4-VA Offers Opportunities for Educators, Learners

Posted: October 23, 2013 at 5:02 am, Last Updated: October 25, 2013 at 6:54 am

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By Cathy Cruise

4-VA logo4-VA, a consortium between George Mason University, James Madison University (JMU), Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia (UVA), works to improve access to higher education for all Virginians. Created in 2010, it offers shared instruction and resources through TelePresence rooms, and provides a number of initiatives for students and teachers including a series of new funding offerings for innovative projects.

This month, Mason 4-VA releases a call for proposals for innovative ideas in teaching and learning. Proposals that address one of the main goals of the program, or engage in collaborative activities with one of the three other institutions, will be strongly considered. Grant work can also be facilitated through research collaborations between George Mason and JMU.

“This call for proposals is designed to encourage imaginative thinking about ways to innovate teaching and learning,” says Janette Muir, associate provost for undergraduate education and campus coordinator for 4-VA.

“If faculty members want to try out new ideas to engage students, perhaps work with research colleagues at one of the other institutions or think of ways to improve efficiency and accessibility for students, then a Mason 4-VA Innovation Grant may provide good catalyst funds for future funding,” Muir says.

The ultimate goal is to provide support for improving teaching across Virginia, and examine and promote fresh and creative methods of instruction.

“We mainly want to be able to support work that, in many cases, faculty may not have the resources to do otherwise,” Muir explains. “So if they want to try something really unique, or if they want to offer a shared course through a TelePresence room, we want to help support those types of initiatives.”

4-VA was created to provide affordable instruction in fields of study that benefit Virginia’s economic development. It serves to increase access to and promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

“The goals were to decrease the cost of instruction, share courses, collaborate on research and create STEM participation,” says Linda Lane Sheridan, deputy campus coordinator for 4-VA. “Also to increase the rates of degree completion in the commonwealth, because that’s a big factor too.”

In September, Mason 4-VA helped support the Innovations in Teaching and Learning conference held on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. The conference allowed Mason faculty to share best practices and new ideas for their classrooms. Session topics included engaging students using social and multimedia, incorporating research and scholarship into classroom curricula and initiating online, inquiry-based learning.

Perhaps the most significant resource the collaborative offers is its TelePresence rooms. Established through Cisco Systems, Inc., these rooms are located at all four institutions (a total of eight throughout the four universities), and are essentially conference spaces dedicated to high-end videoconferencing. Participants share an immersive experience that feels almost like being in a real classroom. TelePresence rooms host classes on a number of topics, including language courses in Chinese and Turkish, as well as classes in biology. And the list continues to grow.

“Right now our students are taking an Italian class,” says Sheridan. “There have also been environmental policy courses. It looks like there might be an ornithology class this spring, and a critical thinking class through the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA.”

For more information on the 4-VA consortium and the Mason 4-VA Innovation Grants, visit 4va.gmu.edu.

Write to Cathy Cruise at ccruise@gmu.edu

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