Fairfield University awarded gold 'Innovation Prize' for online tool created by faculty member Curt Naser



Image: Innovation prizeFairfield University has received a 2010 gold Connecticut Quality Improvement Award (CQIA) 'Innovation Prize' for Mentor, a new online tool created by Associate Professor Curtis R. Naser, Ph.D. that is proving to be of great value to teachers and students at elementary and secondary schools and colleges.

Past recipients of the Innovation Prize have included Pfizer, Pratt & Whitney, Yale University, Hartford Hospital and CIGNA.

Axiom Education, a Shelton, Conn.-based company, was a co-winner of the prize with Fairfield. It was just last November that the University signed a contract with the company to market Mentor, which integrates assessment of student learning outcomes methodologies into the fabric of an online course management system.

The tool is of help to colleges, grammar and secondary schools, because a major challenge facing teachers is assessing how well students are learning what they are aiming to teach them. The task of examining student work and assignments and linking that work back to learning objectives continues not to be an easy one. Doing this job 'by hand' with printed copies of student papers can be time-consuming, let alone labor intensive. That is where Mentor comes into play.

The 16-year-old CQIA Innovation Prize was awarded to those who "accepted the challenge of developing unique products, services and processes capable of tackling real-world problems," according to Sheila Carmine, founder and executive director of the Connecticut Quality Improvement Award Partnership, Inc., a non-profit based in Stamford, Conn. "Even in a faltering economy, Fairfield University and Axiom Education have shown that forward-looking organizations bring forth new products and services," she observed.

Dr. Naser, who is facilitator for academic assessment at Fairfield, said the honor was especially rewarding because it came from peers. The twelve Innovation Prize examiners took into consideration Mentor's numerical results from the last five years in awarding Fairfield and Axiom a gold prize.

"I was happy to hear that we were recognized for what we've been doing for awhile regarding student learning outcomes at Fairfield," said Dr. Naser, who is a member of the Philosophy Department. "Ultimately, it is about helping teachers be more effective and determining whether students are learning."

Mentor now contains "a huge database" of student work, he added. Since 2005, it has collected 140,000 student files.

Dr. Naser is a practicing bioethicist specializing in the ethics of research involving human subjects. However, his inquisitiveness and creativity set him on a path of developing Mentor. About a decade ago, he began to try to build an online quizzing system for his own classes. Soon others on campus were seeking out his tech help, including the Dolan School of Business. Dean Norm Solomon, Ph.D., Roselie M. McDevitt, Sc. D., assistant professor of accounting, and Michael T. Tucker, D.B.A., professor of finance, worked with Dr. Naser to develop the management system, then known at Fairfield as Eidos - the Greek word for 'idea'. (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business would later cite the tool as a best practice during an accreditation visit of the Dolan School.) The contract with Axiom Education is believed to be the first time there's been a commercial partnership of this kind at the University.

Twenty-two manufacturers, 29 service companies, two health care organizations, three educational institutions, and one state agency won prizes this year. There were four platinum, sixteen gold and 37 silver awards handed out among them.

For more info, visit http://axiomeducation.us.

Image: Fairfield University and Axiom received a 2010 gold Connecticut Quality Improvement Award (CQIA) 'Innovation Prize' for Mentor, a new online tool created by Associate Professor Curtis R. Naser, Ph.D. Last year, he and Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., senior vice president of academic affairs, left, signed an agreement with Connecticut-based Axiom, represented by Donald E. Bodnar, president, second from left, and Chett Rubenstein, CTO.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 23, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 24