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University of Virgina's Reform Efforts

Reform Efforts

Course Re-design in Chemistry


UVa’s upper level Biochemistry Laboratory course has been designed to ensure that all students graduating from the Chemistry department with a Biochemistry specialization (between 75 – 90 students per year) have had research experience. The lab course, which meets for an entire year, assigns students to study a protein which has a known structure, but the enzymatic function has not been experimentally determined. Depending on which protein they are studying, their goal is either to form a hypothesis about the function, which they are able to narrow down through the use of bioinformatics and their knowledge of the structure-function relationship, or, in the case of proteins with confirmed function, to design a mutation which will alter the specificity of the enzyme without eliminating activity.

To prepare students for this work, teaching during the first semester is focused on biochemical techniques and theory. The second semester asks students to apply what was learned in the first semester to study their protein. Students can take their project as far as time and their interests allow.

In addition to learning hands-on biochemistry students learn to work collaboratively working in groups, write scientifically, read primary literature, and communicate their work both orally during group meetings and at poster presentations and in writing in the final course paper, a publication style manuscript.




Now in its third year, UVa’s Nucleus program is helping to improve STEM education by supporting faculty as they redesign their large-enrollment, introductory courses. Participants begin this year-long program in the Teaching Resource Center’s (TRC) intensive, week-long Course Design Institute (CDI). In CDI, faculty learn to 1) develop more robust, epistemologically-based learning objectives; 2) implement STEM-specific, evidence-based pedagogies such as Peer Instruction, Problem-Based Learning, Team-Based Learning, and Process-Oriented Group Inquiry Learning; 3) create a variety of learning-centered assessments; and 4) develop appropriate learning activities. Throughout the program year, faculty regularly attend a STEM-focused learning community, participate in reciprocal peer observations and follow-up discussions with other participants, consult regularly with TRC faculty, and produce a portfolio describing their redesign efforts and documenting gains in student perceptions and/or learning.

Selected through a proposal process, all applicants must demonstrate their departments’ commitment to initiating, supporting, sustaining, and financing the change initiatives proposed by the instructor. And, once selected, faculty participants agree to mentor for one semester any colleague who takes on future iterations of the course.


Authentic Learning Initiative


The Authentic Learning Initiative is designed to engage faculty conversations around the topic of authentic learning and assessment. By creating learning environments using authentic contexts that ensure assessment truly measures whether students can use their knowledge effectively and realistically. This initiative consists of roundtable topic discussions, design phases, and development of an authentic learning experience for a course using instructional technology. We thoughtfully examine how assignments are designed to facilitate authentic tasks and assessments using the tools at UVa, with the necessary support they need to be successful.

This initiative is offered through a partnership with A&S Technology Strategies and the Digital Media Lab, promoting a team-based approach to the design of authentic activities and assessments for instruction. Over 50% of participants are STEM faculty.


Support for Active Learning Spaces


With the conversion of several current classrooms into active learning spaces and the planned renovations to the Chemistry and Biology buildings incorporating significantly more active learning spaces, the College or Arts and Sciences’ (A&S) Technology Strategies is working with faculty to help them effectively plan for and teach in these spaces. Activities range from course redesigns that active learning pedagogies and strategies such as SCALE-UP, POGIL, and problem-based learning to consultation with faculty on using the technology and other features in the classrooms.