Grants for High Impact Teaching and Learning Practices

June 30, 2014


In the past, projects from GW departments, faculty, and students have been supported to improve teaching and learning activities at the undergraduate and graduate level.  Below are some summaries of grants made.

“Peer-to-Peer Learning Project for Improving GW Students’ Foreign Language Proficiency”

PI: Prof. Margaret Gonglewski,  Romance, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures, CCAS

Description:  This project will develop a Peer-to-Peer Learning model in GW’s German language program. Through intensive one-on-one work, top students deepen their own knowledge and skills in the subject. Through the same process, struggling students will gain another chance to grasp and practice content and skills through interaction with a fellow student. The project improves upon similar programs elsewhere by adding a strong teacher-mentor relationship.  It also develops a community of learning through regular group meetings to discuss and address challenges.  Participants will register in a credit course, and will be assigned readings on second language acquisition research and language teaching methodologies; they will also be required to critically assess the learning process. Participants will also develop undergraduate research projects stemming from their experience. We expect this initiative to be a model for other programs.

“Inquiry Labs in Solar Energy”

PIs: Asst. Prof. Bethany Kung and Prof. Gerald Feldman, Physics

Description: This project is a collaboration between Honors and Physics to develop a series of hands-on, inquiry-based lab exercises using photovoltaics to provide some insights into solar energy.  The lab will serve students in the Honors Science Proseminar course (a first year course) as well as students in the Physics for Future Presidents class.  Most of these students would not typically have the opportunity to get their hands on such high-tech equipment in their college years.   Through these lab activities, students can develop real scientific skills as we challenge them to ask unique questions about the promise and limitations of photovoltaics for the production of solar power.  Students will be required to collect and analyze data to answer their own questions. This experience in scientific inquiry should increase the enthusiasm of many of these students both for the field of alternative energy sources and also for scientific exploration. 

“Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) Organizational Change Assessment”

PIs:  Visiting Assistant Professor Victoria Grady and Professor Lynn Offermann, Organizational Sciences and Communication, CCAS

Description:  This project involved integrating a major action research project with a multinational non-governmental agency in Washington DC. into ORSC 6216- Theory and Management of Planned Change.  The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) is preparing for a leadership transition in June 2013 and the project allowed the students the rare opportunity to gain hands-on experience in assisting an organization with the difficult prospect of change as they learned change theories.  Students evaluated current IADB functioning, including strengths and weaknesses, through an organizational assessment that included collecting and analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data, including online surveys in English and Spanish as well as interviews with IADB leadership and with external stakeholders.  Students used this collected information to identify opportunities and challenges for the organization, both short and long term,  to consider options in the context of the theories they were learning, and worked in teams to suggest recommendations for organizational action to improve organizational functioning.  Students gave oral team presentations on their conclusions and recommendations in class, and wrote individual summary papers as might be presented to clients.  Presentations were then aggregated by the class into a single Powerpoint presentation that was presented to the client’s Council of Delegates representing over 25 nations on May 14, 2013 and was very well-received.  The final aggregated written report will be presented to the IADB before their mid-June meeting, and will be used as they move forward in their reform mission under new leadership at the end of June 2013. 

“Improving Anatomical Knowledge of Third-Year Medical Students Prior to OB/GYN and Surgery Rotations”

Principal Investigator: Ass. Prof. Rosalyn A. Jurjus M.D., Ph.D.

Co-investigators:  Jill Krapf MD, Juliet Lee MD, Gisela Butera MS, Kirsten Brown PhD Ellen Goldman EdD , Janette Krum PhD

Description:  Deficits in retention of basic science knowledge, including anatomical sciences, from the pre-clinical (first and second) to clinical years (third and fourth) have been well documented in the medical education literature. The goal of this study is to design, implement, and evaluate an interactive method of teaching clinically relevant anatomy to third year medical students on their surgical clerkships. This will be done through computer-based e-modules and related laboratory interactive sessions. The educational model aims to integrate, link and apply concepts from two disciplines: anatomy and clinical surgery. Our multi-disciplinary team of anatomists, clinicians, medical students, and educators will design interactive modules and assess their effectiveness in the coming academic year for third year medical students. We hope to demonstrate that using this technique improves applied clinically-relevant basic science knowledge in adult learners.

“Early Engagement of new STEM Students in Undergraduate Research”

PIs:  Research Prof. Larry Medsker and Prof. Gerald Feldman, Physics, CCAS

Description:  A new program for cohorts of first-year students who will learn about research and career opportunities in STEM fields.  An important outcome will be early engagement of students in undergraduate research, which is known to be an important factor in retaining STEM majors through graduation.

A cornerstone of our proposed program is a new one-credit course called “Research in Science” for freshmen.  While the RIS course is primarily for freshmen, selected sophomores and upperclassmen could bring in more diverse perspectives and enable more peer mentoring.  The course will provide background about potential STEM careers as well as inform students about available research opportunities at GW and after graduation.  The students will have the opportunity to meet GW faculty as a means of learning about prospective research groups and their projects.  Students will start thinking about real research projects they might work on as they move through their four years and begin to explore ways to get started in research as freshmen.  Another component of the course is learning about great ideas in science and the nature of research from case studies.  The role of the instructor throughout will be to facilitate learning, interactively, rather than to lecture.  This course should be of value on its own but it will also be assessed to see if it can serve as a model for other programs to adapt.

