Two NatSci classes recognized with MSU-AT&T Awards in Instructional Technology

Published April 20, 2017

The thought of enrolling in a required course often elicits wavering levels of enthusiasm.  However, it is safe to say that is not the case for students enrolled in two Michigan State University (MSU) courses—BLD 434, Clinical Immunology, a required junior-level course for Biomedical Laboratory Science and Clinical Laboratory Science majors in the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics (BLD) Program; and PHY 183, Physics for Scientists and Engineers I, also known as Projects and Practices in Physics (P3 or P-Cubed), a required course for science and engineering majors.

BLD 434, developed and taught by Kathleen Hoag, BLD associate professor and undergraduate program director, was selected as the Best Course in Blended/Hybrid or Flipped Course category in the 2017 MSU-AT&T Awards in Instructional Technology. PHY 183, taught by Paul Irving, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, received Honorable Mention in the same category.

Kathleen Hoag

Hoag’s approach to teaching is rooted in the belief that her courses will never be perfect.

“The course really evolved over time as a consequence of many little things — some practical, some philosophical, some technological,” she said. “I am constantly looking for ways to improve my instruction.”

Because a significant number of students had to miss class because of medical school, graduate school or employment interviews and didn’t want to miss content, Hoag recorded the lectures and posted them online. Among the desired outcomes for the course, Hoag said she wanted her students to gain interpersonal skills through increased opportunities to interact collaboratively and delve more deeply into the material with Hoag directly.

BLD 434 is taught in a flipped format and uses Desire2Learn (D2L) heavily. Students use D2L to view recorded closed-captioned lectures prior to class and can purchase a printed course pack to facilitate note-taking and to obtain hierarchical relationships between topics in the PowerPoint-based lectures. Students individually prepare the best written response to each learning objective prior to class and then meet in assigned teams of six students in each class session to discuss the learning objectives, complete a cell model exercise or work through patient case studies. Most class sessions have review iClicker questions at the beginning of class and end with iClicker questions over the new content.

Since instituting the flipped format with recorded closed-captioned lectures, Hoag has had students report that they appreciate and utilize the closed-captioning. Students have also reported that the recorded lectures allow them the freedom to work ahead if they have a particularly busy week coming up, or review sections of a recording over again on a topic they might not have understood.

“Winning this award required that I get past that very personal and professional hurdle — self-promotion — because I was required to self-nominate my own course for the award,” Hoag said. “I’m proud of myself for doing so, and I am even more proud to have won.”

Hoag added that the support and resources provided by BLD instructional media coordinator, Allan McDaniel, and curriculum assistant, Aimee Stewart, have also contributed to the success of the course and have helped her craft it into the “award winning” course that it is.

Paul Irving

PHY 183 is described as a transformed, flipped, introductory, calculus-based course focused on mechanics. The course is designed to encourage the development of practices such as effective group work, modeling and computational modeling. Traditional textbooks have been replaced with other resources, including video lectures and VPython—the Python programming language plus a 3D graphics module. No in-class time is devoted to delivering material via lectures. On a typical day, students come in and, without formal instruction, take out their laptops, get their white boards and markers, and immediately begin to work in small groups on the day’s problem—which is posted online just five minutes prior to the start of class.

One student noted: “. . . this experience left me with a profound understanding of the topics covered and a passion for what I had learned. This class helped me be more comfortable in a group setting and more confident in my individual understanding of the physics.”

“I am thrilled to accept this award on behalf of all of the staff and learning assistants who helped both design and teach the P-Cubed class,” Irving said. “Professionally, I greatly appreciate the emphasis that MSU is placing on rewarding those who are integrating innovative teaching practices into their curriculum. I hope receiving this award will provide a stepping stone of support for myself and my amazingly supportive collaborators in the Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) group to continue to think big and imaginatively about how best to use technology to transform how we teach physics.”

Others who contribute to teaching P3 are Danny Caballero (assistant professor), Richard Hallstein (instructor), Stuart Tessmer (associate professor), and Michael Obsniuk and Alanna Pawlak (graduate students).

Responding to the growing use of online technologies for instruction at MSU, Information Technology Services started this annual awards program, which is funded by AT&T. The program recognizes and encourages best practices in the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

The 2017 MSU-AT&T awards were presented on April 19 during an awards luncheon at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. More information about all of the winners can be found at www.attawards.msu.edu.