2015 Gitner Award Winner

Paul Blanchard, of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics

University Provost Jean Morrison (right) presents the 2015 Gitner Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology to Prof. Paul Blanchard (Photo by Natalia Boltukhova, BU Photography)

The winner of this year’s award comes from the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Professor Paul Blanchard. Professor Blanchard’s innovation began in the 1990s when he introduced dynamical systems theory into his Ordinary Differential Equations mathematics course.

A traditional ODE course simplifies equations to find particular solutions. Those simplified models, however, often don’t translate well to reality. Professor Blanchard recognized those limitations, and so decided to pioneer a new way to visualize differential equation solutions using a set of “applets.” These applets permit a student to input a differential equation and actually see a set of solutions as well as the behavior of the model. Students enter model conditions and parameters and can then see the many variations of a solution, including planes and lines, graphs, and vector fields.

Professor Blanchard’s innovation has far reaching implications both for the field and for teaching, in that it not only helps students to visualize a range of solutions, but allows them to independently investigate different topics on their own using the differential equation tool. On the basis of this innovation, Professor Blanchard was selected by Boston University’s Digital Learning Initiative to develop a Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) on Linear Differential Equations, which launched on April 30, 2015.

What impressed us so much about Professor Blanchard’s project was the rigor and thoughtfulness of his approach as he has developed this method of teaching a foundational mathematics course over more than two decades, its applicability as a model for other educators, and its wide impact.