Image of students working on the dancing robots project.

Since 2002 the Innovations in Teaching with Technology Awards (ITTA) have provided more than $1.5 million to 83 Iowa instructors and staff to explore how emerging technologies can support and enhance student learning.

In response to faculty requests for support to develop more innovative ways to engage students through technology, the Academic Technology Advisory Committee (ATAC) launched the ITTA program in 2002. Comprised of faculty and staff, ATAC reviews applications each fall and offers awards funded by $100,000 drawn from Student Technology Fees.

"We have seen that the technology faculty propose to use is not necessarily innovative,” says Les Finken, former Senior ITS Application Developer who supported the award program until 2015. “The innovation comes in how the technology is applied to teaching and student learning."

Tiffany Adrain, Collections Specialist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science and a 2008 ITTA winner, created unconventional learning environments for students with an on-line marine invertebrate identification tool that incorporates an existing collection of 7000 specimen images. That collection is now available on-line through the Iowa Digital Library.

“I think the award gave students a fantastic opportunity to investigate different ways of learning,” Adrain says. “One student taught herself how to use the software that was used for a virtual reef dive using archive photos.”

From the beginning, the ITTA program has maintained a commitment to solving genuine teaching challenges rather than simply encouraging instructors to pursue the latest gadget.

“Having been involved with this process almost since its inception,” says Maggie Jesse, Senior Director, Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology and current chair of ATAC, “I’m pleased to see the variety of proposals and the creative ways that faculty members are solving teaching problems with innovative solutions.”

For Ken Brown, Associate Dean at the Tippie College of Business and a 2007 ITTA winner, that creative solution was figuring out how to integrate clickers into routine lecture activity.

“While using clickers was not difficult,” he says, “it did require making adjustments to class timing and activities, and learning new technology. The clicker software did not always work, so we also had to be flexible.”

Brown notes that in his end-of-course surveys, students reported enjoying the clickers because they increased both student attention in class and the likelihood of attending class.

Supporting innovation-focused projects is not without risk, and some awardees have encountered unforeseen challenges.

Marc Linderman, associate professor of geography and a 2014 ITTA winner, ran into evolving government regulations that stymied his plan to fully develop classroom activities around drones. Still, he thinks the effort is worth the investment.

“I believe getting out ahead of the regulatory framework has definitely helped us appreciate different aspects of the technology that will be invaluable in course work down the road,” Linderman says.

Jesse acknowledges the nature of innovation means that not all funded projects will be completely successful.

“We learn something from every single project,” she says.

With five awardees and more than $95,000 awarded in 2016, the ITTA program continues to make learning excellence even more likely for students at Iowa.

“The ITTA is critical to this university as it promotes the practice of faculty taking calculated risks to develop new ways of teaching and learning,” says Theatre Arts Senior Lecturer David McGraw, an ITTA winner in 2011 and 2012.  “As a research institution, we need to take those risks to both improve our fields and enhance student learning.”

Innovations Award Showcase
Friday April 1, 12-2pm in 2520D UCC
Call for proposals opens September 15, 2016
Proposals due October 15, 2016