Fairfield University wins $200,000 grant to redesign economics classes and start a center to promote excellence in the classroom


The Davis Educational Foundation has awarded Fairfield University $200,000 to expand the integration of technology into some of its economics courses and to create an academic center on campus that will allow professors from all disciplines to learn and share information about the newest pedagogical techniques.

The Center for Academic Excellence will pull together the many disparate initiatives already underway at Fairfield University to update teaching techniques, particularly by integrating technology into the classroom. More than 50 Fairfield University faculty members have been involved, in recent years, in various projects that try to incorporate more interactivity - particularly via technology - into the classroom. The new center will centralize those efforts and act as a resource for faculty who would like to update their teaching methods or engage in the scholarship of learning.

"The Center for Academic Excellence is the next logical step in the university's continuing efforts to examine and improve pedagogy in general and facilitate the integration of technology into pedagogy in particular," said Orin Grossman, Ph.D., academic vice president at Fairfield University. "I am delighted that the Davis Educational Foundation will help us build on our successes in this area both in their support for the Center as well as their support for the superb Economics department."

This summer Fairfield University will host its third annual conference on "Designing Effective Learning Models: Technology, Pedagogy & Course Redesign," which is designed to engage faculty in a dialogue about the educational uses of technology. One goal of the conference is to better understand how projects involving technology in the teaching and learning process have worked.

That conference is a good example of the types of programs the new center would foster. Dr. Laurence Miners, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, will serve as director of the new center for the first two years.

"It's to be a resource for teaching," Dr. Miners said, "to really help faculty members start to engage in the scholarship of learning."

An original $200,000 grant provided by the Foundation four years ago to Fairfield University launched the revamp of introductory economics courses for Dr. Miners and Kathryn A. Nantz, Ph.D., associate professor of economics. Specifically, the professors restructured their introductory economics courses, in part to create a computer lab session each week. That grant also allowed some of the professors in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science to develop online software so that students could practice and reinforce mathematical skills.

The other half of the new grant will allow the professors in the economics department to continue their redesign efforts. This summer Dr. Miners will offer an online economics course at Fairfield University. In the fall, rather than offering two traditional introductory economics courses, he will offer one face-to-face course and one online course.

"This creates a natural experiment to compare the courses to each other," Dr. Miners said. Comparing and assessing the success of the efforts to update courses and use technology, is a major component of the grant, he added.

Cathy A. Miners, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics, will redesign her introductory economics courses to include a regular computer lab session each week. Dr. Nantz will incorporate new economics teaching software into one of her two intermediate microeconomic theory courses, allowing for comparison between the course taught with the software, and the traditional course taught without it.

Finally, the grant will enable the economics department as a whole to offer a laboratory component to all students who take its statistics course. Currently, only students in the bachelor of science in economics curriculum are required to take the lab component of the statistics course. "The statistics lab is a venue where the use of technology has huge payoffs in terms of student learning," said Dr. Cathy Miners. "When technology is used not just as a computational tool, but as a tool to facilitate critical thinking, difficult concepts are mastered and learning is enhanced."

The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after his retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. The foundation contributes money only to New England colleges.

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

Posted on May 30, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 309