Wu earns Wisconsin Teaching Scholar Award

July 13, 2018
Yan Wu

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – “Johnny” had a very successful first semester in his introduction to physics class at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, knocking down high 80s or low 90s consistently throughout his freshman year. Clearly, he was ready to progress to the next level of science classes. Or was he?

“A student can get nine out of 10 on each lab or test, but if he or she gets the same type of question wrong each time, that failure to grasp the concept might set a student back in future classes,” said Dr. Yan Wu, associate professor of Engineering Physics.

Wu earned entrance into the 2018-19 University of Wisconsin Teaching Scholars Program that will enable her to continue her study of standards-based grading that helps students fully learn various required concepts.

The Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program is a UW System professional development program that connects exemplary early-career and late-career teachers into a mentor program. They will work together and lead efforts to further their individual research into the best classroom practices to enhance student learning. They also earn a $4,000 stipend to assist in their endeavors.

“This is very exciting for me; it’s almost like a turning point for me,” Wu said.

During the program, she will further her study of standard-based grading in introductory physics labs, which Involves measuring students' proficiency on well-defined objectives and updating students learning status after each lab.

“We set student objectives to learn throughout the labs,” Wu said. “With regular grading, you might get the 90 percent but then never learn that other 10 percent. One thing I observed is there are certain things in lab skills that students keep missing. These skills are not just for physics but fundamental for all types of engineering disciplines. Here, we highlight five learning objectives and they are assessed in each lab.  Students will know what they have to work on over the course of the semester or year. These are linked to every lab report, so they can see after every report where they have to improve to meet the standard.”

Wu began using the standard-based grading after attending Faculty College, an intensive four-day UW System faculty development event last summer.

“Prior to this event, how to improve teaching always seemed to be a mystery to me,” Wu wrote in her statement of interest application. “I came from a background in physical science, where cause and effect are studied with laboratory measurements and supported by evidence in terms on numbers. I was not familiar with the idea that the teaching and learning can be assessed through systematic and intentional research.”

Wu used new methods for the last fall and was excited about their successes. The Wisconsin Teaching Scholars Program will be a great chance to discuss these means with her counterparts across the state, she said.

Her colleagues at UW-Platteville appreciate her dedication to improving student learning.

“Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning can help revitalize us to perform at a very high level,” said. Dr. Andrew Pawl, associate professor and Engineering Physics chair. “In Dr. Wu’s case, I have already seen a heightened enthusiasm for teaching. I have every confidence that this increased enthusiasm and thoughtful reform will lead to benefits for Dr. Wu’s students.”

“I am very grateful for this opportunity. It is an honor,” Wu said. “I am also grateful for my colleagues in this department for supporting me.”

She joined UW-Platteville in 2009, teaching introductory general physics courses as well as junior/senior level engineering physics specialty courses. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China in 1996; her master’s from the University of Alabama in 1998; and her doctorate from the University of Illinois in 2005.

Perhaps the one drawback to her enhanced teaching methods is the amount of time it takes to give students feedbacks and track their learning according to the five learning objectives each week.

“This has definitely added a lot of work on the professor,” she said. “I had to set up an entirely new grading system in D2L. The whole grade book is getting very complicated. I have about 10 labs, and each lab has these questions that link to the learning objectives. It’s not just putting in a grade and that is it.”

Then why put in all the extra time, Wu was asked.

“To help students learn!” she responded. “This is the whole purpose of why we are here. I care if they learn these concepts or not.”

Written by: Paul Erickson, director of communications, 608.342.1194, pr@uwplatt.edu


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