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: Proven Course Redesign Improves Engagement

Students in Laura Guardino's U.S. History and Government (HIST 15A) course watch a short video in a 'smart classroom' in Sweeney Hall.

Students in Laura Guardino’s U.S. History and Government (HIST 15A) course watch a short video in a ‘smart classroom’ in Sweeney Hall.

In the College of Social Sciences, three history faculty members received CSU Proven Course Redesign grants to update U.S. History and Government (HIST 15A) courses. The professors are using some flipped classroom techniques in the general education course.

Laura Guardino said the course used to be team taught as it incorporated history and political science concepts. Since the department was already planning to redesign the course to focus only on history topics, she and two of her colleagues decided to apply for the Proven Course Redesign grant to support the effort.

Guardino said the goal of the redesign is to ensure they teach students the skills they will need in upper division courses such as critical thinking, analytic skills, close reading analysis, how to cite sources, write a thesis and make oral presentations. The other faculty members with grants include Robert Cirivilleri and Katherine Chilton.

“We are using an online learning platform that students can use on their smart phones or laptops,” Guardino said.  “It makes grading more efficient. Students can read essays and view lectures online. Discussions in class extend into concrete problem debates.”

The history professors are using an online platform, Globalyceum, that was created by retired SJSU Professor Pat Don, who taught Social Science Teacher Education and wanted to create a curricular resource that maximizes technology.

Guardino added that the trio received funding for iPads for the classes and would begin incorporating the tablets into their instruction in mid-March. She said Academic Technology staff members have been supportive in helping her and her colleagues learn how to use the resources in their Smart Classrooms that are equipped for audio-visual presentations.

On a recent morning, students in Guardino’s smart classroom watched a video about modern-day slavery before delving into a discussion on slavery before the Civil War.

“We want to find a little connection to the present day,” she said. “We ask a probing question that is connected to their lives.”