2012 Sylvia Earl Innovation Award Winners

July 12, 2012

Grantees of the inaugural Sylvia Earl Innovation AwardThrough the generous gift of Jim and Sylvia Earl, Wheelock College is pleased to announce the grant awardees for the inaugural Sylvia Earl Innovation Award. In the first year of this new award, Wheelock received 19 applications. These included submissions from faculty, staff, and students. Issues addressed in these applications included new ways of providing services, new academic supports for students, the development of new teaching tools, and the infusion of technology into the classroom and into the entire Wheelock experience.

Wheelock is pleased to announce that three of the awards will be fully funded from the Grant. While other applications did not receive the award funds, the College is continuing to work with these ideas to find other funding and to ensure that they are captured in current and future planning.

The winning proposals were:

The STEM Applet: Exciting Families and Children about STEM

Submitted by: Barbara Joseph, STEP Project Manager, Jake Murray, Senior Director of Aspire Institute
Summary:        Develop a mobile applet to provide accessible information for STEM topics and education for parents, students, and teachers

Largely missing from the national focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education is an appreciation for how families promote learning. Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that parent involvement in children's learning is positively related to their academic success. This holds true across all school communities, grades, ages of students, and content areas.

A key to successful family engagement in support of learning is the comfort-level of parents and caregivers in the areas that their children are studying. Many parents and caregivers, however, are not familiar with STEM topics; some are even 'STEM-phobic.' At the same time, they are extremely busy with limited time to engage children in enriching and fun ways that excite them and promote learning. Parents and caregivers are then at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting their child in STEM topics at home, especially in cultivating a passion that can sustain children's interest in these critical STEM areas and careers as they progress through school.

Recognizing this 'STEM knowledge gap' and the time constraints faced by many families, this project will help develop an applet that provides accessible information about STEM concepts and greatly enhances parent/child engagement in elementary-age STEM topics. Through fun facts, engaging experiments, and thoughtful discussion points developed by Wheelock faculty and other experts, this applet will offer STEM information that can be weaved seamlessly into everyday activities - such as dinner conversations, car rides, and family nights.

For example, parent-child STEM activities might include:

  • Finding the largest 3-digit number possible on license plates  If the license plate is 517-8331, the largest number would be 875.
  • Watching the phases of the moon each night together when walking the dog or just going outside for a few minutes, and recording the changes in a graph.
  • Sharing the 'fun fact' that you would have to walk for seven hours straight to burn off a supersized Coke, fry and Big Mac.

There are numerous websites available that provide fun math and science facts and games for elementary age students. Yet, the reality is that parents have limited time to search the web for this kind of data to engage their children. More importantly, data on the web does not structure parent/child engagement. Providing an applet that will automatically send snippets of fun data to parents allows them to engage with their child in STEM areas in a fun and interactive way. Not only will the facts and data be engaging, we will connect this information to real-life experience of families.


Submitted by: Susan Owusu, Director of Communications and Media Literacy Program
Summary:        Combines three elements: technology, training, and technical support; aims to allow Wheelock members to easily and effectively create and share video content and allow students to pursue digital media as part of their academic experience

Nearly 60 years ago, the first video recorders were created. Used mainly in taping television shows, the original devices sold for over $75,000. Today, the tools needed to both view and create digital video are relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous. Nearly 86% of all Americans will own a Smartphone with video capability by the end of this year. One third of all higher-ed classrooms will use video content as a part of the learning experience. While many classrooms show video content, an increasing number of teachers and students are also creating video content as part of the learning experience.  

The use of video in higher education goes beyond the traditional classroom learning environment, with nearly 136 colleges and universities managing their own YouTube channels, hosting content ranging from learning and lectures to on campus activities and events. The explosion of video on college campuses both in and out of the classroom is only expected to continue as more and more online classes and distance learning programs are developed. It's safe to say that video is an indispensable tool on the 21st century campus. What if it was as easy to produce content on campus as it is to watch it? What if student learning could be enhanced, making classroom learning and assessment more engaging? What if the important work of the Wheelock community could be documented and then shared across campus and the world?

Simple in its construction, the Wheevid program is more than access to cameras; it is an integrated system that seeks to redefine the way faculty and staff conceive of video as an educational tool in the classroom and across campus. 

This program will allow us to tape classroom discussions so students can see what and how they are learning, connect faculty members or classrooms with students hundreds or thousands of miles away, share faculty scholarship, and capture the amazing lectures of our visiting scholars. In addition, student scholars could create documentaries as part of their learning portfolio or create service learning trip video blogs that would allow people on campus to virtually travel along to New Orleans or West Africa.

