Fifth Annual Instructional Innovation Conference


The Fifth Annual Boston University Instructional Innovation Conference was held on Friday, March 8, 2013.

2013 Instructional Innovation Conference Agenda

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Presentation Abstracts

A Doctoral Curriculum in Transition: A Case Study of BUSM’s Graduate Medical Sciences Curriculum Reform

Shoumita Dasgupta & Karen Symes (MED)

The Division of Graduate Medical Sciences at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) is the home of numerous dynamic graduate programs. Division doctoral students conduct cutting edge
research on a wide range of topics that are directly related to improving human health and treatment of disease. Before transitioning to full-time thesis research, students are engaged in classroom training in a variety of
fundamental disciplines. With 17 unique pathways of admission to these doctoral programs, there were also 17 unique curricula. Departments and programs offered courses independently, and students participated in curricula that were overlapping combinations of these courses. This system created curricula that were not well coordinated and that had redundant course content as well as content gaps. In an effort to address these issues, a curriculum reform process was initiated in December 2010 to completely restructure doctoral education at BUSM. In order to embark on this journey, it was necessary to create a culture
that encouraged our community to adopt a new educational paradigm. Towards this end, we implemented the process for leading change, a system born out of the business world. Using a case study, we present the application of the leading change method to the academic process of curriculum reform. We detail the key pedagogical objectives and elements designed into the new curriculum through this process of leading change. In addition, we discuss the creation of a curriculum that fosters the interdisciplinary thinking students are ultimately asked to utilize in their research endeavors. Finally, we explore the lessons learned during the first implementation (Fall 2011 – Spring 2012) of the new Foundations in Biomedical Sciences integrated curriculum.

A Doctoral Curriculum in Transition Presentation

BIOBUGS: An Adaptable Model of a Science Outreach Program

Angela M. Seliga & Nathan Rycroft (CAS)

Since fall 2006, Biology Inquiry and Outreach with Boston University Graduate Students (BIOBUGS) has been an outreach program that encourages local high school (HS) students to become excited about science. Participation benefits BU’s graduate and undergraduate students by providing opportunities to develop pedagogical techniques critical to their academic success and as future members of the scientific community. Three-hour modules are followed by an hour-long lunch panel discussion with members of the department. Currently, BIOBUGS has five separate modules representing a spectrum of broad topics in biology. By gaining experience teaching novel material to diverse populations, graduate students are forced to reassess pedagogical methods that need improvement and actively pursue development in those areas to become more effective instructors in their assigned courses. Additionally, faculty and graduate student participants incorporate the BIOBUGS program as an existing model for their proposed broader impacts sections in grant writing. If instructors wish to design a laboratory module for an outreach program, we suggest choosing a topic that is practical, relevant, dynamic to reach a wide audience, and utilizes the expertise of the designers. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others in their departments to design laboratory modules for outreach programs.

BIOBUG Presentation

Bridging Cyberspace Through e-Mentoring

Karen Jacobs & Nancy Doyle (SAR)

This presentation describes the e-mentoring approach used in a distance education post-professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) program. Specifically, upon matriculation until graduation, students are partnered with a peer in their cohort as well as with a faculty mentor. Peer and faculty mentoring agreements are negotiated each semester to provide the opportunity to share and plan co-mentoring expectations and goals.
We will share through narratives of peer and faculty mentors how this e-mentoring approach builds a learning community.

Bridging Cyberspace Through e-Mentoring Presentation

Establishing and Maintaining the Human Connection in Online Education

James Frey, Elizabeth Curran (MET) & Donna McLaughlin (SSW)

The stereotype regarding online education suggests that students are isolated, siloed, and disconnected. A common perception is that online students sit hunched over their laptops in small, darkened rooms in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the family is asleep, completing their coursework in a vacuum with little to no human interaction. Is this the reality to which online learning must be relegated? The answer is no, as Boston
University proves consistently through the educational innovation we will discuss in this presentation: technology-enabled student engagement. The online Master of Social Work is an excellent example of how we can use compelling approaches and technologies to establish and maintain the sense and reality of human connection (student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and/or student-to-Boston University community) in online education.


