Exploring new methods of effective teaching and meeting the challenge of higher course enrollments, instructors at the University of Nevada, Reno are increasingly turning to technology for help, and it's working.
For the fourth consecutive year, a University of Nevada, Reno course, its instructor and instructional designer have won the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award, an international award that recognizes innovative courses that use technology to enhance learning.
Principles of Biological Investigations, taught by Elena Pravosudova, associate professor of biology in the University's College of Science, was one of only 36 courses internationally to receive a 2012 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Exemplary Courses from Blackboard Inc. The international company works with clients to develop and implement technology that improves education. In addition, Pravosudova's course was one of only six of the Exemplary Courses to earn the special designation of Directors Choice for Courses with Distinction.
The course is a lab course, with an online component designed by Pravosudova and Alina Solovyova-Vincent, a former instructional designer in the University's teaching and learning technologies department who is now pursuing a doctoral degree at the University. Solovyova-Vincent has spearheaded the design and delivery of winning courses for the past four years.
The Principles of Biological Investigations course complements introductory biology courses and is a requirement for biology majors, as well as many other science-related degrees. As such, Pravosudova said there is a large demand for the course, with about 200 students enrolled each semester. Because of the large demand, the course has been split into 10 sections, and graduate teaching assistants help Pravosudova administer the course.
Two years ago, Pravosudova participated in the "Course Makeover Program" offered by the University's teaching and learning technologies department to seek some ideas on how to most effectively deliver the course to such a large audience.
Pravosudova implemented a number of suggestions she received through the Makeover Program. The lectures at the beginning of each lab are now delivered online, via a narrated PowerPoint presentation, which Pravosudova says has increased consistency among the various sessions in the delivery of this important information. In addition, there are online videos demonstrating lab procedures and use of equipment. Students also interact with one another online and can upload images of their lab experiments.
"The Course Makeover Program really helped me find ways to use technology to more effectively teach and engage students," Pravosudova said. "It can be a real challenge when you are working with so many students, but Alina and the Course Makeover Program really made a big difference and helped me improve the delivery of this course."
Solovyova-Vincent will attend Blackboard's annual conference July 10-12 in New Orleans to accept the award.