“Travel to Conference ‘Next Generation STEM Education’”

PI: Prof. Houston Miller, Professor Chemistry, CCAS, and University Honors Program

Description: In November 2012, Professor Miller led a GW team attending “Next Generation STEM Education,” a combined American Association of Colleges and Universities and Project Kaleidoscope conference. Also in the team were Prof. LaKeisha McClary (Chemistry) and Mr. Rio Hart, a University Honors Program junior and a Political Science major. (Prof. Maria Frawley, director of the UHP, was scheduled to attend but had to cancel due to a family emergency.)  Profs. Frawley and Miller developed a session based on recent experiences in the Science Proseminar course offered by the University Honors Program for first year students who will not be majoring in a STEM discipline (however, many STEM majors also take the proseminar.)  In the course, students are cast as members of a green technology startup.  Through development of their business model, students learn about science and technology, while also developing communication skills need to sell the product and explain the science to the public. The two examples presented at the conference were “Vitalgae”, a company whose goal was the development of algae-based biofuels, and the “Capital Climate Initiative”, an on-going effort to build and deploy carbon dioxide sensors as a tool for public engagement in climate change science.  The session was well received and led to an active Q and A session that continued well after the session ended.

“Culture of Russian Rock”

PI: Prof. Richard Robin, Russian and International Affair, CCAS.

Description: The Culture of Russian Rock, a new course to be taught in Fall 2013, will cover the development of Russian popular music from Soviet pre-rock times (post-war through the 1960s) and the emergence of rock music from both Western and Russian sources. The grant supports four undergraduates to do research on these topics in Spring 2013, helping to lay groundwork for the course.  This work might be seen as a model for (a) helping lay the groundwork for innovative courses while simultaneously (b) engaging undergraduates in research.

“Peer-Reviewed Exploration in Teaching (PRET)”

PI: Prof. Rahul Simha, Computer Science (SEAS) and faculty coordinator, Office of Teaching and Learning

Description: A Peer-Reviewed Exploration in Teaching (PRET) is a procedure that allows faculty to demonstrate a rigorously reviewed contribution to learning, analogous to the way in which they contribute to research.  PRET is an ‘exploration’ both because faculty draw best practices from the literature and also because it involves curiosity-driven pedagogical experimentation – teaching as a process of life-long learning.

During a PRET, a professor goes through a number of steps which take about a semester:

  1. Write a proposal that draws on relevant literature as it describes a learning outcome that needs to be improved, and a plan to improve it;
  2. After receiving anonymous peer review, revise the proposal;
  3. Begin implementing the improvement.  Invite two peers in the PRET program to observe.  Peers can interview the students (without the instructor present) as they assess and report on impact on student learning;
  4. Review and comment on the peers’ report;
  5. Blind review of the proposal, the reviewer’s report and the faculty member’s reflection. Ultimately this final review will be done by faculty outside GW.

In Spring 2013, nine contract faculty piloted and refined the PRET program. In the coming year, procedures will be further improved and a new cohort of faculty engaged. 

The long-term goal of the PRET program is to develop a national model for how faculty can develop a peer-reviewed portfolio of evidence of their contributions to teaching and learning.

“Teaching the City”

PI: Prof. Greg Squires, Sociology, Public Policy, and Public Administration, CCAS.

Description:  Urban Sociology (Sociology 2169) will feature service learning as one of the ways in which it engages students with the city.  Students have worked with a variety of organizations including NeighborWorks America, the National Fair Housing Alliance, Manna Inc., and many others. Students conduct research and reflect on their experiences.  For example, they are required to attend a local event and write an analysis of the activities in light of the empirical evidence, theories, and concepts discussed in the readings and class.  For their final papers, on the organizations where they did their service undergraduates analyze how effectively it defines problems, applies strategies, and achieves outcomes.  Students are encouraged, but not required, to provide a copy of their final paper to the organization for which they worked.  This is a small way of giving back to the organizations that have provided so much for our students.  Students are also required to write an op-ed, an essay of approximately 750 words, on a topic of their choice, one that is usually connected to their service learning.  In the past two years two of these essays have been published, one in the Washington Post and the other in the Washington Times.  The grant will enable us to further intensify the course: we will bring in better guest speakers and also attend a play with an urban focus.

“Mechanics Online – Developing Materials for, and Analyzing Data From, a MOOC”. 

PI: Asst. Prof. Raluca Teodorescu, Physics, CCAS

Description: Mechanics Online ( is a free online course that teaches a systematic method of understanding mechanics. The course is hosted by the RELATE (Research in Learning Assessing and Tutoring Effectively) group ( ) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It features e-text, interactive worked examples, mini-lectures by famous MIT professors, and simulations. It uses a pedagogy that significantly improved students’ problem-solving performance and their attitudes toward physics. Prof. Teodorescu will develop additional materials for Mechanics Online and will also analyze data harvested from this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as well as another EdX course in electrical engineering.

 “Virtual Computer Labs in Business”

PI: Prof. Phil Wirtz, GWSB and future co-PIs

Description: Prior to this Initiative, students wishing to access course-specific proprietary software had to physically relocate to one of several on-campus computer labs, each consisting of a server with the requisite software physically connected through an Ethernet network to a set of "client" computers.  This Initiative permits students to access the server virtually (over the Internet) using a web-based access protocol.  This is particularly useful as the University moves increasingly toward online education, where physical relocation to a room containing the server is not an option, and for students who own devices which operate on a different platforms than the server (e.g., Macs, iPads, Android-based devices, etc.).  Additionally, this initiative frees up valuable on-campus space which would otherwise be devoted to housing the computer labs.  Costs are being shared by GWSB, Academic Technologies, and the Office of Teaching & Learning.

"Research Days, 2013"

Description: Each April, GW offers two “Research Days,” in which undergraduates and, increasingly, graduate students from across the University present posters that summarize their research.  OTL works with the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and GW’s Schools to organize and support this event.  Funds were provided for awards to students.  The whole process is intended to encourage the growth and visibility of undergraduate research at GW. This year’s program attracted about 30% more students than participated last year.