Teaching has always been an important responsibility for University of Virginia faculty members. An academic symposium last week, "Using Evidence to Improve Teaching and Learning in Higher Education," sent an unambiguous message: It is time for every professor to pay heed to what, and how, their students are learning.
Thursday's symposium, organized by Curry School of Education Dean Robert Pianta, was one of the events surrounding President Teresa A. Sullivan's official inauguration.
Lee S. Shulman, president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, set the tone with his keynote address in Old Cabell Hall. Teaching, he said, should be approached with the same rigor as research.
During his lively and engaging 40-minute address, Shulman recalled his days on the faculty at Stanford University, where he sat on a pair of university committees simultaneously: one that promoted teaching, and another that reviewed promotion and tenure actions.
He was determined to prod the promotion and tenure committee to place a higher value on the quality of pedagogy in its deliberations. "And I failed," he said – but not because the committee members saw teaching as unimportant.
Scholarship, he said, produces mountains of evidence – articles, books, chapters, letters of support from peers across the nation. That contrasts to a comparatively thin pile of student evaluations that constitutes the main evidence of teaching ability. "Suddenly it was no surprise that research was getting so much more emphasis in those decisions," Shulman said.
It need not be that way, he said, telling the story of a physics professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The professor became concerned that the students in his large survey class for nonmajors were not engaged, so he applied his research abilities to the situation.
He found a test that evaluated basic knowledge of physics and science and administered it to his students before and after his course, and to a smaller sample six months later. He discovered that they were retaining little at the end of the course, and virtually nothing six months later.
Chagrined, he took some time away from his lab and went about seeking ways to improve his teaching. A Harvard colleague told him about using wireless "clickers" to gain instant feedback, so he added that. He improved his demonstrations; he broke the class down into small groups to tackle in-class discussion questions.
The scores improved. And apparently, his research did not suffer because the professor, Carl Wieman, won a Nobel Prize for physics.
Not only can professors apply the same scholarly rigor to teaching that they do to their research, they should be required to, Shulman said.
"If poor methodology is suicidal in a research paper, why isn't poor pedagogical methodology also suicidal in the review of a faculty member?" he asked.
Shulman acknowledged the work of sociologist Josipa Roksa of U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, who co-wrote "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," a book that has attracted national attention by asserting that undergraduates at many American colleges learn little in four years.
Though many have resisted the book's conclusions, "they bring evidence," Shulman said. "It's not something we can simply shrug off. If we believe that evidence is flawed, then we must reply with more evidence, because our legislators, our supporters, are going to want that kind of evidence from us."
President Sullivan affirmed Shulman's remarks later at the symposium lunch, and she also endorsed student assessment.
"We should apply the same rigor to assessment of student learning that we do to research and scholarship in our own disciplines," she said. "Through assessment of student learning, we demonstrate our commitment to the education of our students; to improving our own teaching and research; and ultimately to the University community, by continually improving the quality of our work."
Professors Who Expect More of Students Get It
Two streams – how teachers teach and how students learn– need to merge into one river.
That was the message from Karen K. Inkelas, an associate professor and associate director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at the Curry School, who opened the academic symposium panel, "Assessment Models of Student Learning: Challenges and Implications."
Inkelas and P. Jesse Rine, a Curry research associate, discussed bridging the gap between college teaching and student learning, while Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences, talked about developing critical thinking, analytical reasoning and writing. Dorothe Bach, a faculty consultant at the Teaching Resource Center, and Marva Barnett, a French professor in Arts & Sciences and director of the TRC, discussed portfolios as a measure of student learning.
Roksa said the students in the study used for her book, "Academically Adrift," were given potential real-world problems for which they had to assess and evaluate data from a variety of fields and write well-reasoned arguments to support their conclusions. Students who studied eight to nine hours a week by themselves, she said, did better.
"Faculty expectations make a big difference," Roksa said. "There is more improvement when students spend more time on task and when the faculty members expect more from them."
Bach said it is important for students to take responsibility for their own learning, and reading and writing skills strongly correlate with critical thinking ability.
"When people connect with new information, they link it to old experience," she said. "They build a new model and get a new conceptual understanding of the problem."
She and Barnett suggested portfolios as a way of measuring a student's learning. "It's a window to how the student makes meaning of the material," Bach said, adding the teacher can see "if the student doesn't have a clear idea of what he or she learned."
Diversity Initiatives in Enrollment and Teaching
In the break-out session on "Implementing and Teaching about Diversity," faculty members presented findings of several studies of diversity initiatives at U.Va.
Dr. Michael Moxley, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Gabrielle R. Marzani-Nissen, assistant professor of psychiatric medicine, talked about the Medical School's successful efforts to enroll students from under-represented groups.
Marzani-Nissen, who worked with Medical School admissions, said the school has increased its percentage of minority students from 5.7 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2010. The admissions office made several changes, such as getting under-represented physicians and other students involved in outreach and recruitment, she said.
Under-represented groups in the medical profession are identified as African-American, Hispanic, Native American and American Pacific Asian.
Curry School professors Pamela Lobb, Sandra Lopez-Baez and Andy Anderson described effective instructional strategies for increasing students' multicultural awareness. They studied their colleague Bob Covert's large multicultural education class, one of the most popular at the Curry School. Small-group discussion, a weekly part of the course, was the top factor that supported learning, Lobb said.
Lopez-Baez and Anderson surveyed Covert's students for positive psychological changes, asking questions used for studying people healing from trauma. The researchers also gave the survey to the students in their own classes. The students' measure of personal growth in Covert's multicultural education class was 35 percent – 12 percent higher than that of the other students.
