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Crystals, collaborations, and globes -- new ways to teach and learn


   

students looking at OmniGlobe Virginia Tech students in a physical geology class received a lesson enhanced by the OmniGlobe in the university's Museum of Geosciences. Around the globe are Meredith Scaggs of Ashburn, Va., an undergraduate in mining engineering in the College of Engineering; Timothy Chapman of Blacksburg, Va., an undergraduate in university studies; Ben Shriver Jr. of Blacksburg, an undergraduate in mining engineering; Karlie Tucker of Kenbridge, Va., an undergraduate in crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Emily A. Lichstrahl of Fairfax Station, an undergraduate in geography in the College of Natural Resources. Luke Joyce of Fieldsdale, Va., a master's degree candidate in the geosciences hydrology program in the College of Science, is working the controls.


BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 4, 2011 – The College of Science has taken bold steps to transform the way students learn and to give researchers ways to reach new heights in discovery. Many innovations will be available for the public to see and learn about during the Nov. 12 University Open House.

SCALE-UP: A New Way to Learn

One of the exciting initiatives is a specially designed classroom and learning style called SCALE-UP, an abbreviation of Student Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs. The SCALE-UP aim is to address the U.S. shortfall in science, technology, engineering, and math education.

The most important feature in the Derring Hall SCALE-UP classroom are the 7-foot-long circular tables. Students sit in groups of threes at the tables, which are scattered throughout a classroom.  This facilitates the students’ ability take charge of their projects with the instructor acting as a minor player. During most of the class time, students work together to answer questions and solve problems. This frees the instructor from lecturing and instead focus on circulating among the tables to answer questions.

“I found my role to be more of a coach than an instructor,” said Associate Dean Jill Sible, who taught a microbiology course in SCALE-UP. “These undergraduate students were actually doing graduate-level work.”

Evaluations of such a learning style have shown: Students’ ability to solve problems is improved; their understanding of the subject increases; their attitudes are better; and their failure rates shrink.

OmniGlobe

Students have an astronaut’s view of the Earth without leaving the ground using the OminGlobe, a new learning tool in the Department of Geosciences. The approximately 7-foot-high digital, spherical device offers views of  the layers called tectonic plates that play a part in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, ocean and atmospheric events and trends, weather patterns, vegetation cover, population and cultural summaries, and other information about the Earth’s systems.

Full-globe imagery of the planets, sun, and moon also can be viewed. In addition, the students have access to infrared cloud cover data for Earth that is updated every three hours.

“These initial datasets are mostly from federal agencies such as NASA but we will be accessing, processing, and adding others, including those from Virginia Tech research,” said Llyn Sharp, geosciences outreach coordinator.

Crystal Clear: Crystallography Lab

Housed in the Integrated Life Sciences Building in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, the college’s Crystallography Lab where researchers seek scientific breakthroughs for such discoveries as new drugs for treating cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and finding cures for infectious diseases.

The Crystallography Lab is used by researchers in geosciences, biological sciences, biochemistry, and chemistry, and has potential applications in a number of other scientific disciplines. 

Scientists crystallize molecules and then use state-of-the-art X-ray and diffraction technology to see the structure of the molecules. Viewing molecular structure enables them to pinpoint the location of atoms and determine interaction of molecules. This helps researchers identify materials and determine molecular pathways that tell cells how to behave. Knowledge gained through crystallography can be used in design of new disease-fighting drugs among other applications

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biological sciences, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college offers programs in cutting-edge areas including, among others, those in energy and the environment, developmental science across the lifespan, infectious diseases, computational science, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The College of Science is dedicated to fostering a research-intensive environment that promotes scientific inquiry and outreach.