1.H. Personal Leadership

A Satisfactory rating requires personal leadership demonstrated through self-initiative and follow-through with instructional tasks.

Because one of my core values is continuous improvement, I have taken the initiative each semester to improve at least one aspect of every course I teach. Some activities have required follow-through across multiple semesters and years, for example, learning how to develop, deliver, and continually improve blended courses.

Some examples of teaching accomplishments that have been self-initiated, and have required significant follow-through, are:

New Course Materials and Modules for ISAT/CS 344 (Intelligent Systems). I taught 344 in Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, and currently have one section for Fall 2013. In Spring 2012 and Spring 2013, the course was taught by Ralph Grove in the CS department. Now, ISAT is responsible for delivering this course each fall, and CS delivers it each spring. Ralph and I have shared new course materials and lessons learned on a regular basis, which has resulted in several new modules and tutorials, and transitioning the entire course from fee-based software (e.g. NeuroShell) to the free and open-source R package.

Blended Learning. In Fall 2011, I applied for and was accepted to participate in an eight-week course through the JMU Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) on Blended Learning. This teaching approach involves combining in-class activities with synchronous online activities, asynchronous online activities, and self-directed work. In Spring 2012, I continued working with CIT to convert GISAT 251 (Statistics) and ISAT 341 (Simulation & Modeling) into blended courses. GISAT 251 was delivered as a blended course in Fall 2012, and ISAT 341 was first delivered as a blended course in Spring 2013.

Online Course Development. With the help of CIT, I developed fully online versions of GSCI 161 (Science Processes) and GSCI 162 (Science of the Planets), and delivered those courses in May 2012 and May/June 2013. I also developed a new online course, GSCI 104 (Severe Weather on Earth and in Space), and delivered it twice in the summer of 2013.

Implementation of “Gift Economy” as Pedagogy. The concept of the gift economy asks students to explore “What can I give to everyone in this learning community?” rather than “What can I get out of this class?” I first tried it as a pedagogical strategy for getting students more engaged in team projects in ISAT/CS 344 (Intelligent Systems) in Fall 2012. If they can identify one or more gifts that they can potentially bring to a semester project, then teaming for semester projects will be based on students connecting with one another to willingly receive those identified and specified gifts. I believed that as a result of this intervention, the quality of the projects would be higher and there would be fewer “slacker” team members. End-of-semester student peer reviews indicated that there were no slacker team members at all (first time in ANY of my classes) and the quality of most of the projects was at the graduate level. Mary Handley suggested that I take a collection of pre-gift-economy projects, and post-gift-economy projects, and have independent reviewers rate them according to a rubric, then see if I can quantitatively assess whether there were improvements, and what their characteristics were. I plan to do this after Fall 2013, when I have a larger sample of projects.

Cross-Course Learning Communities. (with ISAT 341, ISAT 252, and HON 300/ISAT 380): In Spring 2013, Morgan Benton, Rebecca Simmons, and I experimented with creating a learning community across three classes this semester. For example, students in HON 300 were allowed to “subcontract” students in ISAT 341 and ISAT 252 to execute programming and analysis tasks that were the subject of those other courses. We also asked the 120 students in these classes to collaborate before the start of spring semester in a video project designed to forge quick relationships between the classes. We talked about the process in http://www.burningmindproject.org/2013/02/02/seeding-a-learning-community/ and http://www.burningmindproject.org/2013/02/02/seeding-a-learning-community-the-results/, and the video itself is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=my5m8aGzV30.

Grading by Contract-Based Accumulation: I experimented with adjusting the grading scheme in the ISAT 341 (Simulation & Modeling) class so that as you complete activities and exams with a level of quality that is acceptable to me, you accrue points for those activities. So 40+ points earns an A, 30-39 is a B, 20-29 is a C and so forth. For exams, if you get 85 or above on the first sitting, you get the full credit of 3 points. If not, you can come back to me for an oral exam later, where I can ask you questions about anything on the test, including things you got right. This intervention yielded many desired effects: while driving our fear in the classroom, students are also now more cognizant of quality standards, and more open to iterating with me to achieve quality results (rather than just turning in garbage to get partial credit, or never looking at an exam again to close the gap on deficiencies). However, this intervention was also very polarizing the first time I attempted it in Spring 2013; students who struggle with self-discipline and time management were in general very dissatisfied. 

During the 2013-2014 academic year, students responded much more favorably to this approach. The key difference, I believe, was that I aimed to personally engage with each of them throughout the course, leaving much less room for less motivated students to disengage throughout the semester. I continue to solicit advice and recommendations from my students to enhance their experiences in my courses and learning communities.