on more in-depth reasoning and problem solving and to receive one-on-one support from the instructor.

Vikki Carpenter
David Makin

David Makin, clinical assistant professor, and Vikki Carpenter, PhD candidate, criminal justice and criminology: “Flipping toward Assessment.”

This project addresses the disappointing learning outcomes in large course sections by using online tools to engage students, create interactions, and generate multiple, deeper assessments of student learning through projects, adaptive quizzes, and other mechanisms.

Faculty are accustomed to teaching and managing large classes. However, most often assessment of student learning and retention of core learning outcomes occur through a single source—a practical reality of managing a large course. Additionally, within these courses exists little interaction, few opportunities for independent research, or opportunity developing communication skills, Makin said. “Through refinement of the course structure, we aim to develop an effective and efficient way for assessing student learning through multiple activities.” New activities include interactive polls, discussion forums, reflection assignments, and contemporary lectures from experts across the field.

Kathleen McAteerKathleen McAteer, clinical assistant professor, biological sciences, WSU Tri-Cities: “Hanford: An Interdisciplinary Team-Taught Freshman Seminar.”

McAteer is developing a version of the roots of contemporary issues course that is anchored in the history and contemporary issues of Hanford, explored through various disciplinary lenses and through embedded high-impact practices such as writing, research, or community service.

The course will be taught by faculty from various disciplines including history, English, biological sciences, and geology. Lectures will be given by multiple instructors on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Fridays, each faculty member will work with a section of 24 students on an evidence-based, semester-long group project.

“The research skills being developed are intricately linked with reading, writing, inquiry, and collaboration,” McAteer said. “The goal is to have students make “connections” and realize that 21st-century problems (war, global warming, education, etc.) are complex and require solutions rooted in multiple disciplines.”

Laurie Smith-NelsonLaurie Smith-Nelson, clinical assistant professor,psychology: “Impacts of Comprehensive Sexuality Education on High Risk Behaviors.”

Smith-Nelson will develop research opportunities for undergraduates to analyze and extend the findings of several years of data from Psychology 230 (Human Sexuality), which show that the course has an impact on high-risk sexual behavior and alcohol use. She will continue to revise the curriculum in light of her research findings.

“The goal of the grant is to address more directly in the course issues of alcohol use and attachment style—or the way one relates to others in the context of a relationship—and to measure both alcohol and marijuana use,” Smith-Nelson said.

The grant also will support development of three new undergraduate studies examining the impact of Psychology 230 on rape myth acceptance and intolerant attitudes toward sexual minorities as well as other marginalized groups, and examination of the relationship between attachment style and cheating.

Clif StrattonClif Stratton, clinical assistant professor and assistant director, roots of contemporary issues program, history: “Roots of Contemporary Issues Digital History Project.”

Stratton will restructure his course to introduce freshmen to digital humanities and employer-sought skills through student-created digital history exhibits based on primary and secondary historical research.

The project seeks to help students gain competency in composing digital research products and exercising digital presentation skills; practice responsible use and interpretation of open-access news media, video, images, and digitized historical images and textual sources; and formulate historical questions, particularly questions about the past that inform and help to explain an issue of contemporary relevance.

“These projects have the potential to create greater access to serious historical questions and concerns, and to put WSU undergraduates at the center of creating that open and public access,” Stratton said.

Xiuyu WangXiuyu Wang, associate professor, history, WSU Vancouver:  “Primary Source Encounters: Fostering Student Knowledge and Analysis of East Asian Societies.”

To help students become better informed world citizens and leaders through understanding eastern Asia’s impact on Western society, Wang will create a compendium of translated primary sources accompanied by critical, analytical, and contextual materials where none exists at a level accessible to students.

This long-term project will put a wide range of translated East Asian texts into the hands of WSU undergraduate students, covering history, literature, philosophy, and politics in particular.

“By making primary sources accessible to students, this project prompts direct cultural engagement, and critical and reflective thinking,” Wang said. “Combining primary sources with analytical tools, the project helps students probe deeper than general textbook accounts of East Asia by engaging with diverse cultural viewpoints from another civilization.”