CTE awards

ILLUMINATE Grants assist professors

The Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) recently awarded seven grants with the ILLUMINATE Grant, which is designed to encourage original teaching methods and student-engaged activities.

Funded by Dr. Ronald Godwin, the senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, and the Office of the Provost, the seven grants totaled $20,575, according to a final status report from CTE. Professors submitting a proposal could either receive $1,500, $3000 or $4,500, depending on whether they were submitting as a group or as an individual.

Sharon Wheeler, director of CTE, said she had been interested in started a grants program for teachers for a while before Godwin read the proposal and approved it.

“The main purpose behind this grant is to promote active learning and hands-on opportunities for students,”
Wheeler said.

Many times in higher education, the predominant form of instruction is lecture, and we want to encourage our faculty to get out of that comfort zone and engage their students in a more active learning process … So this grant is for active, as opposed to passive, instruction.”

Wheeler said the grant committee of the CTE faculty advisory board, who selected which proposals out of the 30 received the grant, looked for originality in how the funds would be used.

“We have a chemistry teacher that is bringing in music during her sessions, during her labs,” Wheeler said. “She’s going to be comparing her results with students who are working with music in the background to students who are not doing that. So that’s definitely thinking outside of the box, and thinking of what that kind of environment will have on the students’ learning.”

One of the professors selected to receive the grant, Dr. Yan Xie, is an assistant professor of Chinese who said she stated in her proposal the significance of her students to having the opportunity to personally experience the Chinese culture.

“I applied for this grant because I’m teaching Chinese language at Liberty University, and learning about another culture has significant impact … on critical thinking by stimulating cultural comparisons,” Xie said. “So it’s extremely important to provide the personal experiences with a Chinese cultural product.”

Xie said this grant will allow her to train her students in such a way that she will be able to complete the goal of the Chinese program.

“(It will) prepare students for the globalization of the world and equip them with language and cultural competence to reach out to the world and influence it through their Christian worldview,” Xie said. “The cultural products and practices allowed by the grant will witness an improvement of learners’ language and cultural knowledge and a stronger ability to reach out (to the) Chinese community, the largest one of the world.”

One of the ways Xie used the money from the grant was to give her students the opportunity to celebrate an authentic Chinese New Year.

“This is just one of the events that the ILLUMINATE Grant allowed me to do, and in the future, my students will still practice Chinese calligraphy,” Xie said. “(W)e will recite the Chinese language … in the format of stories and even (in) the typical verse to the beat of bamboo clappers, and we can still play the Chinese traditional games like mahjong or Chinese chess and table tennis. … All these activities can be integrated into the topics of the language learning.”

As Xie uses her funds to provide her students with firsthand experiences to learn about the Chinese culture, Wheeler said this is how she wants professors to teach – outside the box.

“I think it’s important for us to acknowledge and recognize good teaching, number one, and reward that,” Wheeler said. “So, these are teachers that are going above and beyond. They’re taking the time to think about what they’re doing and to think about ways their students can have their learning experiments enhanced, and they take trouble to find projects, to find funds to go above and beyond the normal budgetary allocations that they receive.”

According to Wheeler, the ILLUMINATE Grant will continue each semester, but professors who have received a grant must wait until the next semester before they can apply again. These professors must also submit a final report to show how their methods worked and how successful their ideas were.

“So it’s that complete cycle of creation — creating the content for the students and finding creative ways to deliver it and then assessing whether it worked or not,” Wheeler said. “That’s demonstrating teachers who really care about teaching, and at Liberty, we want to fund that process, because it is a value.”

Other subjects that received the grant include chemistry, theatre arts, biology, and digital media and communication arts. Despite the fact that the professors received these funds, Wheeler said the ultimate winners are not the faculty, but they are the students, who will continue to receive the benefits of this funding.

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