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Two departments receive awards for efforts to improve teaching

by UofL Today last modified Nov 06, 2009 01:28 PM

University of Louisville Provost Shirley Willihnganz presented the 2009 Paul Weber Award for Department Excellence in Teaching to the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Development and to the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in Speed School of Engineering, Nov. 5 at the fall Celebration of Faculty Excellence.

Two departments receive awards for efforts to improve teaching

Mary Shelley Thomas and Terrance Scott accepted the Weber Award for the teaching and learning department.

Named in memory of Paul Weber, a distinguished teacher, scholar and mentor at the University of Louisville, the awards "are intended to foster and sustain a university-wide culture of teaching excellence," said Marie Kendall Brown, assistant director for teaching and learning at the Delphi Center for Teaching & Learning.

"They celebrate departmental efforts to implement meaningful curricular and programmatic innovations based upon best practices in teaching and learning," she said. "They also celebrate the efforts of faculty who actively collaborate to improve teaching and learning activities; and they encourage and reward departments who utilize intentional research-based initiatives and assessment strategies to document successes."

The 2009 awards recognize recipients for steps they've taken to improve students' critical thinking skills relative to the Ideas to Action program.

Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning received the top prize of $30,000 for a system to integrate critical thinking skills throughout departmental curricula and in students' work in schools. The system, call the Hallmark Assessment Task (HAT), also assesses students' progress in developing those skills.

Using HAT, teaching and learning measures students' critical thinking skills at admission, midpoint and exit point.

The department reorganized teaching in each course from recall-based approaches and assessments to critical thinking approaches that prepare students to engage in critical analysis, interactions and problem-solving. The focus is on hypothesizing, analyzing, making sound inferences and reasoning.

Students also use the HAT system when they work with area schoolchildren as student teachers and also as tutors and classroom helpers.

Since the system has been in place, the Jefferson County Public School Human Resources Department noted that it has seen a marked improvement in teacher candidates from UofL and that candidates from the Department of Teaching and Learning are "the finest and best prepared teachers of the 45-50 institutions" from which JCPS hires.

"This award reflects the dedication our faculty has shown to our students, the university and the community," said Blake Haselton, interim dean. "The assessment work performed by the T and L department has resulted in improved student performance and classroom preparedness."

The initiative also has impressed the school's continuing accreditation review board. An NCATE/EPSB Board of Examiner's team recently visited CEHD.

The "team was very complimentary of the T and L department for its work with teacher candidates to infuse critical thinking into their practical experiences, and to challenge teachers to hold high expectations for P-12 students learning," said Ann Larson, vice dean and acting chair of the department. The tenets of inquiry, action and advocacy within the CEHD's conceptual framework "support the university's Ideas to Action or i2a initiative. We are honored to receive this distinguished award."

Engineering Fundamentals

Engineering fundamentals received $20,000 for a four-year study to determine how engineering students' critical thinking skills change. The money also will fund other steps the unit has taken to make critical thinking more intentional within instruction, students' internships and in Speed School's activity within local schools.

One of the more major efforts engineering fundamentals has undertaken is a four-year research study to answer the question, how do critical thinking skills change as students progress through the engineering program? The study, which started in fall 2008, includes incorporating critical thinking, "intentionally and transparently, into the undergraduate engineering experience."

"Critical thinking is a fundamental component of engineering analysis, and one approach we are now using is to incorporate Paul-Elder language when we model our thinking to students as we solve problems," said engineering fundamentals faculty member Patricia Ralston. "This encourages students to associate engineering problem solving and critical thinking." 

Speed School also plans to foster students' ability to recognize and do critical thinking in discipline specific settings and in other engineering classes, she said, and to have students understand that they can apply the analysis and critical thinking skills they learn in the classroom to all aspects of life.

Engineering fundamentals also is taking critical thinking to the community as it works with elementary and middle schools to expose students to the field and to math and science.

Both departments received a plaque for the department, and their names were added to the glass Weber Award wall in the Ekstrom Library.

UofL established the Weber Award in 2005. It is given through the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning.

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