Establishing and Maintaining the Human Connection in Online Education Presentation

Examining the Bi-Directional Benefits of Language Exchanges

Mariko Henstock (CAS)

Many universities offer language tables or language exchange opportunities for native and non-native speakers.  Researchers have demonstrated the benefits of these exchanges. At BU language students interact with BU CELOP (Center of English Language and Orientation Programs) native Japanese speakers. As part of our program, we invite the native speakers to join the Japanese language classroom.  While it is likely beneficial to our Japanese language students, an obvious question is whether it is beneficial for the ESL students. This talk will describe the nature of the language exchanges and exchange classes that we have optimized over the past
several years. We will present the somewhat surprising results of a survey for both BU Japanese and ESL students who participated in the program.

Examining the Bi-Directional Benefits of Language Exchanges Presentation

Further Innovation In Teaching Business Cases In Online Classes:  Making Case Discussions More Meaningful And More Closely Connected With Course Content

Barry Unger, Steve Leybourne & Oxana Longinova (MET)

Our presentation will build on a CEIT presentation in 2010 that dealt with the original development of an online graduate course on “The Innovation Process: Developing New Products And Services” emphasizing case-based
discussions. We will discuss: 1) recent improvements to support better integration of cases and course concepts, 2) re-structuring of the discussions to improve their vibrancy and educational quality and promote skill development in students, and 3) the emerging impact of these changes on the role of small group “facilitator” in this course.

We will also share what we are learning about ways to fine-tune the actual online case discussions to make them more meaningful and less rote: emphasizing shorter, more informal, and more frequent online posts that build
on each other by calling for student reactions, opinions, analysis, and recommended courses of action; focusing discussions on the course’s specific content of lectures, cases, and conceptual readings, and requiring students to support their analysis and recommendations with pithy thoughtful references to this material (rather than trying to impress their grader by overloading posts with citations to outside material); and enforcing this style of discussion with such things as word limits and a congruent grading rubric.

Finally, we will address, in the context of our innovation course, the evolving role of the online small group facilitator (typically one assigned to each group of 15 students)  from one mainly emphasizing the grading of
discussions, papers, and exams, to one with a more even balance between the grading aspect and being actively involved in the discussion and teaching process.

Genre-Crossing Writing Assignments

David Larson & Sarah Madsen Hardy (CAS)

This presentation on genre-crossing writing assignments offers a method for teaching students to draw more effectively on writing skills they have acquired in both WR classes and their major field of study when they write in classes across the disciplines. Research shows that when expert writers are confronted with a novel writing task, they reflect on component skills they learned in the genres they have already mastered, consider the repertoire of strategies they have at their disposal, and combine them in ways appropriate to the new context. As undergraduates move from class to class, writing in several different genres each day, they need help fostering this ability to reflect nimbly on genre in order to use existing skills appropriately in new contexts. The genre-crossing assignments to be presented were designed to help students transfer skills and strategies they learn in one context to another. They enhance students’ awareness of the similarities and differences between the kind of thesis-driven, source-based academic arguments we teach in the CAS Writing Program and other genres of writing. They can be adapted across the disciplines to help students place the discipline-specific “rules” of an assignment in a broader context, understand on their own which strategies to use and not use in the given rhetorical situation, and move with increasing ease and expertise from one genre to another.

Genre-Crossing Writing Assignments Presentation

Immersive Methods Courses for Pre-Service Teachers

Kelly Majmudar, Don DeRosa, Carol Jenkins, Brenda Richardson & Julia Badiali (SED)

Boston University School of Education has initiated a Professional Learning Partnership with Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester, MA.  Pre-service elementary teachers integrate instructional theory and practice through observations of elementary classrooms, tutoring, and teaching in an immersive and mentored environment.  The presentation will address lessons learned for forging partnerships between institutes of higher education and public schools as well as the potential benefits for all stakeholders.

