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Faculty Senate, Teaching Resource Center Challenge Faculty to Enhance Fall Courses

University of Virginia professors ready to turbo-charge their courses by incorporating technology-enhanced teaching tools to boost traditional face-to-face classroom instruction may enter the "Fall 2012 Challenge for Newly Hybrid Technology-Enhanced Courses," thanks to financial support from U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and the collaborative effort of the Faculty Senate and the Teaching Resource Center.

Proposals for the fall semester must be submitted by July 19 using an online form. A review committee will choose up to five courses by July 23, and instructors will each receive a $10,000 grant.

Hybrid learning – also called "blended learning" – combines face-to-face interaction, such as in-class discussions, active group work and live lectures, with Web-based or digital technologies like online course modules, assignments, discussion boards and other Web-assisted learning tools. Any promising instructional technology may be used, including telepresence, virtual reality, simulations and simulators, and blogs. The degree to which hybrid courses use traditional classroom and online learning environments may vary depending on the nature and subject matter of the course.

Sullivan said the proposals will demonstrate that a one-size-fits-all approach to technology in education is not the best path.

"While massive open online courses – so-called MOOCs – may have some role in the efficient delivery of course content, what's really important is the quality of teaching and learning," she said.

Law School professor George Cohen, chair of the Faculty Senate, said the course challenge is one way the senate is responding to concerns of the Board of Visitors that the University is not moving fast enough in online education. That was one of the issues that led to Sullivan's recent dismissal and, although she was reinstated on June 26, faculty members are committed to change, Cohen said.

"This is a great opportunity to channel the energy we have built up over the last few weeks into something that will provide true and lasting value to the University, as well as to demonstrate the great creativity of our faculty and its commitment to sensible and meaningful change," he said.
 
Faculty members are encouraged to transform an existing traditional course into a hybrid technology-enhanced course, but may also propose a new course. Classes enrolling at least 100 students and lower-division courses are preferred. Faculty are required to teach these courses in the fall semester and at least once more in the following five semesters. Proposed courses may be credit-bearing for U.Va. students or open to distance learners or non-enrolled auditors online.

Teachers must measure the effect that one of their technology implementations has on some aspect of students' learning by collecting and analyzing feedback and getting in-class observations on students' perceptions, motivation and retention, for example.

Sullivan, an advocate of measuring learning outcomes, said this will be an important part of the project. "As I said during our academic symposium last spring, we should apply the same rigor to assessment of student learning that we do to research and scholarship in our own disciplines," she said.

Faculty consultants from the Teaching Resource Center and the Curry School of Education's Center for the Study of Teaching and Learning will be available for assistance.

"Because of their longtime interest in – and experimentation with – effective instructional technologies, U.Va. faculty are poised to take best advantage of this exciting challenge from the Faculty Senate and President Sullivan," said Marva Barnett, director of the Teaching Resource Center, "and the center's faculty are enthusiastic about consulting with them as they do so."

Faculty members will have the chance to share their successes and lessons learned at U.Va. events and in other academic settings. They also will submit a written report of their accomplishments and grant expenditures to the Faculty Senate and the Teaching Resource Center by Feb. 1.

– by Anne Bromley

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