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KU Center for Teaching Excellence leads $2.5 million NSF grant

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Center for Teaching Excellence has launched a multi-institution $2.5 million National Science Foundation-funded project to improve STEM education methods at research universities.

Professor of Psychology and Director of CTE Andrea Follmer Greenhoot is leading the five-year study designed to enhance teaching of science, technology, engineering and math courses for greater student success. The project — Transforming Education, Stimulating Teaching and Learning Excellence, or TRESTLE — is based on a model that Greenhoot developed and implemented at KU that uses evidence-based teaching methods that improve learning.

A core component of the model is to embed experts — faculty leaders or specially prepared postdoctoral scholars — in STEM departments to collaborate with faculty on incorporating proven methods into their courses.

“These methods usually ask students to become familiar with the content and produce some work such as answering questions or writing before class, and then use class time for deeper processing of the material, through problem solving, discussion, cooperative learning activities and hands-on activities,” Greenhoot said. “For example, biology faculty members Mark Mort, Chris Haufler and Trevor Rivers have students in Principles of Organismal Biology work in teams to propose solutions to the problem of invasive species as a way of getting students to integrate and apply multiple content areas like ecology, population biology, and plant and animal physiology.”  

A second component of the NSF-funded study is to build intellectual communities within and across institutions to share in the development of course transformation. These communities broaden the effect of the embedded experts by expanding support and opportunities for faculty to develop meaningful changes in their teaching. The grant supports the expansion of the communities into the cross-institution network.

“The model originated from very successful initiatives at two of our partner institutions, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of British Columbia,” Greenhoot said. “We have adapted it in a way that we believe makes the work more feasible and sustainable at institutions like KU, by focusing explicitly on building community.”

Participating institutions will implement and test local adaptations of the model on their campuses.

Two CTE Faculty Fellows are co-principal investigators on the project. Caroline Bennett, associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, and Mark Mort, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, will work to expand successful teaching methods used at KU. The NSF grant for the TRESTLE project pools $2.05 million awarded to KU and smaller grants awarded to collaborating institutions for a total of $2.5 million.

The project is one of several collaborations among university partners in the Bay View Alliance, a network of nine universities in the United States and Canada working to improve teaching and learning in higher education. TRESTLE partners include Indiana University, Queens University of Ontario, the University of British Columbia, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of California-Davis and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Photo: Professor of Psychology and Director of CTE Andrea Follmer Greenhoot is leading the five-year study designed to enhance teaching of science, technology, engineering and math courses for greater student success. 

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