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Faculty projects earn Provost's Digital Learning Fellowships

Funding promotes innovation in learning and teaching via educational technology

EVANSTON - Ten innovative faculty projects have been selected for funding for the 2018-19 academic year as part of the Provost’s Digital Learning Fellowship program at Northwestern University. The award, sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup, promotes innovation in learning and teaching through the use of educational technology.

These digital and online projects enable faculty to experiment with modern learning technologies while showcasing Northwestern’s excellence in teaching.

Here are the winning projects:

Using Social Network Visualizations to Unlock Team Potential 

  • Ned Smith: associate professor of management and organizations, Kellogg School of Management
  • Esther Sackett: DRRC postdoctoral fellow, Kellogg
  • Jacqueline Ng: doctoral candidate, industrial engineering and management sciences, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Northwestern has embraced team-based learning by increasing the prevalence of group projects across the University. Student teams are typically formed via random assignment to ensure fairness, convenience and diversity, but random assignment also can undermine a sense of cohesion and interpersonal trust among team members. To address this “group paradox,” Smith, Sackett and Ng will develop a network visualization tool to be used by faculty across the University -- even those with no formal training in social network analysis and data manipulation. The team seeks to understand how visualizing overlaps in students’ social networks can influence how student teams collaborate, experience group work and integrate knowledge to achieve their collective potential.

Discussion Hero: An Interactive Discussion Board that Encourages and Rewards Rich Dialogue

  • David Noffs: adjunct lecturer and learning designer, School of Professional Studies

Despite significant advances in online teaching, many instructors continue to struggle with getting their students excited about participating in discussion boards. Noffs plans to address this challenge by “gamifying” the Learning Environment Design course he teaches for the Information Design and Strategy program at the School of Professional Studies. Drawing upon research he conducted as part of Northwestern’s Educational Technology Teaching Fellows (ETTF) program, Noffs will pilot “Discussion Hero,” a gamified discussion rubric. The rubric aims to provide a clear way for the instructor and student to dynamically assess both learning and engagement. Noffs hopes that students using Discussion Hero will reflect on the application of game design to learning environments while also improving the quality of their group discussions.

Flipped French

  • Aude Raymond: associate professor of instruction, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Christiane Rey: associate professor of instruction, Weinberg College
  • Patricia Scarampi: assistant professor of instruction, Weinberg College

Raymond, Rey and Scarampi will continue to develop digital tools for a second-year Flipped French course. The goal of the course, which is in a “flipped classroom” format, is to expose students to instructional material outside of the classroom. That, in turn, frees in-class time for meaningful communicative activities in which the material studied outside the classroom is put into practice. The team will use the grant to focus on complementing their adaptive grammar and language exercises platform with pronunciation and vocabulary tools, video content, reading comprehension exercises and rich digital images.

Using Digital Concept Mapping to Evaluate Learning in Undergraduate Medical Education Problem Based Learning

  • Robyn Bockrath: associate pediatric clerkship director, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Aneesha Shetty: co-director of Problem Based Learning, Feinberg

As co-directors of Feinberg’s Problem Based Learning (PBL) program, Bockrath and Shetty are dedicated to helping medical students learn from complex clinical scenarios to progressively gain responsibility and confidence in their practice. The duo will use the fellowship to study the impact of a digital tool on the quality of digital concept mapping, and the use of digital concept mapping to evaluate learning in PBL. Bockrath and Shetty, building on a pilot concept mapping curriculum introduced to first-year medical students, will expand the pilot to second-year students and all PBL tutors. The pair’s primary goal is to promote meaningful learning in medical students through reinforcement of basic science knowledge and integration of recalled and gained knowledge in a clinical context.

Voice Tracker Smartphone App

  • Theresa Brancaccio: lecturer, voice and opera, Bienen School of Music

Eight years ago, Brancaccio sought to address the problem of busy voice students pushing the physical limits of their voices. Inspired by nutrition-tracking methods, she developed a system for students to self-monitor their vocal function and fatigue and adjust their behaviors accordingly. Now Brancaccio is bringing the system into the 21st century with development of the Voice Tracker smartphone app. Though there are countless apps that help users monitor and change habits to be more productive, mindful, active, etc., none are designed specifically for vocal usage and care. In addition to the direct benefit of reaching a wider audience of voice students and other occupational voice users, the app will allow Brancaccio to analyze data from a large base of app users to note trends in vocal workloads and how the use of the Voice Tracker impacts vocal health over time. 