Immersive Methods Courses for Pre-Service Teachers Presentation

Improving Active Learning and Instant Feedback in an Introductory Engineering Course

Caleb H. Farny & Sean B. Andersson (ENG)

Beginning in the Spring 2012 semester, the EK301 Engineering Mechanics I course was restructured to incorporate a more uniform active learning aspect to the lecture component of the course. Instead of following a standard  -hour faculty-led discourse on new material, the lectures now consist of a modified “studio model” approach, where the students experience a Presentation-Learning-Discussion sequence that is run twice a lecture. In the Presentation component, the faculty instructor presents a 15-minute lecture on the new material to the entire class. Afterwards in the Learning component, an active learning problem is presented to the class, and students work in 4-person groups to collectively solve the problem over a period of 15 minutes. In general, most lectures are organized around a single concept. To help study the new concept, the first group problem is designed as a basic, simple scenario while the second group problem involves a more complex scenario. Since most of the course analysis is graphical, each group is supplied with a networked tablet that enables the students to document their graphical and mathematical analysis, and then share their work with the instructor. The Learning stage is followed by a class-wide Discussion facilitated by the instructor, where the students’ work is used as a means to highlight correct and common incorrect steps for a typical problem. The student outcomes that emerged from the new lecture model will be compared with those seen from the historical “standard” lecture method. This talk will also discuss the main elements of incorporating this type of model into a multi-section, large-enrollment engineering course.

Improving Active Learning and Instant Feedback in an Introductory Engineering Course Presentation

Low Stakes Quizzes as a Learning Tool

Taryn Vian (SPH)

One challenge in teaching is that busy students sometimes skip readings that are meant to help them gain foundational knowledge. An additional challenge in skill-based classes like financial management is helping students see the connections among different sessions of the course, each of which may introduce a discrete analytical tool or concept. Students also like to have opportunities for self-assessment before they are tested in high stakes exams. To address these needs, I introduced weekly, in-class quizzes focused on concepts from the previous class and required readings in a public health course. This presentation describes the process I used to minimize grading burden and student stress while still providing a motivating learning experience and opportunity to identify problems.

Low Stakes Quizzes as a Learning Tool Presentation

Making Learning Real

Tony Wallace & Bill Marx (CAS)

Theater Now is a curriculum-based initiative we’ve developed within the Writing Program.  In a writing seminar, “curriculum based” means that all activities should provide material students can use in their essays.  In moving from Theater Now to Arts Now we’ve begun to develop a small constellation of arts-related courses with a strong outside-of-the-classroom component; we see our efforts this year as laying a foundation for supporting the BU Arts Initiative through the Writing Program.  We feel that the Theater Now model is sound enough, and adaptable enough, to transfer successfully to other courses both inside and outside the Writing Program.  Theater Now brings students together on and off campus, inside and outside the classroom, in real space and in digital space.  To supplement plays and related films, we’ve hosted large-group discussions with prominent guest speakers (with
undergraduate project assistants “tweeting” the events in real time).  These events have yielded tremendous pedagogical results and insights.  Students can see an academic “conversation” taking place in real time, and not only see it but actively participate in it.  Because we bring all sections of the course together for the plays and large-group discussions, we not only establish a learning community outside the classroom but expand that community both in size and scope.  All this, we believe, has provided more motivation as well as material for the writing assignments at the heart of all WR courses. As writing instructors, we want to “make learning real”—our motto— with the ultimate aim of making writing real as well.

Mindfulness and Meditation in the Classroom

Patricia Larash (CGS)

Taking inspiration from Ken Bain’s recent advice to college undergrads that they should “understand how [their minds work]” (What the Best College Students Do (2012), 64), I have introduced brief periods (usually one minute long, plus introductory guiding comments) of concentration meditation into my first-year Rhetoric (writing and critical thinking) classroom in order to give my students practice in one of the building blocks of mindful self-reflection that leads to growth: the ability to strengthen one’s “attention muscle.”   I have drawn on my own experience as a meditator (3.5 years) and my instincts as a teacher to tailor a meditation experience specifically to the needs of my classroom: to encourage students to “be present” for classroom discussion, to become aware of their own responses to distractions, and to own the cognitive, emotional, and psychological components of their own thought processes.   As part of my presentation, I will lead participants in a one-minute meditation of our own to demonstrate the practice.

