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.

March Newsletter: Promising Practices Grant Updates Courses

First-year students in Richard McNabb's First-Year Writing (ENGL 1A) course work as a group to analyze an article and post comments in Canvas as part of an in-class discussion.

First-year students in Richard McNabb’s First-Year Writing (ENGL 1A) course work as a group to analyze an article and post comments in Canvas as part of an in-class discussion.

San Jose State faculty members are testing out ways to get students engaged in general education courses and to improve student success in key classes with a CSU Promising Practices grant that provides resources to redesign classes.

Richard McNabb said he pursued the grant to increase student engagement in his First-Year Writing (ENGL 1A) courses, while Manolo Callahan said he wanted to find a way to present a dense amount of material in his two-semester Mexican Americans and the Development of U.S. History and Government (MAS 10A and 10B) course.

“I wanted to tap into the multi-literacy students currently use,” McNabb said. “They are taking traditional academic writing and repurposing it for other uses such as social media, power points or blogs.”

The students will be engaged in multi-modal writing projects that will include text, visuals and audio.

McNabb is also incorporating new technology into his classroom that supports more engagement with students. He and six other English professors are using a software application that allows them to ask a grammar-related question and get answers from all the students in the classroom at once. Using i>Clicker and Learning Catalytics, each student answers a multiple choice question from their cell phone or a laptop. In his class, McNabb can see what percentage of students select the correct answer and he can discuss a concept further if a high percentage of students select the wrong answer.

“It allows me in real time to assess how engaged they are with the material,” he said.

While students in one session of his class had only used the tool once, it received promising reviews.

“It involves more students this way,” said Charles Thompson, ’19 Justice Studies. “This is a better way for the whole class to learn.”

The students are also using Canvas, the campus learning management system, where they can access a Writer’s Help 2.0 handbook that is available campus wide. McNabb’s students were engaged with Canvas for a group activity on a recent morning. Gabryella Milano, ’19 Psychology, said she liked using Canvas during group work on analyzing articles because the students can put their comments directly into a class discussion online.

“I like the direct feedback,” she said.

Callahan, who teaches a two-semester course, increased his use of Canvas this year. Beginning in fall, he created weekly learning and specific reference modules in Canvas to present course material. The modules explain high-level concepts his students need throughout the semester such as critical reading techniques, concept mapping and research methods along with weekly content on the historic topics they are studying.

“We try to cover a lot of material and I was thinking about technology,” he said. “What can we do differently using technology to provide more content?”

For his class, the students log into Canvas to read their weekly assignments, watch video lectures or review clips from movies or films about Mexican history and culture. The students write short essays after reviewing the material and he encourages student interaction by requiring them to write comments on the essays of one or more peers in the class.

Callahan meets once a week in a lab class, where students participate in active learning sessions. He said the flipped model allows him to spend in-person class time on monitoring and assessing the students’ understanding of key concepts and historical debates.

As part of the grant, faculty members are invited to regular webinars with educators from other CSUs who are also working on course redesign.

“I was really attracted to the idea of a learning community,” Callahan said. “We have Friday afternoon webinars with roughly 52 people. They provide a lot of tips and share how they use apps and technology.”