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NEWS
Teaching Model Wins $900K Google Award
August 11, 2015

Replacing the 19th century conveyor belt model of education with a 21st century black belt model is the aim of the Mason Self-Paced Learning Increases Retention and Capacity (SPARC) project that received a $900K grant from tech giant Google’s Computer Science Capacity Awards Program.

George Mason University (GMU) has received the first of three $300,000 installments from Google for the program.

“Our concept goes beyond increasing capacity, and includes increasing retention and enrollment by women and under-represented groups,” said Professor Jeff Offutt, the grant’s principal investigator.

Offutt and his team believe traditional methods of simply adding more classrooms and teachers isn’t the solution. Their project identifies specific problems that make teaching introductory computer science courses difficult and limits ability to encourage collaboration, critical thinking skills, and divergent problem solving abilities. SPARC proposes a pilot that involves testing a new approach to teaching the classes.

With SPARC, students will collaborate on practice assignments, and then when ready, present themselves for individual assessments, similar to karate students who earn belts by demonstrating their forms in front of instructors. Advanced and fast-learning students may speed through the courses, while less advanced and slower-learning students can proceed more slowly.

Other universities who were funded by Google include Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina, Mount Holyoke College, Rutgers University, and the University of California at Berkeley. The award is $900,000 for three years, with funds delivered in three separate increments.

Team members include: Jeff Offutt, Paul Ammann, Kinga Dobolyi, Jamie Lester (College of Humanities and Social Sciences), Huzefa Rangwala, Liz White, Pearl Wang, and Sanjeev Setia. The group includes three Mason Teaching Excellence Award winners.

This article reprinted from materials provided by George Mason University.


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