Bryn Mawr Faculty Adding Computational Skills to STEM Courses

Posted July 8th, 2014 at 4:41 pm.

A group of Bryn Mawr faculty members is aiming “to transform the way we prepare STEM majors for the computationally intense world of modern-day science.”

“Alumnae physics majors rate the ability to think algorithmically and program in at least one computer language at the top of those skills they most value having developed as Bryn Mawr students but we can do even more to prepare these students,” says Physics Chair Elizabeth McCormack, who is joined in the group by Associate Professor of Computer Science Doug Blank and Physics Senior Lecturer and Lab Coordinator Mark Matlin.

The group has been awarded a three-year grant of $169,505 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, to help make their vision a reality.

As part of the project, the team will create, pilot, and assess the use of hybrid or “blended learning” instructional modules that bring together the best of online and traditional in-class experiences to allow students to integrate greater computer science instruction into their physics courses.

“Most importantly for students, we think that by using a blended approach we can build student computational competencies while not impacting overall time to degree,” says McCormack. “For educators and the institutions where they teach, we want to provide a scalable and sustainable instructional model while minimizing the need for additional faculty and staff.”

McCormack will serve as the primary investigator for the project.  Matlin, who has extensive experience in scientific programming and a variety of experiences in incorporating computational elements in physics courses and labs, will lead the development of the computational learning modules throughout the project. Blank, will serve as an adviser to Matlin and will play a key role in faculty workshops and training.

Additional Bryn Mawr staff members who will be involved with the project include Coordinator for Academic Technology Initiatives Jennifer Spohrer and Ann Dixon, steward for the Serendip Studio website.

The project will build on Bryn Mawr’s record of leadership in the development and study of blended learning approaches in a liberal arts college settings.

“By holding annual workshops open to faculty across the STEM disciplines our colleagues will learn from our experience and adapt and adopt the materials we develop,” says McCormack.

The project is part of the AAC&U initiative called TIDES – Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM. Bryn Mawr’s inclusion is based in large part on the College’s track record of excellence in innovate computer science and STEM education of women.

The initiative will support curriculum and faculty development activities at 20 institutions to develop models for broader institutional change for the advancement of evidence-based and culturally competent teaching in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), particularly in the computer and information science domains. For more information, visit the AAC&U website.

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