September 2016 Newsletter: High-Impact Practices Engage Students

Photo courtesy of Resa Kelly Chemistry Professor Resa Kelly, second from the left, presented research on using visual animations in teaching chemistry this summer. Here she is pictured with colleagues at a meeting in Brazil.

Photo courtesy of Resa Kelly
Chemistry Professor Resa Kelly, second from the left, presented research on using visual animations in teaching chemistry this summer. Here she is pictured with colleagues at a meeting in Brazil.

A group of San Jose State University professors who work in the College of Science as part of the Science Education Program is offering their support to faculty who are interested in incorporating high-impact practices into their curriculum to support student success. Ellen Metzger, the director of the Science Ed Program and a professor of geology, attended a summer workshop on high-impact practices at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It helped me understand the practices better and I am really grateful to be part of a team that is developing sustainable and interdisciplinary tools,” she said.

The Science Education Program also includes Resa Kelly, a chemistry professor, Cassandra Paul, a physics and astronomy professor, and Elly Walsh, a meteorology and climate science professor. The four are versed in curricular design, transformation and evaluation along with using technology to design and study learning. As part of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success, high-impact practices are recommended to increase student engagement and help to clear bottlenecks in key courses.

Kelly began her teaching career at the high school level and is particularly interested in helping students make the transition from high school to college-level chemistry. Chemistry is a prerequisite for some majors that often causes a bottleneck due to a higher rate of failure or withdrawals than the average across other courses.

Using a grant from the National Science Foundation, Kelly’s research is aimed at developing visualizations to boost deeper learning. She has worked with SJSU animation artists and computer science students to create short videos about the atomic level details of chemical reactions where the outcomes conflict.

“The overall goal is that we shouldn’t tell students which animation is right or wrong,” she said. “We want to connect them to the evidence and hope over time, with practice, they will be able to justify why one model is preferred over another.”

Walsh is currently involved in research on understanding and supporting student engagement in socially controversial scientific issues, such as climate change causes and impacts. Paul is a member of the Physics Education Research group. She has experience in investigating the interactions between students and instructors in interactive classrooms and helped develop the Real-time Instructor Observing Tool (RIOT).

Metzger said the Science Ed team is particularly hopeful that plans for an interdisciplinary science building will allow them more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from other colleges.

“Research has shown project-based learning and instruction is effective,” she said. “We need to think of innovative ways to be interdisciplinary.”

She also noted that project-based learning offers an opportunity for students to feel connected to their community.

“The key to equity is engaging students of all types in their learning,” she said.

Stacy Gleixner, interim AVP for Student Academic Success, and Amy Strage, AVP for Faculty Development and director of the Center for Faculty Development, also attended the summer workshop on high-impact practices. They are developing easy to implement “Faculty Matter” tips that are sent to all faculty weekly by email and archived on the Academic Spotlight blog.

Professor Connects Science and Philosophy in Research

Dr. Janet Stemwedel will present at the University Scholars Series on April 20. Here, she is shown during a discussion at a Science Online conference.

Dr. Janet Stemwedel will present at the University Scholars Series on April 20. Here, she is shown during a discussion at a Science Online conference.

Dr. Janet Stemwedel received a PhD in chemistry before she realized her true interest was in philosophy.

“A long time ago, when I was 21, I was sure I was going to be a chemist when I grew,” she said. “Then, because I realized that the questions that kept me up at night – like about how humans, with our limited sensory apparatus and our comfortable biases, can manage to build reasonably accurate knowledge about our world – were really philosophical questions, I went back to school to get a PhD in philosophy so I could focus on the philosophy of science.”

Stemwedel, the chair of the Philosophy Department in the College of Humanities and the Arts and the director of the SJSU Center for Ethics, will be presenting the final University Scholars Series lecture of the spring semester on Wednesday, April 20, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 255/257. She will be talking about recent research that explores the ethical dimensions of being a good scientist that extend beyond avoiding or responding to scientific misconduct.

While philosophy of science research has been traditionally focused on what scientists do to build reliable knowledge, Stemwedel has been interested in science as a human activity.

“Scientific knowledge is the result of particular kinds of interactions between human scientists who are also interacting with the piece of the world they’re studying,” she said. “Once you have an activity that requires humans to interact with each other, ethics has to be part of the story.”

Stemwedel maintains a blog on ethics, and has contributed to Forbes.com, most recently on the topic of sexual harassment in the scientific community. Through the blogs, she is able to engage with an audience of working scientists and students from different disciplines and countries who are at various states of their careers.

“They tell me if they think I’m missing an important feature of their scientific interactions, or if they find my ethical prescriptions implausible,” she said. “My audience also brings new questions to my attention, whether they’re from breaking news stories or from issues they’re trying to work out in their own lives as scientists.”

The ultimate goal of her research is to find ways to help scientists to their jobs better and to successfully share their findings with nonscientists.

“There are lots of ways to use philosophical tools – like logic and conceptual analysis – to develop strategies to address challenges in the real world, and lots of different challenges for which having a philosopher – or a college graduate with a philosophy degree – on your team might make a difference,” she said.

Read more about the University Scholars Series online.

 

CSU honors San Jose LSAMP students

The California State University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program Recognizing Outstanding Undergraduate Distinction (PROUD) honored two San Jose State students and two alumni in its most recent edition. The publication summarizes the work of the LSAMP program statewide to support underrepresented minorities in pursuing degrees in STEM while also acknowledging outstanding scholars at each CSU campus.

Roberto Tovar, '15 Chemistry, is one of four SJSU alumni or students recognized in the October edition of the LSAMP program.

Roberto Tovar, ’15 Chemistry, is one of four SJSU alumni or students recognized in the October edition of the LSAMP program.

Canaan Muluneuh, a chemistry student in his second year at SJSU, was selected for the Outstanding Academic award for SJSU. He has maintained a GPA of 3.83 and facilitated a summer workshop for general chemistry. He is interested in pursuing a doctorate or a medical degree. He is currently involved in research on mosquitoes to minimize populations of the insect to prevent viral transmission.

Christian Espinoza, ’09 Materials Engineering, was selected for the Outstanding Alumnus award for SJSU. He received a Ph.D in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. He has participated with Engineers without Borders, where he worked to improve water quality in rural villages in Guatemala. He is currently employed as an advanced engineer/scientist at Owens Corning, in Ohio, and serves as a mentor for students as a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Scientists (SHPE.)

Angel Gonzalez, a third-year mechanical engineering student, was selected for the Outstanding Academic and Service Leadership award for SJSU. He is involved in the Society of Latino Scientists and Engineers and serves as co-vice president. He has been actively engaged with the Science Extravaganza, a one-day event that aims to generate interest in STEM fields for younger students.

Roberto Tovar, ’15 Chemistry, was selected for the Outstanding Research award at SJSU. Tovar started as an economics major before he took a general chemistry class and discovered he excelled in the field. He was involved with research with Dr. Gilles Muller. His research findings support two poster presentations and a publication in the journal of Tetrahedron Letters. He spent a semester in Germany and since graduation has traveled to France to work at a laboratory in Toulouse, France.

View the full CSU LSAMP Proud publication: PROUD_2015(Final_Oct20)_small