Effective teaching course a game changer for College of Health Solutions faculty

Inaugural group takes advantage of ASU's push to increase teaching excellence

July 18, 2018

Smartphones, apps, social media and other technology innovations have forever changed our lives, and that includes higher education.

The current university learning environment is vastly different from even a few years ago. Today’s students expect their classroom experience to be as fast-paced, personal and responsive as the electronic devices they use, challenging faculty to revisit teaching methods and work to continually improve their courses in order to keep their students’ attention.   college professor and students in class Teachers learn techniques to increase student engagement as part of the online course in effective teaching practice from the Association College and University Educators. Download Full Image

To that end, five faculty members at the College of Health Solutions recently completed the inaugural online Course in Effective Teaching Practice through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), a pilot teaching improvement program ASU joined earlier this year.   

Colleen Cordes, assistant dean and clinical professor in the Doctor of Behavioral Health program, was in the group and was impressed by the course.

“It absolutely changed the ways I think about teaching,” Cordes said.

Cordes completed the rigorous 28-module course, earning ACUE’s Certificate in Effective Teaching Practices, along with Sue Dahl Popolizio, also a clinical professor of behavioral health, Sarah Martinelli and Simon Holzapfel, clinical assistant professors of nutrition, and Adela Grando, assistant professor of biomedical informatics. While they reported dedicating a fair amount of time to the course, all said it was a transformational experience.

“It’s the best job training out there,” Holzapfel said.


Each lesson consisted of a video that demonstrated a research-based, active learning technique. After watching the video, faculty implemented the practice in their classrooms and then reflected on the experience, both in writing and with colleagues via online discussion boards. Faculty estimated they spent between three and eight hours a week per module.  


For all, the best part of the course was seeing how their classrooms changed when they used some of activities.

“Students really reacted well to concepts like breaking class up into smaller pieces with active work or teamwork dispersed between lecture,” Martinelli said. “I also now make an effort to engage more students and add things like skeletal notes and end-of-class feedback.”

“I’m lecturing much less and incorporating group discussions more,” Popolizio said, adding that the course has given her many more ways to deliver content. “I used to lecture from a PowerPoint, and I would see some of the students struggling to stay awake, even if they were interested in the material. I understood why this was happening, but I didn’t know what to do differently.”


Reflecting on each activity and being able to discuss it with fellow teachers who were also going through the program was equally valuable, Grando said.

“I liked that we could see each other’s assignments. I enjoyed hearing how my colleagues applied the techniques and we discussed what went well, what did not go well and what could have been improved.”


In addition to increasing student engagement and expanding their teaching repertoire, the certificate reflects a commitment to professional excellence. As the new assistant dean of nontenure-eligible faculty, Cordes said she wants to model the importance of continued professional improvement.

“It’s too easy to keep doing what we’re doing when teaching, particularly if we’re accustomed to good teaching evaluations.”

All were very positive about the learning gained from the program and agree that this type of professional development is a resume builder.

“I’m immensely proud of receiving this certificate because it’s evidence of job qualification,” Holzapfel said. “If I were on a committee to hire faculty, I would look for ACUE certification.”

Kelly Krause

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions

NSF Graduate Research Fellow wants to use computer science to solve society’s toughest problems

July 18, 2018

Scott Freitas has had a passion for building things and understanding how things work since he was young.

“Computer science is an extension of that," said Freitas, who received a graduate degree through the 4+1 computer science accelerated master’s degree program in Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering earlier this year. "You get to work on building and testing new ideas and theories every day.” Scott Freitas Download Full Image

The allure of that pursuit brought Freitas back to college after he had already earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at Arizona State University in 2014 and gone into the workforce for a short time.

His academic performance and research achievements have now earned him a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship award to support his work toward a doctoral degree in computer science in a highly reputable program at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program supports outstanding students considered to be potential leaders in science, technology, engineering and math. These students are contributing to the high-impact research, teaching and innovation needed to maintain the nation’s technological strength, security and economic vitality.

At Georgia Tech, Freitas will focus on research that explores how people connect and function through “societal constructs” — for example, energy and transportation networks and social networks.

“Many aspects of life and society can be represented as a network at a basic level,” Freitas explained. “By understanding how we relate to each other in all kinds of networks we can do cool things like fraud prediction and malware detection.

“My goal is to develop explainable systems to tackle these tough problems by incorporating many different sources of knowledge and information.”

The work involves analyzing large and complex sets of data for the purpose of creating better algorithms to inform critical decision-making and problem-solving.

“This has important applications in many areas, like epidemiology, cybersecurity and health care,” he said.

Freitas credits his budding skills largely to two years of research under the supervision of Assistant Professor Hanghang Tong, and to mentorship from other Fulton Schools faculty members, notably Associate Professor Ross Maciejewski and Assistant Professor Yezhou Yang.

Freitas said what he learned from them enabled him to author a research project proposal that he believes made him stand out from the approximately 12,000 applicants seeking NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.

He submitted his ideas for creating a data platform and a mathematical model using real-time assisted decision-making and preventive analysis for developing strategies to reduce the impacts of damage to local communities resulting from natural disasters.

The buildup to that successful application stemmed from “an abundance of opportunities” he used to further his education during both his undergraduate and graduate studies.

Freitas’ work in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, known as FURI, gave him the first motivating experience of doing substantive research.

Later, the insights gained in Tong’s Data Lab@ASU and Maciejewski’s Visual Analytics and Data Exploration Research Lab strengthened his commitment to rise higher in his field.

At this point, Freitas is confident in setting a long-term career goal of starting his own company. He wants to apply machine learning, data mining and network analysis to finding solutions to cybersecurity and human health challenges.

More about the 2018 NSF Graduate Fellow from the Fulton Schools of Engineering:

Logan Mathesen engineering solutions to big data challenges

Brendon Colbert combats cancer with math

Lexi Bounds aims to improve lives with synthetic biology

Alisha Menon sets her mind to research brain-inspired computing

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering