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.

May 2016 Newsletter: Grant Fosters STEM Course Redesign

SJSU professors are redesigning lower division math and physics classes that are requirements for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.

SJSU professors are redesigning lower division math and physics classes that are requirements for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.

For the next four years, several faculty members in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and the College of Science will be working to transform gateway science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. San Jose State University is one of 18 colleges and universities in the nation to receive a 2015 First in the World grant.

SJSU faculty members will work with CSU Los Angeles and Cal Poly Pomona representatives on creating flipped classroom materials that will be piloted at all three campuses. At San Jose State, Provost Andy Feinstein and Associate Professor Laura Sullivan-Green, from civil and environmental engineering, are co-directors on the grant. The first courses that will be updated are Math 30 (calculus I) and Phys 50 (physics I). The classes are a requirement for many STEM majors and a prerequisite for upper division work. The SJSU team plans to implement the flipped classroom model in fall 2016. Flipped courses often include richer and more readily accessible online supplemental study materials; more elaborate and interactive homework and self-check instructional materials; and more engaging in-class teaching strategies.

“We all know that innovation can take many forms and as a key part of the Administration’s goal to promote college access and affordability, the First in the World program aims to support a wide range of innovation to improve student success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a press release. “We are pleased to support these educational leaders who are driving exciting innovations to achieve those goals.”

As part of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success, university leaders are focused on clearing course bottlenecks. Surveys of students revealed that a major challenge to success is course bottlenecks – impasses where they cannot enroll in a course they need to make progress toward their degrees, or when they cannot successfully complete a course and move forward. The university will offer up to 500 additional course sections in 2016-17 to clear bottlenecks. The CSU Chancellor’s Office Proven Course Redesign and Promising Practices grants along with the First in the World grant are targeted at improving successful completion of general education courses that are needed for students to move on to upper division work.

“We are hosting faculty and campus coordinators from our two partner campuses the first weekend in June to facilitate community-building and course material development,” said Sullivan-Green, noting that 30 faculty members and administrators are involved between the three campuses in the First in the World Grant.

SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success

Dear Campus Community,

For the past year, we have collaborated and gathered information from faculty, staff, students and other experts, to develop a data-driven campus-wide student success strategy with one goal: to significantly increase our retention and graduation rates for all students while improving the quality of their educational experience. Our 57 percent six-year and 10 percent four-year graduation rates, and a double digit underrepresented minority student graduation rate gap are not acceptable. We owe it to our students, their families, taxpayers, employers and our community to improve.

We have developed a plan to accomplish this. We encourage you to review “SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks,” which highlights our process in developing the plan and details of each pillar.

Public universities across the nation are striving to improve graduation rates, and provide an educated workforce. It’s a huge challenge, and now, SJSU is on the road to a meaningful solution on our campus. We look forward to working with you to enhance the success of every SJSU student.


Andy Feinstein, Provost and Reggie Blaylock, VP for Student Affairs