The Wheevid program will:

  • Empower faculty and staff-even those without previous video production experience-to easily access tools and training needed to incorporate video into the learning experience.
  • Make the increasing use of video in and out of the classroom an effective tool instead of just an add on by providing training and technical support for faculty.
  • Enhance student engagement in the learning process by providing the opportunity to use 21st century learning tools in the classroom and for scholarly projects.
  • Capture important content at on-campus programs and activities to share learning with the whole Wheelock community, creating closer connections between staff, students and faculty.
  • Connect Wheelock to the world by sharing learning and action through digital video with local, nation and international audiences.

Meeting these goals will have a huge impact on those who participate directly in video production projects and research. But what makes the Wheevid program so exciting is its potential to have a far greater impact as well. Wheevid projects can be shared around campus and around the world. The viral nature of video will enable Wheevid participant to share learning, research and activities across Wheelock's learning sites and with others now beyond the College's reach.

Vernier's LabQuest

Submitted by:   Chuck Fidler, Assistant Professor of Physical Science
Handheld devices that can transform current science courses into modern science labs; uses innovative technology in portable, wireless devices for physical and life science and mathematical studies

Wheelock's science program is strong. However, it will be even stronger with the inclusion of a classroom set of Vernier's LabQuest 2 (LABQ2), a powerful, cutting edge tool that is digital, wireless, portable, and more efficient than our current equipment. This addition will continue to transform our science courses into modern science labs that allow for better science research and innovative curricula reform.

These handheld devices are ultra-portable and can be used in both physical and life sciences as well as mathematics and beyond. These devices will facilitate much more hands-on, data-driven laboratory experiences for the students, closely mimicking real world science. In science courses, we often go beyond the walls of the lab to conduct experiments. For example, in the Physics of Sports, students analyze basic kinematic motion all over campus. Science and Inquiry has students spending countless hours collecting data in the Muddy River. These handhelds are perfect for on-the-go data analysis and observation.

These devices come standard with built-in temperature, light, and GPS sensors, a microphone, Wi-Fi, and an accelerometer. The sampling rate reaches a stunning 100,000 per second. The range of possibilities offered by these sensors is impressive and they are compatible with many devices we already have. The underlying goal of this of this project is to increase Wheelock's community exposure and enhance the quality of science programming through the use of state-of-the-art technology in order to mimic real world science inquiry.

This technology will serve as a beacon of innovation in the following ways:

  • Address the changing expectations and needs of today's students. Students will conduct scientific investigations with modern equipment, in a modern, inquiry-oriented manner, modeling real-world science.
  • Develop new approaches to enhance real-world experiences and learning. These wireless devices can connect to email and web servers for faster communication between lab partners and better data analysis. The color, touch-screen user interface is user friendly, operating along similar lines as a smart phone.
  • Improve engagement, retention and graduation. By providing a more hands on and successful experience in science, we will boost students' interest and confidence levels in science  and show them it can be fun, relevant to their lives, and meaningful. This endeavor is paramount to the current call for science education reform at the elementary level.
  • Broaden the reach and impact of the College in new and key academic areas. Our faculty will be able to provide professional development institutes or workshops, even taking these portable devices to other schools. Our students can take this technology into elementary schools, enhancing their field experiences. This equipment will also allow our students to submit posters and papers to local, regional, and national conferences.
  • Develop new academic areas of study to meet future needs. School districts are introducing more technology products into classrooms. Knowing how to use these products will make our students better lead teachers. These devices could also help us prepare middle school science teachers, should Wheelock expand into that area.

About the Sylvia Earl Innovation Award

This award is designed to inspire and support innovative work, ideas and programs that use technology to enhance the Wheelock experience for our community. The award provides funds to support the generation, development and piloting of new ideas that can create a measurable impact in the teaching, learning and support of education in any and all areas of the College.

This award is focused on generating a broad range of innovative ideas across the College and in all departments, including all academic programs. Funded proposals were designed to engage technology to help Wheelock lead in new ways and new areas in the future.

The 2012 Award Process

President Jackie Jenkins-Scott announced the creation of the Sylvia Earl Award to the Wheelock Community in January of 2012. News that this award would support faculty, staff and students was well received and garnered immediate interest and a wide variety of proposals.

Timeline for Application Process:

  • Deadline for Letters of Intent: March 15, 2012
  • Committee review and feedback completed:  April 9, 2012
  • Full application due: May 2, 2012
  • Awards announced at All College meeting: May 16, 2012

Selection Committee

Review of these proposals required a strong, impartial committee that could appropriately weigh institutional impact and the strength of each application. The College chose as Committee Chair Dr. Zorica Pantic, President of Wentworth Institute of Technology and a lifelong professional in technology and academia. Joining Dr. Pantic on the selection committee were:

  • Kristen Harrington, Senior Director of Admissions
  • Patricia Cook, Chairman and CEO of Cook and Company, Wheelock College Trustee
  • George Bacher, Assistant Director of Development Services
  • Linda Davis, Dean, Center for International Programs and Partnerships
  • Sam Cook, Assistant Professor of Math and Science

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