Center for Innovative Teaching Announces Awards and Learning Communities Expansion, July 7, 2008

SOCORRO, N.M., July 7, 2008 – The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at New Mexico Tech announced two award winners for the 2008-2009 school year.

This year’s recipients are chemistry professor Michael Pullin and the Biology Department.

Dr. Rebecca Reiss and the Biology Department were awarded $8,000 to revise the curriculum of freshman Biology 111 from traditional lectures to a discovery-based format that includes a new classroom website and a two-day workshop. Dr. Bonnie Wood of the University of Maine will present a “Teaching without Lecturing” workshop that will be open to the Tech community.

Dr. Wood will focus her two-day workshop on the basic principles of successful learning in the natural sciences without lecturing. Her workshop is designed to develop a new teaching method which enhances the learning experience for students.

“Teaching without lecturing is more work than lecturing since it requires the development of activities to replace lectures and that it requires enhanced two-way communication between students and instructors,” Reiss said.

Dr. Michael Pullin received the award of $4,000 for the class Chemistry 422: Environmental Chemistry. Working in teams of three, Pullin’s students prepared a public seminar about global warming last April. The half-day event culminated with a guest speaker. This past year, the class hosted keynote speaker Charris Ford, a biodiesel activist and entrepreneur.

Pullin’s class called the conference, “Our Greatest Challenge; A Public Seminar on Climate Change.” The chemistry class’ challenge was to present a complex problem to a general audience. Three scientists evaluated the presentations, including two Tech professors – Dr. Oliver Wingenter and Dr. Ken Minschwaner and Los Alamos National Laboratory research scientist, Dr. Scott Elliot.

“The students did an excellent job presenting,” Pullin said. “They encountered some interesting questions. It went very well.”

Pullin says he would like to try something similar for future classes.

In addition to the Center’s mission to support and encourage innovative teaching and learning through a variety of campus-wide programs and services, they support learning communities.

These communities cluster freshmen in three classes – two general degree requirements and a Freshman Seminar. The first learning community, focused in popular culture, enrolled eighteen freshmen in the fall.

During the spring, Tech offered the Innovation! learning community with art history and the second semester of English composition, along with peer facilitators. Twenty freshmen enrolled in the spring.

This upcoming fall, New Mexico Tech will expand the learning community offerings with three new themes – computer science, mechanical engineering and Atomic America.

“These communities offer incoming freshmen a neat and engaging experience,” said Dr. Scott Zeman, associate vice president for academic affairs. “It helps facilitate peer groups and social networks with the transition to college life; all of which are aimed at helping students be successful at Tech.”

One of the major goals in establishing new learning communities is to improve retention. Additional goals for the program include increasing engagement with peers, faculty and the campus community.

“The preliminary results are overwhelmingly positive,” Zeman said.

– NMT –