SUTL - Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Projects



2017-2018 Project Descriptions




binary world map

Title: Assessment to Improve Quantitative Literacy Courses

Mentor: Becky Matz, Lyman Briggs College and Learning HUB

Fellow: YoungGon Bae, Program in Mathematics Education

Description: MSU’s quantitative literacy courses (MTH101 and MTH102) represent a relatively new route by which undergraduate students can complete their university mathematics requirement for graduation. The courses were piloted in 2015-2016, expanded in 2016-2017, and are being further expanded in 2017-2018. In any course, it is important that attention be given to assessment of what students are learning relative to the course goals as well as curriculum and pedagogy. In these quantitative literacy courses, such assessment is especially important at this time given 1) the nascency of the courses, 2) the importance of mathematics in a university-level education, and 3) the impending addition of even more course sections. The addition of more course sections is complicated by the necessary addition of more instructional staff, some reshuffling of instructional staff roles (e.g., TAs and LAs will run recitation sections, though previously only TAs had this role), and other issues. In this particular project, we will use primarily quantitative and administrative data to investigate outcomes for students who have taken these quantitative literacy courses, and to make recommendations for future course iterations.




analytics charts visuals

Title: The Figure of the Day - an Activity for Improving Scientific Literacy Skills among Biology Students

Mentor: Pete White, Lyman Briggs College and Dept of Entomology

Fellow: Caitlin Kirby, Geological Sciences

Description: Quantitative and scientific literacy skills are important outcomes of undergraduate biology education, yet instructors often struggle to integrate the necessary opportunities for this kind of student learning. Biology is sometimes characterized as a “soft science”, and introductory course offerings are typically focused on concept- or (biological) system-based learning outcomes rather than on outcomes related to data visualization, data presentation, or statistics. In this SUTL project, we aim to implement and test the impact of a graph-reading activity called “Figure of the Day (FotD)” where students are presented with various types of graphs and are given practice interpreting them and hypothesizing about their meaning. The key feature of the FotD activity is that graph legends (and sometimes axis labels) are removed before the graphs are given to the class. In the absence of this key information, students are forced to carefully analyze and evaluate what is presented, and to apply their understanding of data visualization to create a narrative of what the graph may be representing. After student narratives are discussed, the full graph (with legends and labels) is then shown to the class for further discussion. We hypothesize that students who are given graphs with missing information will show a greater improvement in their scientific literacy skills when compared to students who are given graphs without missing information.




image of the word "collaboration" in a dictionary

Title: The Social Organization of Student-led Fieldwork

Mentor: Dan Menchik, Lyman Briggs College and Dept of Sociology

Fellow: Nicole Lehpamer, Sociology

Description: Ethnographic fieldwork has been long understood as a lone-wolf effort. However, based on some initial published collective efforts, there may exist educational and scholarly benefits to conducting ethnography by class participants or other kind of student group. This project is conceived of as an effort develop some principles for conducting such student-organized collective ethnographic fieldwork, by means of an effort to put those principles into practice. The payoff of analyzing and theorizing the social organization of this research would be scholarship describing some best practices for this model of research, a model being increasingly used but rarely studied by social scientists.




open book on lap

Title: The Educational Impact of Altering Students’ Stances Toward Their Textbooks

Mentor: Kevin Elliott, Lyman Briggs College and Dept of Fisheries and Wildlife

Fellow: Corrine Higley, Dept of Fisheries and Wildlife

Description: This research project is designed to test the effects on student learning of two different approaches to having students read class materials. One approach involves a relatively conventional strategy of having students answer questions at the end of each chapter of their textbook. The other approach involves asking the students to act as “editors” who critique their readings by evaluating features such as their thesis statements and the evidence that they provide. These approaches were compared in three classes (two freshman level courses and a senior level capstone course. In each class, half of the students were assigned to employ each approach, and after reading half of the textbook, the students switched approaches. The students were given surveys to assess their perceived learning gains and their attitudes towards their learning experience after using each approach. A subset of students in each class were also interviewed to gain more detailed information about their learning experiences in each role. We are currently analyzing our data and preparing a conference presentation and a journal article.




hand pointing to image of brain

Title: Developing the Concept of Diffusion through Introductory Physics

Mentors: Vashti Sawtelle & Katie Hinko, Lyman Briggs College and Dept of Physics and Astronomy

Fellow: Dan Weller, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

Description: In the Lyman Briggs College, we are transitioning the large lecture introductory physics class to a studio-style environment that incorporates more connections to the life sciences. Studio physics are transformations that integrate lab and lecture, engage students in more group work, and increase the faculty to student ratio. In other settings, studio physics environments have been well documented to have a positive impact on students’ conceptual knowledge, problem solving ability, retention rates, and attitudes toward learning physics. In LBC we have transitioned our classroom to incorporate topics and ideas from the life sciences – specifically highlighting the concept of diffusion. Our curricular materials use a combination of lab investigations, computational modeling, and analytic problem-solving.




a stack of books

Title: Using Commonplace Books to Improve Student Thesis Statements

Mentor: Arthur Ward, Lyman Briggs College

Fellow: Ryan Huey, History

Description: For years, Dr. Ward has been fine-tuning an assessment in his HPS classes called a “commonplace book.” This is a kind of intellectual journal that has its historical roots in the European renaissance. He uses it as a central place for students to turn in their many assignments, but the central activity they do in the commonplace book is writing thesis-driven analytical essays. In a semester, a student will write between 12-15 of these essays, each about 500 words. By writing so many short essays in the same format, they gain practice forming an argument in response to a text, as well as other valuable critical thinking and writing techniques. This SUTL project will focus on one skill in particular: the formation of a sharp thesis with a focused supporting argument. We will take a full semester’s worth of student essays (approx 80 students, approx 12 essays each - close to 1,000 essays) and assess the improvement of thesis statements over a semester. The primary labor involved will be anonymizing, randomizing, and coding the thesis statements. We plan to code for several features, including how opinionated/original the thesis is, whether it is the right scope for a 500 word essay, and whether it is “positive” or “negative” (that is, whether it agrees or disagrees with source material).