Oct. 15-21, 1999
Miller Center launches project on the presidency and the economy
Hot Links - Survey Suite
Dell contract gets DCI rolling

Forum showcases creative teaching and captivating web sites

Scrapbooks show Jefferson was a clipper of newspapers
Arts' focus on technology: visiting artists to share techniques and sound
Notable - faculty and staff
Miller Center announces National Fellowship in Politics
Take our advice - breast health
In Memoriam
Sleepless — but not lost for words
Car parts transformed into art in "Body Shop"

Forum showcases creative teaching and captivating web sites

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

A custom-built costume-cutting table with 24 drawers to hold student projects, a departmental web site where students post their research, and a video of a speech-impaired teenager learning to use a computer to communicate are among 31 projects sponsored by University Teaching Initiative grants to develop innovations that help in teaching, a dozen of which were presented at a forum Oct. 1.

"With a relatively small amount of money, all of these new ideas are flourishing," said Economics professor William R. Johnson, who chairs the Faculty Senate's academic affairs committee, which developed the teaching enhancement program two years ago.

The Vice President and Provost's Office sponsored the pilot program with $100,000 per year in grants of up to $5,000. Applications for the program's third year are due Feb 1.

"We're going to be looking for projects that link research and teaching [the Faculty Senate's theme this year], but we'll also be interested in other projects, Johnson said, encouraging faculty who have already gotten grants to apply again if their work remains unfinished.

Among the projects presented at this month's forum, sponsored by the Teaching Resource Center and the Faculty Senate, were a virtual wetland herbarium, a web site for biology majors teaching in local middle schools and a web site for a seminar to train religious studies teaching assistants.

Virtual and real wetland herbarium

Landscape architecture students have typically turned to texts that offer taxonomic information, but give insufficient physical descriptions of plants and their requirements.

Arrowhead plant
Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminae): One of the plants that will be described and illustrated in Kathy Poole's Wetland Herbarium database.

To address this problem, Landscape Architecture professor Kathy Poole is creating "A Physical and Virtual Herbarium of Middle Atlantic Wetland Plants" -- a web site, as well as a real herbarium to be housed in Campbell Hall.

"The site is designed for people creating a wetland," said graduate student Adriane Fowler, who is assisting with the project. "There's a lot of interest in wetlands right now, as a strategy for dealing with storm water retention. They used to just build a big concrete retention pond, but using a planted wetland filters the water and looks a lot better."

The web site, which is 80 percent finished, offers images of plants, as well as information about where they grow and what types of soil they prefer.

Poole is also creating an herbarium at the Architecture School that includes dried plant samples.

Both will be "extremely useful" for landscape architecture students studying plant identification, Fowler said. "They need to know about plants that aren't available around here."

Biology majors teaching

In conversations with his daughter, who teaches at Walker Middle School, biology professor Fred Diehl learned that local science teachers could use some help, and he saw a way for his students to learn biology by teaching it.

Diehl created a program to put U.Va. biology majors in front of the class. Supported in part by a $1.2 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to the biology Department, the program enables his students to develop lessons in areas required by the Virginia Standards of Learning, and they earn course credit in the process. Local teachers are eager to have U.Va. students teach some of their classes.

"We generally don't give students the opportunity to make decisions and put things together in their own way," he said. "Even if it's a simple concept, you learn a lot about it when you have to present it."

The UTI grant is being used to create a course web site, which will help manage the course and facilitate the exchange of ideas. Teachers in Central Virginia will be able to copy lessons prepared and tested by the undergraduates and use them in their classes.

Since Diehl started the program in 1997, 12 to 15 students have participated each semester, and 25 will participate next semester.

"My dream is for students to replace teachers two days a week and for the teachers to come over here and take courses in the areas where they are weak," he said.

Preparing teaching assistants

"Teaching assistants in Religious Studies have often complained that they were thrown into the classroom ill-prepared," said the department's lead T.A., Michael Thomas.

He and Religious Studies professor Ben Ray have addressed the problem by creating a seminar to train T.A.s. The course, which meets one night a week, covers such topics as teaching the first day, leading effective discussions, grading, teaching outside one's subject area, creating a teaching portfolio and finding a job outside of academe.

Required before students can teach, the course is designed to be run by the department's lead T.A. Two faculty members and two or three experienced T.A.s attend every class, and staff from the Teaching Resource Center and Office of Career Planning and Placement are also participating.

The UTI grant is being used to develop a web site for the course.

"Right now it's a glorified syllabus with a lot of links," Thomas said, but he plans to add material on topics like the challenge of teaching course material that conflicts with a student's faith.


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