Regents discuss curricula, real estate

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UT System Board of Regents met Wednesday to discuss developments in new curriculum programs along with local real estate deals and the future of MyEdu. The meeting was one of about six regular meetings that occur each year. Today the regents are expected to set tuition for the next two academic years and to discuss the proposal for a UT Austin medical school.  

Course Transformation

The UT System Board of Regents glanced around the room with i>Clickers in hand as they faced an impromptu chemistry quiz at Wednesday’s meeting.

Two UT professors showed off the University’s course transformation program that uses demonstrations, trial and error, class discussion and online learning modules to engage students. The pilot program launched in 2011 with several core classes, including economics, English 316K and psychology. Professors in the program approach teaching in a more participatory way instead of the usual lecture style.

The regents seemed as enthused as their college student counterparts, who report not always enjoying the classes even if they are making better grades, said Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance. Ritter said the program targets large freshman classes, specifically the 20 percent of students who are not successful in those classes the first time through.

The regents were handed syringes with no needles and asked to pull the syringe to 50 milliliters, put their thumbs on the openings and press the plunger as hard as they could in order to test the concept of Boyle’s law. A clicker question came up on the screen asking about the relationship of volume and pressure in the syringe, so the regents clicked away.

Natural sciences senior lecturer Cynthia LaBrake gave a portion of the lecture and joked that she could use the i>Clickers to tell which regents had not answered at all. LaBrake said the course transformation program gets students engaged so the big classrooms of 300 to 500 students feel smaller and students improve their ability to transfer knowledge to other classes.

“Rather than have the students learn a list of chemistry principles, we want them to be able to apply them and be able to apply the skill,” LaBrake said.

The regents went through several more questions in which they had to hypothesize the answer without testing it out on the syringe. The regents did not jump at the chance to “participate,” but natural sciences associate professor David Vandenbout said during the process of quizzing, students generally share their reasoning for choosing a given answer.

“At this point, everybody is nailing it,” Vandenbout said.

Several regents were interested in the negative student feedback, and Vandenbout said a lot of responsibility is placed on independent learning. He said a big complaint is testing students on information from the online component of the course that the professor did not directly cover in class.

“They somehow think we’ve placed a big burden on them,” Vandenbout said.

Another issue for the chemistry course is the change from tests in multiple choice form to tests in short answer, explanatory form.

“They’ve taken a lot of multiple choice tests,” Vandenbout said. “Now they’re lost, because they just memorized what the answer was.”

Land Deals

The regents gave the University permission to pursue buying the land where Schlotzsky’s restaurant sits at 1907 Guadalupe St. The University recently reached a multimillion dollar deal with Players restaurant, Schlotzsky’s neighbor, on West Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. The University plans to use the land for an expansion for the McCombs School of Business.

MyEdu

MyEdu CEO and Chairman Michael Crosno addressed the regents about new efforts for the interactive degree planning website and mistakes the company has made since finalizing the $10 million partnership with the UT System Oct. 18. Crosno did not discuss the familial connection between a MyEdu corporate executive and a former UT System chancellor. Crosno touched on faculty’s role in the site’s implementation, but he did not specify about faculty concern regarding the comments section of MyEdu.

“Here’s the thing we didn’t understand,” Crosno said. “You cannot do this by just bringing in students alone. MyEdu had the wrong message and the wrong approach.”

He said the company is focusing on making credit management easier as students plan their degrees around prerequisite classes.

“It’s a disaster out there,” he said. “Try to be a student and manage your classes.”