Fairfield University awarded grant from Pew Charitable Trusts


Fairfield University has been awarded a $200,000 two-year grant from Pew Charitable Trusts for the redesign of its General Biology program. This grant joins a series of awards that Fairfield University has received in the past 18 months for the highly innovative use of technology that is transforming the learning environment for its students.

In 1998 the Pew Charitable Trusts awarded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) a four-year grant to encourage colleges and universities to redesign their instructional approaches using technology. Redesign projects will focus on large-enrollment, introductory courses that have the potential to impact significant numbers of students and generate substantial cost savings.

Rensselaer was chosen to administer the nation-wide program and selected Fairfield University from a pool of 154 applicants to be one of the leaders in the development of curriculum that capitalizes on inventive uses of technology. Jack Wilson, RPI's acting provost, said the purpose of the program was to improve higher education "by putting students at the center of learning."

Fairfield joins the other second round finalists: Carnegie Mellon University, California Polytechnic University at Pomona, the universities of Massachusetts, Dayton, Iowa, Tennessee, Idaho and Alabama, and Riverside Community College who received Pew grants to develop programs using technology to reshape their academic programs.

The Fairfield team who worked on the project for more than a year includes: Orin Grossman, Ph.D., academic vice president; Beverly Kahn, Ph.D., acting dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Malcolm Hill, Ph.D., and Shelley Phelan, Ph.D., assistant professors of biology and project directors; Ray Poincelot, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology; Laurence Miners, Ph.D., associate professor of economics; James Estrada, vice president for information resources and university librarian, and Noel Appel director of foundation relations.

Fairfield's redesign of General Biology will be accomplished through the use of iBook computers using sophisticated wireless technology. In addition, a portable interactive computerized classroom will be available for this project in the School of Nursing auditorium and the biology labs in the Bannow Science Center. The grantor hopes that many of the courses will be Web-based or at least employ networks and computers rather than television or other older instructional technologies.

Fairfield's project has three primary goals related to enhancing student learning as well as reducing overall costs: a) to establish interactive student-centered learning environments in both the classroom and the laboratory; b) to better facilitate the transfer of information; and, c) to expose students to the wealth of biological information available today.

Dr. Malcolm Hill, project co-director says, "This technology is going to revolutionize the way we teach biology. It will allow students to have Internet access and use international databases in the classroom, instead of in their dorms. It opens a lot of avenues because there are so many software modules available to us. Although the technology is relatively new, it will soon become the norm in higher education. We will be on the vanguard of a new and exciting experience for students and faculty alike."

Project co-director Dr. Shelley Phelan agrees. "Biology is an incredibly exciting field today and we feel this grant will allow us to create a truly dynamic experience for our students. The use of animation and video within the 'lecture' should greatly enhance the understanding of the material," she believes, "and the interactive learning environment will give the students a much more active role in the classroom."

The Biology Project dovetails with the recently funded Davis Educational Foundation and the E.L. Cord Foundation grants which awarded Fairfield University $245,000 to redesign both economics and mathematics curricula using technology to reduce costs. The two projects will join forces during the next two summers after which they'll host a technology conference scheduled for June 16 and 17, 2001, where all three disciplines can showcase their work to other colleges and universities.

The Biology Project will begin the process of purchasing equipment and outfitting the School of Nursing auditorium this fall, do trial runs of the program in the spring and be fully implemented by the fall of 2001.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 6, 2000

Vol. 33, No. 21