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Center for Teaching Excellence

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Transforming Astronomy

Professor David Tedeschi and Assistant Professor Steven Rodney, as primary instructors for Introduction to Astronomy (ASTR 101), had used active learning methods in teaching the course but saw they could do more and do it better, including applying evidence-based pedagogy. The Teaching Innovation Grant for Course Transformation, awarded by the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) with support from the Office of the Provost, offered the perfect opportunity to obtain support in revamping the course.

The Course Transformation grant targets undergraduate courses with significant D/F/Withdrawal rates. The primary goal of the new grant program is to improve undergraduate student learning by incorporating evidence-based teaching and course design practices in the department-wide delivery of high-impact courses. Departments that are awarded the grant partner with the CTE in an 18-month rigorous team-based, faculty-driven process based on the nationally-recognized Course Transformation approach. Funding priority is given to general education and major-gateway courses that serve more than 100 students annually.

A grant of $20,000 was awarded to the Department of Physics and Astronomy to help support Tedeschi and Rodney, as team leaders, and a graduate student in coordinating the project. The faculty-led redesign team see opportunities to creatively re-structure the course scheduling and make use of alternative classroom spaces to allow more small-class experiences for their 200+ students. They are particularly interested in exploring team-based learning as a way to give students more collaborative experiences in both the lecture and the lab components of the class. In addition, Tedeschi and Rodney view the ASTR 101 course as offering an excellent “sandbox” to test out a course transformation process that might eventually be extended to the rest of their department.

Janet Hudson, former Associate Director of Innovative Teaching at CTE expressed her enthusiasm for the project. Says Hudson, “I'm excited about both the recipients and their proposed course for this first course transformation grant–ASTR 101. The faculty winners, Steven Rodney and David Tedeschi, bring energy, experience, determination and ideas supported in the literature on successful teaching and learning. Moreover, the course—Introduction to Astronomy—meets a Carolina Core requirement but is not a prerequisite course for majors and it is taught by a small number of faculty. These characteristics provide flexibility and greater opportunity for creativity. Kudos to the Physics and Astronomy department in the College of Arts and Sciences for their support of this project and openness to innovation and commitment to student learning.”

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