VPTL Grant Showcase Highlights Recent Innovations in Teaching and Learning at Stanford

VPTL Grant Showcase Highlights Recent Innovations in Teaching and Learning at Stanford

Funding recipients detail progress in reinventing curricula, reaching across disciplines, and using digital technologies to engage learners in new ways.

Faculty and staff from across the university met recently to share insights from fifteen separate projects undertaken over the past year to advance the practice of teaching and learning at Stanford. 

Each project represented at the VPTL Grant Showcase, held April 7th at the Stanford Faculty Club, received funding and integrated support during the 2016-17 school year by Stanford’s Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL). 

Awardees ranged from individual faculty members to large cross-disciplinary teams and addressed challenges as diverse as rethinking Stanford’s undergraduate biology curriculum, using online learning to help doctors understand the work of other medical professionals, reinventing the field trip for the smart phone generation, and creating connections between Stanford’s Spanish language students and the many Spanish speakers who work on campus. 

“It was a wonderful opportunity to see the breadth and scope of the projects that we are supporting at VPLT and for instructors to learn from each other about how they’re addressing various challenges and innovating in their teaching and learning,” said Showcase organizer and VPTL Director of Faculty and Lecturer Programs Jennifer Randall Crosby after the event. 

New courses and curricula 

Groups funded by the Faculty College grant program focused on creating new courses, making connections across disciplines, and rethinking existing curricula. Faculty College projects are run as a cohort, allowing teams to share strategies and resources as they develop their ideas and helping foster a community of Stanford teachers who are passionate about improving teaching and learning.

“Our undergraduate curriculum is actually older than I am,” noted biology professor Hunter Fraser in introducing his team’s effort to reimagine how biology is taught at Stanford. Their most pressing issue was that, under the existing curriculum, students were unable to take any lab classes until their junior year. “We wanted to change that,” Fraser said. 

In response, Fraser and three colleagues designed a new class, BIO60, which is being offered to Stanford freshmen for the first time this quarter. Based around an exploration of infectious disease, BIO60 encourages students to engage with scientific literature, design experiments, collaborate, and communicate what they’ve learned. Now, Fraser suggested, they get the chance to “think like a biologist” from the start of their undergraduate careers. 

Other Faculty College grantees included a group of 17 scholars, lecturers, librarians and researchers looking to build new scholarly networks around diversity and gender in engineering; a team of historians and librarians aiming to scale archive-based, hands-on historical research beyond the small group format; a pair of scholars creating a new, cross-curricula offering in computation for human biology; and a group of teachers from the Stanford Language Center who received support to engage Spanish learners with members of the local Spanish-speaking community.

“Our students have loved the opportunity to break the “Stanford bubble,”” Spanish lecturer Vivian Brates observed of the initiative. “For most of them, this was not just a class, but part of a life commitment to becoming more responsible and engaged citizens.” 

Better use of technology for teaching 

Recipients of 2016 Teaching with Technology Workshop awards received funding to “explore how digital tools and pedagogies can be used to address unique challenges or goals in their courses.”

Graduate School of Business lecturer Matt Abrahams, an expert in interpersonal communication, used his grant to study engagement in online environments like teleconferences. “How do we both engage an audience and know that they’re engaged?” he asked, before sharing what he’d learned about current and upcoming developments in attention tracking (including sensors that track precisely what you are looking at on screen) that have both exciting and unnerving implications for online users.

Adjunct professor of surgery, Marta Zanchi, explored improving student collaboration in a course she offers in the design of mobile healthcare services. Physics professor David Goldhaber-Gordon and his Ph.D. student Derrick Boone created safety videos that freed up lab time for a capstone physics lab class. And senior lecturer Lisa Hwang designed new strategies for creating interactive learning opportunities for online students in chemical engineering.

Biology professor Shripad Tuljapurkar and TA Diana Rypkema, meanwhile, teamed up to rethink how students can use software in statistics classes, and School of Education language and literacy researchers Sara Rutherford-Quach and Hsiaolin Hsieh worked on creating resources that add in-person learning to an existing Stanford MOOC on English language teaching, creating a blended learning environment at scale. 

People, podcasts and platforms

A final group of awardees showcased projects made possible by VPTL’s Individual Award program, which offers funding and technical support for faculty projects that run on a customized schedule outside of the Faculty College cohort.

Writer and Jones lecturer Tom Kealey shared one of a set of twenty videos he and colleagues in Stanford’s Creative Writing program have created to document positive undergraduate experiences in classes, such as writing a novel in a single quarter, that might otherwise seem intimidating to potential enrollees.  

A group from the School of Earth Sciences outlined a project that helps students themselves produce media in the form of podcasts about human impacts on Earth’s environment, using VPTL’s multimedia classroom and production facilities. And a team from the School of Medicine described a new online course they’ve created that helps first year medical students understand what other medical professionals like nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and dieticians do in order to improve doctors’ collaborative relationships. 

The final Showcase presentation was again from Earth Sciences, a reinvention of the field trip for the smart phone age. Geology professor George Hilley’s new learning platform, ShoMe, creates adaptive tours that offer content based on where students have already been and what they have learned so far. Hilley encourages students to make tours of their own and has already seen the platform used in comparative literature, music, and human biology classes. “It gives us a way to scale this kind of education to large numbers of learners who can participate in the field experience asynchronously,” said Hilley. 

A creative exchange

In addition to presentations, VPTL’s Grant Showcase offered time for questions and an opportunity for team members to connect informally. 

“It really showed how interested people here at Stanford are in teaching in different ways,” observed Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Mitchell of the event.

Gathering grant recipients as a funding cycle ends also allowed them to compare notes and think more about where they might innovate in future, Mitchell noted. 

“VPTL is fortunate to be able to support some highly creative ideas about how to advance teaching and learning at Stanford,” he said. “Events like this help spread the insights that each project spurs beyond the individual team members to the wider community of education innovators on campus.”