Mindfulness and Meditation in the Classroom Presentation

Pondering the Pitfalls of Teaching Scientific Writing to Undergraduates

Sally Sommers Smith & Kari Lavalli (CGS)

We teach a two-semester sequence of Natural (biological) Science aimed at non-majors. Our students have all completed a year-long course in rhetoric and writing, but the writing demonstrated in their lab paper assignments shows they have not mastered the skills of simple and clear communication. We undertook a study to assess whether asking students to prepare a poster, coupled with the opportunity to critique the work of their peers and the opportunity to rewrite sections of their posters, would improve their ability to communicate their laboratory results in full-length form. Contrary to our expectations, we found that the grades for the subsequent lab papers were very poor, suggesting that without prior practice of writing and rewriting a full paper, students do not carry forth skills from one exercise to the next. Why students don’t appear to carry forth such skills is the interesting piece of the puzzle and begs the question about the effectiveness of writing courses in the first year of undergraduate instruction.  Rhetoric courses often ask students to write a number of different papers, instead of focusing on fewer topics and emphasizing the importance of editing and rewriting. Our findings suggest that beginning students need instruction on how to take editorial commentary and work it into their drafts in order to truly communicate more effectively in writing. It also begs the question of why students do not carefully follow grading rubrics when they are provided to guide writing.  These questions and suggestions for writing are not merely confined to science courses, but, we suggest, are important to consider for fostering effective student writing in all disciplines.

Pondering the Pitfalls of Teaching Scientific Writing to Undergraduates Presentation

Promoting Advocacy for Medical and Law Students

Pamela Tames (LAW) & Megan Sandel (MED)

Persistent, severe health disparities are increasing, with serious implications for the nation’s health and wellbeing. The root causes of health disparities — complex and multidimensional social problems such as food insecurity and unhealthy housing – often have legal antecedents and therefore require innovations in education, practice and policy that include cross-disciplinary collaboration. Offered here is a creative approach to cross-disciplinary graduate level education: a pair of medical and legal courses that hold both separate and joint sessions and curricula focused on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations that require legal care to be healthy.  In this course, taught by doctors, lawyers, public health professionals and medical students in a supportive, experiential, practical and analytical learning environment, we explore and apply a spectrum of advocacy remedies for these legal needs. This innovation can be replicated by other instructors and in other courses, particularly where the complexity of problems requires multidisciplinary perspectives.

Reimagining a Course for an Online Environment

David Walker (LAW) & Brad Kay-Goodman (ODE)

The Law School, in conjunction with the Office of Distance Education, launched the first courses of a new online program in Tax Law. One of these courses was on Federal Income Taxation taught by David Walker. Professor Walker came in with an open and creative mind, but he had some very specific ideas about how to reach students in this new arena. This presentation will discuss how the instructor worked with ODE to develop new instructional strategies to incorporate interactive teaching methods into online delivery.

Simulation Training in Education: All Hands In!

Anna Hohler (MED)

Hands‐on skills training with simulators provides a valuable learning experience for students. Simulation use results in an increase in self‐reported knowledge and technical proficiency. Knowledge, experience, and comfort with dangerous and technically challenging procedures are improved. Simulation can result in improved outcomes and products in all areas of learning.  Simulation has widespread applicability throughout science and medicine. Designing learning experiences that closely mimic the live experience allows students to acquire skills in a lower risk environment. Simulation education can also be repeated, standardized, and troubleshooting can be incorporated. While simulation can never fully replicate the in vivo experience, it serves to make the live performance less anxiety-provoking for the student. It is feasible that simulated laboratory skills training, scientific experiments and even simulated animal models may enable the development of improved technical proficiency, improved exposure to scenarios, and the conservation of valuable resources.

Simulation Training in Education Presentation

Taking Down the Fourth Wall: Talking About Teaching With Students

Sophie Godley (SPH)

In theatre, the “fourth wall” is often referred to as the wall between the stage and the audience.  “Breaking the fourth wall” is when a character intentionally or unintentionally – see Saturday Night Live – addresses the audience directly. Over the past year I have been working to “break the fourth wall” with students and engage in an explicit conversation about their experience in class, and my experience as their teacher.

