Support for Innovative Teaching

Tufts program gives grants to help faculty and students launch new ideas in the classroom
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“Through Tufts Innovates, we support faculty, staff and students in turning creative ideas into projects and courses with lasting impact,” says Provost David R. Harris. Illustration: iStock
May 21, 2014

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Seeking ways to spark creativity in the classroom, the Tufts Innovates! program has awarded grants to nine projects designed to find new ways to enhance learning and teaching across the university. Both Tufts Innovates! and Tufts Collaborates!, which promotes interdisciplinary scholarship and research, are sponsored by the Office of the Provost; together, these internal grant programs have supported more than 65 groundbreaking projects since 2011.

The projects will begin in July and continue through the 2014–15 academic year.

“Through Tufts Innovates, we support faculty, staff and students in turning creative ideas into projects and courses with lasting impact,” says Provost David R. Harris. “We are now in the fourth round of Innovates, and I continue to be impressed by the diverse projects that are proposed and implemented each year. Tufts Innovates, along with Tufts Collaborates, has proven to be an important mechanism for promoting cross-school collaboration, scholarship and teaching and learning at Tufts.”

Gregory Crane, a professor of classics and editor-in-chief of the Perseus Digital Library, received an innovation grant for “Breaking the Language Barrier,” which will use technology to help students work with texts in languages they do not know. “We live in a world that is not just multilingual but hyperlingual,” says Crane, noting there are some 6,800 spoken languages. “No human being can study, much less master, more than a fraction of the languages spoken by members of the global community who interact in real time in this networked age.”

Students and faculty in the department work with classical Greek and Latin, languages that have shaped much of human consciousness. “They still have an impact, and you need to know something about them if you want to understand the present,” he says. But it takes years to learn these languages well enough to comprehend original source materials.

Digital translation tools and dictionary references, among other resources, have changed all that. “In the past you might take classic Greek, and if you got excited, a year and a half later you might be working with texts,” Crane says. “Now you’re in the Greek text right away. Obviously you can’t read The Iliad by looking up every word, but if you’re a political philosopher and interested in justice, you don’t need to be fluent—you need to be able to look at a Greek word in context and see how it’s used.” The Tufts Innovates grant will assist Crane and Anna Krohn, a digital library analyst in the classics department, in evaluating and analyzing online tools to support these efforts.

In the Department of Drama and Dance, lecturer Jaclyn Waguespack received funding for her program called “Dance on Camera.” Combining dance and video is a new genre at Tufts, Waguespack says, adding that students will produce their own work using professional-quality cameras and editing equipment.

“YouTube and Vimeo give people the opportunity to show their work,” she says. “Dance on camera is really a hot trend in dance right now, and we are trying to introduce our students to visual and media literacy through the lens of dance and technology.”

In addition to funding the equipment, the grant will allow students to attend the 2015 Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. Students will also submit their films to other national and international festivals, as well as have the opportunity to curate and host their own public film festival at Tufts in the spring. Assisting Waguespack on the project will be Marc Raila and Michael Callahan, digital technologists in the Tufts Digital Design Studio, and Cassie Burns, A15.

“Tufts Innovates gives faculty the opportunity to try really interesting, innovative ideas that ultimately impact our students,” says Donna Qualters, director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Tufts. “CELT works with faculty on the assessment of that student learning. This way we insure that the project is not only new and exciting, but truly does contribute to deeper learning.”

The other 2014–15 Tufts Innovates grant recipients are:

Active Learning in an Active Classroom. Jennifer Sacheck, an associate professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, will reimagine the Physical Activity and Health course by modifying the classroom environment with, for example, standing desks, and assess the impact on students’ classroom experience and learning.

Charting Negotiation, Mediation and Conflict Resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Lessons from Theory and Practice. Students at the Fletcher School will learn to apply negotiation and conflict resolution theories, with emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Presentations by senior-level practitioners and policymakers will be available campus-wide, providing an opportunity for community learning. The principal investigator is Professor Nadim N. Rouhana, who teaches international negotiation and conflict studies.

From Physical Models to Big Data: Developing a Project-based Computational Physics Course. Assistant Professor Tim Atherton in the physics and astronomy department will lead a project to develop an interdisciplinary course in computational physics for spring 2015, aimed at teaching students to handle big data. Faculty in applied mathematics, computer science and mechanical engineering will have input in the design of the course.

Health Literacy Intensive: Dental Education, Literacy and Community Partnership. The goal of the project is to enhance learning by encouraging students to create health literacy interventions for Boston’s Chinatown community. Nicole Holland, an assistant professor and director of health communication, education and promotion at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, wants first- and second-year dental students to understand the role of health literacy in oral health and in the health-care system and the value of effective communication with diverse populations.

Human-Environment-Animal: Learning and Technology Health. Jennifer Allen, an associate professor of public health and community medicine at the School of Medicine, will lead an interdisciplinary project to enhance students’ understanding of One Health—the links between human, animal and environmental health. Working with Christine Rioux and Joann Lindenmayer, V85,  at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Allen will establish a One Health working group to design a new undergraduate course, which will feature field placements and guest lectures.

Human Security Core Course Development. Human security is about the well-being of people rather than of the state, as encompassing as the economy, environment and food. Eileen Babbitt, professor of international conflict resolution practice at the Fletcher School, will lead the development of a multidisciplinary course that explores the theories and applications of human security, focused on one country undergoing conflict or transition. The goal is to offer the course in the spring 2015 semester.

Web-based Fieldwork Evaluation and Curriculum Outcome Measures. Michael Roberts, lecturer and academic fieldwork coordinator in the Department of Occupational Therapy, will oversee a project to use web-based data collection and analysis to assess the performance of occupational therapy students in practice contexts, to help evaluate curriculum and to lead to the best matches between students’ education and their career goals.

For more information about Tufts Innovates, visit the website of the Office of the Provost.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.