Stephanie “Nikki” Lewis, collegiate assistant professor in the Honors College, has been awarded a 4-VA Grant through the Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) division to conduct a course redesign in the Honors College.

The grant is for $50,000 over the course of two years and provides funding for Lewis to improve student access to computational research.

“I’m very excited to be able to invest time and resources to deeply examine our courses and how they contribute to Virginia Tech’s innovations in higher education,” said Lewis. “One of our goals as the Honors College is to foster greater engagement among students in undergraduate research. This grant will give us the opportunity to identify best practices for course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), the results of which can inform the college’s ongoing curricular updates.” 

“The ultimate goal,” Lewis added, “is to disseminate the data and results to other colleges at Virginia Tech and even other universities that are pursuing similar initiatives.”

Lewis will study UH 4504: Topics in Discovery and Innovation Studios, a course specific to the Honors College that focuses on transdisciplinary collaboration and experimentation. These courses give students the space to grapple with critical, real-world problems that cross disciplinary boundaries.

“For example, this year I will teach a course called Big Data, Natural Disasters, and Elder Care to examine how we can use data to identify gaps in elder care during natural disasters,” explained Lewis. “In this instance, the students will navigate discussions crossing into topics like data, emergency management, health care, and gerontology.”

The grant will allow Lewis to test adjustments to the existing structure so that students can engage in iterative research projects within these courses. The goal is to allow the students to build upon the knowledge gains and conclusions of their peers from previous course sections.

Lewis will also use the students' perceptions about the course to curate resources for asynchronous online-learning modules geared toward students who need more time and space to learn some of the more complex elements. “Ideally, a student who feels they need more practice with a technique or wants to learn more about a topic can do so at their own pace and bring the knowledge they gained back to their project team,” Lewis said.

This research comes at a time in which the Honors College is innovating its curriculum across the board. Paul Knox, dean of the Honors College, has just announced a studio course called the Honors College Superstudio, which will take place in a newly acquired space on campus. The Superstudio will bring together several transdisciplinary, project-based courses and compatible studios from other units on campus to examine and respond to a complex global challenge.

“We are now beginning our fourth year since the University Honors Program became the Honors College,” said Knox. “In that time, we have been working to create a new curriculum that stretches our students to think beyond the traditional disciplinary boundaries. This grant will allow us to continue innovating our courses to better serve our students.”

“With this grant,” Knox said, “and the Calhoun Discovery Program beginning this year, the Honors College is experiencing a momentum right now that is exciting to witness.”

4-VA is a collaborative partnership between six Virginia universities that offers grants that advance their four initiatives: Collaborative Research, Course Redesign, Course Sharing, Degree Completion. Their mission is to promote collaborations that leverage the strengths of each partner university and improve efficiencies in higher education across the Commonwealth of Virginia.