Covert said that in course evaluations, white male students are among those who report how much they have learned about multicultural awareness.
Patrice Grimes talked about Curry's Self-Study on Diversity Teaching and Learning, which recently concluded that faculty would benefit from more professional development targeted to diversity and cultural competency.
Team-Based Learning in Biology
In "Situated Learning: Collaborative and Problem-Based Approaches," Mary Kate Worden, an associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Medicine, discussed her pilot use of team-based learning to teach a College of Arts & Sciences animal physiology course last fall for 87 students.
Developed in the early 1980s for use in business schools, and gradually applied to an ever-growing list of disciplines including basic sciences, team-based learning involves dividing a class into permanent teams of five to seven students and harnessing teamwork, peer evaluations and applied problem-solving to master key concepts, Worden explained.
Her students were assigned critical thinking questions with each reading. Then, each class begins with a quiz on the reading, taken first as individuals and then as teams.
Because the group scores counted for 65 percent of the quiz grade, she said, teams were invested in doing well as a group. In addition, Worden said, team members regularly evaluated each other, so "everybody is highly motivated to show up prepared and ready to work because their peers are going to be commenting on them."
"Social loafing is minimized," she said.
An in-class exercise forced the teams to apply the day's key concepts to real-world problems. They were given articles from the Journal of Experimental Biology, but without conclusions. Based on the research methods and results, the teams answered multiple choice questions, debating and defending their answers, first within the group, and then speaking as a group to the rest of the class. Answers were compared with the teacher's evaluation of the article and the author's own conclusions.
Worden said the process illustrates that the primary literature is often imperfect, conclusions may not be clear cut, and that science is messy and advances through debate.
Student evaluations offered a ringing endorsement. Eighty-four percent of students preferred the team-based approach, while only 6 percent favored lectures. Almost 94 percent agreed that the course "developed your ability to interpret graphs, data sets or experimental results," compared to an average of 45 percent in other biology courses offered in fall 2010.
Perhaps most telling is the surging demand for Worden's class. This fall's offering is already full (165 students) and has a waiting list of 65 more students.
Team-based learning can work for classes with enrollments from roughly 35 to 200 students, she said. Doing so, she added, could allow the biology faculty to better serve the growing ranks of biology majors.
Winners Announced for Research and Scholarship Poster Competition
To showcase research and scholarship, a Universitywide poster competition held during inauguration week showcased high-impact and innovative areas of U.Va. research.
Students and faculty rallied to the challenge with 220 entries in seven categories. Starting April 8, 35 finalists were exhibited in the Rotunda. All entries can be viewed online.
The winners were announced at Thursday's luncheon at the Aquatic & Fitness Center. Each of the seven winners, plus those selected for best undergraduate and graduate submissions, were awarded $500 and a glass trophy, presented by President Teresa A. Sullivan.
"As all of us know, our work at this University focuses on the dual mission of teaching and research," Sullivan said.
The winners of the poster competition are:
Physical and Environmental Sciences and Engineering
"The Pinwheel Effect: A Rapid and Inexpensive Method of DNA and Cell Quantification for Clinical Diagnostics"
Jingyi Li, Ph.D. student in chemistry, and James Landers, professor of chemistry, College of Arts & Sciences
Biosciences and Health
"3D Dual Modality Scanner for Breast Cancer Detection"
Tushita Patel and Zongyi Gong, Ph.D. students in physics, Arts & Sciences; Kelly Klanian, Ph.D. biomedical engineering student; Olivia Sullivan, third-year physics undergraduate; Patricia Judy, radiology staff member; and Mark B. Williams, associate professor of radiology, School of Medicine
"Leonardo da Vinci's Legacy: Between Art and Science"
Francesca Fiorani, associate professor of art history, and art history doctoral students Emily Fenichel and Mari Yoko Hara, Arts & Sciences
Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
"Avatar-Enabled Analysis of Conversational Mirroring"
Timothy R. Brick, Ph.D. student in psychology; psychology professor Steven M. Boker and assistant professor Timo von Oertzen, Arts & Sciences; and Andreas M. Brandmaier, a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany.
Law, Business, Policy and Education
"Convicting the Innocent"
Law professor Brandon L. Garrett
Translational and Cross-Disciplinary Research
"The U.Va. Bay Game"
12 departments, 9 units, 33 undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty: David Feldon, Curry School of Education assistant professor; Eric Field, information technology specialist; Gerard Learmonth, research associate professor of systems and information engineering, School of Engineering; Jeffrey Plank, associate vice president for research; Michael Purvis, systems and information engineering research assistant in the Engineering School; associate professor William Sherman, School of Architecture; David Smith, professor of environmental science in Arts & Sciences; and McIntire School of Commerce professor Mark White.
Performing and Fine Arts and Architecture
"The Glass Menagerie"
Jeffrey Kmiec, master of fine arts in drama student; Richard Warner, director and drama professor; and Tom Bloom, associate professor and Drama Department chair, Arts & Sciences.
Best Overall Graduate Poster
"Target Discovery and Drug Repurposing in a Neglected Tropical Disease"
Arvind K. Chavali, biomedical engineering Ph.D. student; Dr. Richard D. Pearson, professor of internal medicine; and Jason Papin, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
Best Overall Undergraduate Poster
"Smoke Signals: An Investigation of the Efficiency and Effects of Eco-Stoves in Rural Honduras"
Fourth-year Arts & Sciences students Claire Hennigan, a religious studies major, and Amy Rogers, studies in women and gender major, both in the Global Public Health Minor Program; and Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, associate director of the Center for Global Health.