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New grants target innovative teaching strategies

Seven faculty research projects have been selected for grant funding through a new initiative that promotes innovative teaching approaches in the classroom and advances undergraduate learning at Northeastern.

The competitive grant program, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, is designed to promote exploration and innovation in teaching and learning by supporting evidence-based activities that result in deeper learning. The program launched this year and will be offered annually going forward.

“The goal is to enhance student learning,” said Susan Ambrose, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and experiential learning at Northeastern. “We are continually looking to improve the quality of education we provide our students. We have creative and innovative faculty, and we wanted to provide these grants to allow them to do things that haven’t been done before.”

The seven research projects selected were submitted by an interdisciplinary group of faculty. In one project, researchers from the Department of Physical Therapy will create 3-D models of internal body parts that will further students’ understanding of cross-sectional anatomy, particularly the brain. In another project, game design faculty in the College of Arts, Media, and Design and College of Computer and Information Science will integrate a computer game they are developing called Mad Science into the classroom for experiential learning. The game allows users to create and participate in scientific experiments on social behavior in fun and engaging ways.

Another project—led by Hubert Ho, lecturer in the Department of Music, and Michael Epstein, associate professor in the Department of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology—involves developing a new course for students across a range of academic programs who are interested in music and sound perception. The course would feature a variety of interactive learning tools and would be tailored to fit the individual students’ needs, so they could focus on sections they’re unfamiliar with and skip over those they’ve previously covered in other courses. At the end, all students would have a basic understanding of the topics, which range from music theory and sound physics to music and hearing research. The course would promote interdisciplinary collaboration and could serve as a model for future courses on other topics.

The program aligns with Northeastern’s commitment to high-quality undergraduate education and continued support of programs and projects that innovate and enrich undergraduate learning. This commitment includes an emphasis on use-inspired research that addresses global challenges and the university’s longstanding experiential education model, anchored in its signature co-op program.

Faculty will present their research project updates and findings at a conference on May 5, 2015 and sponsored by the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research, which also provided consultation and resources to faculty who submitted proposals.

A committee comprising faculty from all colleges reviewed the proposals, judging each on the originality of the research approach, the impact the project will have on students, and whether the project includes an assessment component to learn from and understand how well the project worked. Ambrose noted that the research projects’ long-term sustainability was an important factor. The goal was to identify new teaching modules and approaches that could be easily integrated into current curricula and evolve over time.

“We thought these seven were fresh approaches, and that’s what we were looking for,” she said. “You can develop something new out of something old, but we were looking for something that is original and sustainable in the long term.”