For Ohio State professor Peter Anderson and associate professor Katharine Flores in the material sciences engineering department, using remote controls and 3-D glasses in class have more benefits than helping students better understand complex material.
Former Ohio Board of Regents chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut, who resigned March 13, recognized 16 faculty members from Ohio universities for the innovative tools they have used to lower textbook costs and move toward a more digital platform.
“The point is to change the culture and that’s one of the key reasons we’re trying to get the news out about the faculty innovators,” said Ohio Board of Regents press secretary Rob Evans.
“Through recognizing 10 or so faculty a year for three years, we start to change the mindset of thousands of faculty throughout the system.”
Anderson and Flores were recognized as Ohio Faculty Innovator Award winners for the online content they post as well as innovative tools within the classroom that save all the students in their program a total of roughly $100,000.
Anderson said students do not necessarily need the text and that most of the homework is posted online.
“Not only do they not need a textbook to find the questions, but I think it produces a better student because they keep on trying, trying, trying until they get the idea right,” Anderson said.
The professors have also used remote controls in class to gauge problem areas for students and have started using 3-D glasses in their introduction to material sciences course to help students achieve a better perspective of the three-dimensional structure of crystals.
Some students benefit from the material posted online such as recorded lectures.
“Sometimes things come up where you can’t make it to the lecture, so instead of just missing an entire day of lecture it helps to have the ability to go back and take a look at them online,” said Steven Jones, a fourth-year in material sciences engineering.
Although these students appreciate the material posted online, they still find value in buying a textbook.
“I think saving money is a good avenue for some students, but I think different students have different ways they learn,” said Jared Spencer, a fourth-year in material sciences engineering. “So I think some people need a material book in front of them.”
Award winner Lauren Cummins, associate professor of education at Youngstown State University, uses collaborative wiki pages to make students actively think about useful resources. Students post to a wiki page at least three times per semester to collaborate on a topic.
“This takes you to a deeper level of understanding the content because you’re engaged in learning about the content, but also synthesizing and analyzing it more,” Cummins said.
This tool can even be helpful to students after they graduate.
“It’s a nice source for life-long learning in that consult, especially in teacher education where our practices become informed by research,” Cummins said. “What we know about it today is maybe not what we knew about it 10 years ago.”
One concern with digital platforms is that students will start to attend class less often.
“You always want students to go to class, even if it’s a hybrid class (part online, part in-class), absolutely you do,” said professor Susan Nagorney in the math department at Cuyahoga Community College. “It’s always a concern, but I can’t make them.”
Nagorney was honored with fellow Cuyahoga Community College faculty members Donald Gabriel, Jennifer Garnes, Amanda Hanley and Jennifer Kucera.
Not all professors hold Nagorney’s view.
“It’s more about what students need to learn and some learn better by not sitting in the seats in the classroom,” said University of Akron professor Cheryl Ward, who was also honored. “They know what they need to learn, so if they don’t need to come to class to learn it, then they don’t have to.”
Some of the awarded faculty members agree that saving students money, while important, is secondary to finding new, better ways of teaching students in a digital age.
“It’s not only about saving the cost, that’s one thing. We cannot simply say, ‘Here’s a free version of options and go with it.’ You have to question whether you’re delivering a better learning and teaching environment,” said Wright State University professor Shu Schiller.
The award winners were first recognized in early March and include the aforementioned and professors Raymond Frost and Lauren Kenyo from Ohio University, Miami (OH) University professor Anna Dollar, professor Jim Anderson of Clark State Community College, associate professor Charles Ginn of University of Cincinnati and WSU assistant professor Anand Jeyaraj.
Although a date has not been determined, the award winners will be honored at a ceremony on the floor of the Ohio Senate, Evans said.