Ongoing assessment of student learning experiences in the classroom is a frequent challenge.  Often faculty only hear from students who are at the extremes – very unhappy or very happy.  This workshop will describe low-tech, easy ways to solicit feedback and input from students throughout the semester.

A teaching blog developed through a class Facebook site was used throughout the fall 2012 semester to understand and interpret student experiences in class.  This provided both students and faculty an opportunity to discuss the content of the class in an open and reflective manner.  Additionally, a simple pen and paper mid-semester course evaluation was used to solicit additional ideas, concerns, and to generate self-reflection among students.  Lastly, when a class did not go as planned, I held an informal debriefing with students to solicit their ideas for improvement.

Taking Down the Fourth Wall Presentation

Teaching in Small Bytes (Directed Texting in Mathematics & ESL Classes)

Nathan Kohn (CELOP/MET)

Directed Texting is an inexpensive, convenient, and effective teaching tool utilizing SMS technology specifically for use outside of the classroom, and is well-suited for the modern student: commuter, distance learner, adult, and international.  Students who are not able to meet with faculty on campus appreciate the ease, frequency, and quantum of learning.  Both questions and expected answers are very short, eliminating stress for the international student who may not be comfortable speaking or writing in English. Directed Texting is a fine-grained tool; a pedagogical pearl less than 140 characters, composed in advance, will reach most students within seconds
regardless of their location or time of day. Within moments an instructor is then able to assess retained learning, identify conceptual stragglers, and plan adjustments to the next in-class lecture.  Dense material is probable text
by text.  Most importantly, student engagement with the material and performance in the course is increased.

Teaching in Small Bytes Presentation

Text Response Polling: Using Your Students’ Own Language to Facilitate Learning

Rachel Spooner (SMG)

We all want to encourage more class participation, especially from those few quiet students sitting in the back of the room. We also all know our students’ favorite form of communication is texting.  In my law and ethics classes,
I have started to use texting to get those quiet students, along with all the others, to engage in their learning through text messages. This presentation will explain how to use text response polling to increase the amount and
quality of class participation, allow for anonymous responses, and assess knowledge of course material. I have found text response polling to be more flexible, more effective, and easier to use than the more commonly used Clickers.

Text Response Polling Presentation

Tracking the Explosive Growth of the Learning Assistant Program and its Transformative Impact on STEM Education at BU

Manher Jariwala, Andrew Duffy, Mark Greenman, Bennett Goldberg (Physics), Meredith Knight, Tom Hunt, Alexis Knaub, Peter Garik (SED), Kathryn Spilios (Biology), Paul Lipton (Neuroscience), Caleb Farny (ENG), Natalya Bassina, Binyomin Abrams, and Dan Dill (Chemistry)

At Boston University, the Learning Assistant (LA) program has expanded tremendously in just two years: from one introductory Chemistry course with eleven LAs in the Spring of 2011, to over twenty courses across five
Departments and three Colleges, with a total of 150+ students passing through the training program.  In this talk, we focus on the substantial new growth areas of this program, as well as the variety of refinements applied to the existing components.  We also describe our efforts to measure systematically the impact of the LA program on students in classes with LAs, as well as on the LAs themselves.  Beyond the program itself, we discuss the far-reaching impact of LAs on other complementary, student-centered STEM-education programs.  Finally, we offer some guidelines to other departments for building a robust LA program that will help nurture and grow
their own transformative educational efforts.

Using Google Drive Technology to Enhance Quantitative Learning and Understanding of Personal Natural Resource Use

Peter Busher & Andy Andres (CGS)

Natural resource use calculators are valuable tools that engage students in discussion of environmental sustainability and human impact on the environment. In our human ecology class (College of General Studies Natural Science 202), we required students to estimate their ecological footprint, their water footprint, and their carbon footprint using popular web-based calculators.  The potential teaching moments regarding individual student resource use that follow are numerous and interdisciplinary (e.g., understanding ecology, sociology, ethics, social justice, future public policy, environmental history).  Our course design allows us to use Google Drive Forms (freely available to all students as part of their email) to collect footprint calculations from all students enrolled in the course, populating a database of all students’ personal resource use information. This not only de-personalizes the data removing the anecdotal nature of individual footprints, but also encourages students to work with large databases. Students are able to compare their own footprint calculations with class-wide data. Additionally, working with this database enhances quantitative reasoning and statistical skills necessary for all Boston University majors. This easy-to-use technology can be used to collect large amounts of data from student projects in any discipline and encourages and
develops database and statistical skills.