CRIT: Computer-Supported Large Group Feedback

  • Matthew Easterday: assistant professor, School of Education and Social Policy
  • Elizabeth Gerber: associate professor of mechanical engineering, McCormick, and associate professor of communication studies, School of Communication

Northwestern faculty are increasingly using project-based learning courses to prepare students to solve complex real-world challenges, which demands that faculty provide the one-on-one feedback necessary for student learning. Many faculty are turning to peer feedback, but that requires faculty to train novice critiquers to increase feedback quality. To address this concern, Easterday and Gerber are implementing CRIT -- a computer-supported large group feedback tool that blends the advantages of face-to-face and computer-mediated communication. Building on recent research in learning science and computer science, the digital tool will scaffold multiple peer critiques synchronously and asynchronously to produce superior feedback, resulting in increased quantity and quality of feedback compared to face-to-face discussion. Building on pilot work in Easterday’s and Gerber’s classes, CRIT will be deployed in 10 project-based courses in McCormick, SESP, SoC, Feinberg and Weinberg in Spring 2018.

Authoring Your Professional Self: An ePortfolio Design Course

  • Jeff Merrell: associate director, Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC), School of Education and Social Policy
  • Melinda Turnley: assistant director, MSLOC, SESP
  • Kimberly Scott: director and assistant professor, MSLOC, SESP

Expanding on last year’s Digital Portfolio Ecosystem project, this online, non-credit course will support all graduate students in the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change. In addition to providing self-paced instruction for mastery of ePortfolio basics, this course will address advanced skills that highlight the potential for ePortfolios to change students’ professional identity through public reflection and showcasing of their emerging expertise and credibility as a practitioner.

Extending Learning Documents to Three Dimensions: Embedded Interactive Graphics for 3D Visualization

  • Jonathan Emery: lecturer, McCormick

Students across Northwestern -- from scientists to engineers to artists -- are encountering complex, multi-dimensional data with greater frequency. Accordingly, mentally converting the static 2D images often seen in textbooks to 3D is an increasingly important skill in the classroom and workplace. The Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department already uses various modalities to visualize the structure of materials, but students are required to constantly learn new software, which shifts the learning focus from course content to software training. Emery hopes to reduce this barrier to learning by implementing dynamic, interactive 3D models directly into course lectures, notes and assignments. The project will first focus on the construction of interactive and embeddable 3D models for use in introductory and core MSE courses requiring significant visualization skills. Later, Emery plans to collaborate with faculty in other departments and schools to create 3D content for use in situations that require clear digital communication of complex concepts in multiple dimensions.

Sports Marketing MOOC

  • Candy Lee: professor, journalism and integrated marketing communications, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications

Already a leader in integrated marketing communications, Medill has become a leader in sports journalism. Sports marketing is an opportunity to use sports -- and entertainment in general -- to explore important marketing concepts that are applicable to a variety of fields. From celebrity management to event execution, crisis intervention, sponsorship, digital innovation and more, this growing field is attractive to students who are interested in sports and have diverse marketing interests. Lee is rolling out a Sports Marketing Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), one of the first of its kind, to engage a global audience and capitalize on Medill’s growing reputation in sports media. Drawing upon a wealth of video content developed as part of last year’s Digital Learning Fellowship, Lee will create assets that introduce this exciting field to students who have no prior exposure to sports or marketing and enrich the on-campus experience for students at Medill.

A Pedagogical Tool for the Teaching of Advanced Arabic

  • Ragy Ibrahim Mikhaeel: assistant professor of instruction in Arabic, Weinberg College

A longstanding challenge of language instruction is introducing non-native and heritage speakers to ways of writing they have never seen -- and developing their skills and confidence to pursue challenging areas of research typically dominated by native speakers. Mikhaeel is developing an online tool for his Arabic language students to interact with audio and video explanations while analyzing annotated texts from the “Arabic Manuscripts from West Africa” collection in Northwestern’s Herskovits Library of African Studies. Beyond the pedagogical benefits of exposing students to an aspect of humanities research that many will be experiencing for the first time, Mikhaeel will use this project as a stepping stone to future innovations, including development of traditional campus-based and hybrid/digital in-person courses, as well as textbooks designed to support students and researchers.