John Walsh, associate professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, has been awarded a $149,891 grant by the National Science Foundation to develop an online tool to teach complex scientific concepts in undergraduate courses throughout the university.
“This award will bring together professors from the College, engineering and gerontology to create lectures in basic neuroscience,” Walsh said.
The idea for the online tool stemmed from a similar program developed for Walsh’s neurobiology of aging course, which covers age-related diseases of the brain such Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Walsh worked with educational technologists at the USC Davis School to build a prefabricated template complete with 2-D PowerPoint images, text, narration, 2-D and 3-D animation and video clips.
The tool aids with instruction and grading for the class, in which the students analyze symptoms of neurological disorders in grand rounds intended to simulate medical school.
“Commonly used teaching resources such as PowerPoint and overhead projector slides are linear, one-way teaching tools,” Walsh said. “The online teaching tool provides students a multidimensional, learner-centered environment designed to increase understanding and retention of information.”
Earlier this year, Walsh received the 2008 Provost’s Prize for Teaching With Technology, which provided seed funding to create the web-based instructional program.
“The tool that Dr. Walsh is developing allows students to look at the lecture again. It allows them to used enhanced online technologies such as videos and computer animation. It connects the research of real scientists back to the curriculum of the course,” said James E. Hamos, program director at the National Science Foundation.
Readings from up-to-date literature will take the place of textbooks via direct links to PDF files of research articles. Video clips of investigators performing experiments will be included to illustrate how scientific knowledge is gained from laboratory research. Online experimental tools will be integrated to allow students to perform real-time simulated lab tests from their personal computers as well.
“This is a wonderful example of cross-campus collaboration in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Michelle Riconscente, assistant professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and co-principal investigator of the study.
“By partnering with Rossier, this project integrates campus expertise in researching students’ learning and motivation. At the end of the project, we will have rich evidence of the specific benefits of the tool for improving the quality of student achievement and engagement, especially those traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.” Engaging more students in math and science is a prevailing goal of the National Science Foundation, Hamos said. He was particularly drawn to the crossover potential. “While this tool is designed to be used for a variety of courses at USC, there is potential for it to be used elsewhere in the country, and it can be a platform for all sorts of dissemination,” he said.