Using Google Drive Technology Presentation

Using Turning-Point Software and ResponseCard Keypads (Clickers) to Provide Peer Feedback on Presentation Skills

Malcolm Bryant, James Wolff & Cathleen Cisse (SPH)

The practice of public health requires frequent presentation of findings to a variety of audiences ranging from senior government officials to local community leaders, school children, and marginalized groups such as injecting
drug users. Presentation skills are difficult to build because written and verbal evaluations providing feedback on the technique and content of presentations are often ineffective. In our course, Program Implementation for Global Health: Making Programs Work, students prepare and deliver regular in-class presentations using a variety of presentation techniques. In order to provide targeted, direct feedback to each group, we videotaped 10-minute presentations by student groups, while their peers provided continuous feedback on their level of engagement using Turning-Point software and ResponseCard® keypads (clickers). Students could then match classroom reaction to verbal, non-verbal, and visual aspects of their presentation on a real-time basis. In response to this assessment approach, student teams revised their presentation approaches. An external faculty evaluation of presentations conducted at a later stage in the semester noted that student presentations were of a high quality. In this talk, we will present examples of student presentations and the real-time peer feedback.

Using Turning-Point Software and ResponseCard Keypads (Clickers) to Provide Peer Feedback on Presentation Skills Presentation

Using Video and e-Portfolios for Assessment

James Wolff, Malcolm Bryant & Cathleen Cisse (SPH)

In our course, Program Implementation for Global Health, Making Programs Work, students use individual e-portfolios to reflect on their experience in the course and team e-portfolios to document and present the work of their team. To exploit this rich body of material we designed a mid-year exercise to assess student learning. We asked students to make a 5-7 minute video that would showcase their individual e-portfolio reflections and the skills and competencies they had documented in their team e-portfolios. We then arranged for the videos to be reviewed and assessed by a human resource (HR) professional working in a local international public health consulting company. Students then met and discussed their movie with the reviewer. This assessment was well aligned with course goals and course activities and provided the
instructors with information about how students had framed and applied what they had learned in the course. In this presentation we will show some of the movies made for this assessment and discuss the value of this type of assessment from the perspective of the instructors, students, and HR professional reviewers.

Using Video and e-Portfolios for Assessment Presentation

Using Web-Conferencing Software to Enhance the Course Experience

Jean Maguire van Seventer & James Feeney (SPH)

We describe an innovative instructional strategy employed while teaching the course EH710: Physiologic Principles for Public Health within the BU School of Public Health (SPH). This course serves students pursuing MPH, MS, and PhD degrees at SPH. Although EH710 is a traditional four-credit course based on face-to-face classroom instruction, we initiated the use of an online classroom (supported by Adobe Connect Pro web conferencing software) to augment the students’ learning experience in multiple ways.

The online classroom uses webcams, microphones, and speakers found standard on most computers to support virtual face-to-face meetings, and interactive PowerPoint presentations for instruction. The online learning environment created a unique opportunity for students with widely varied schedules and personal commitments, as well as differing educational backgrounds, to engage both their instructor and TA outside of the classroom. In most cases, online classroom sessions were recorded and archived for future viewing for students unable to attend the session in real time. To date, the online classroom has been used in both group and one-on-one sessions for virtual office hours, pre-examination review, post-examination review, homework assistance, proctored make-up examinations, and e-class attendance.

Students were asked to complete a questionnaire both mid- and end-semester. All responding students reported that exchanges with the instructor and TA in the online classroom enhanced their learning of course material. None, however, felt that it was more effective than face-to-face interactions. In conclusion, all students indicated that use of the online classroom for engaging with course instructors and TAs is an important e-learning tool that they would find helpful in other SPH courses.