Gretchen Ritter

In a YouTube video, biology professor Jennifer Moon talks about the Course Transformation Program, an initiative to redesign large, entry-level classes. Photo courtesy of University of Texas. 

UT is expanding its efforts to transform the student experience in large classes and will pump thousand of dollars into such courses, including government and calculus, this fall.

The University is adding five courses to its Course Transformation Program, a $3 million initiative to redesign the structure in large, lecture-style classes. Officials say students in these classes do not typically engage in active learning and usually just go to class, listen to the professor and take the test.

Courses that will be redesigned include history, classics, government, statistics and calculus.

Gretchen Ritter, UT’s executive vice president and provost, oversees the program and said its goal is to create an active learning environment where students work to apply the skills and concepts they’ve learned in class.

Active learning can include peer-to-peer work, teamwork and using technology in the classroom, such as i-clickers, to monitor student progress, Ritter said.

“Students are better at explaining concepts to each other in part because they know that set of first steps you have to take in order to get to the bigger idea,” Ritter said. “Sometimes, someone who is more of an expert in an area forgets those first steps because they know it so well.”

UT will also give departments $50,000 grants to buy materials for the new courses, many which are technology-based, and cover costs to support the new active learning-based structure.

The school has redesigned 14 large entry-level courses since 2010. Officials estimate more than 20,000 students, most in their first or second year, take these courses every year.

Five years ago, a study revealed that female faculty were less likely to have served in leadership positions at UT and more likely to wish they had been asked to serve. Today, little has changed. Of the 17 dean positions at the University, only four are held by women. 

As women comprise less than a quarter of the dean positions, they are also underrepresented as department chairs and directors of UT’s various schools and centers. Of the 90 chair positions listed on the website for the Office of the Provost, 25 are filled by women — only about 28 percent.

A comprehensive 2008 report commissioned by Steven Leslie, executive vice provost and vice president, examined the status of gender equity at the University and identified a leadership gap as one of the key issues barring achievement of said equity. 

“Department chairs matter because they can provide discretionary resources for faculty, they are influential in hiring, salary and promotion decisions, and because serving as department chair is often a stepping stone to higher administrative positions, such as dean,” the report stated. 

It also concluded that women were less likely to have been asked to serve in leadership positions. Study co-author Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance and government professor, said these issues are still prevalent. 

“Representation issues at the senior leadership level are still important,” Ritter said. “There is a lot of work that remains to be done.” 

Hillary Hart, a civil architecture and environmental engineering lecturer who served on the task force that produced the 2008 report, said she initially thought an increased presence of women faculty members would be enough to significantly promote equity, even if those women were not in leadership positions. 

“I keep thinking because there are more women in other departments, it must be easier. There must be more consciousness of what women go through and what they need,” Hart said, “but really, I’m not always so sure that’s really true.”

Beyond the effect gender inequity has on faculty members, Ritter said female students also suffer adverse consequences when women are not represented in leadership positions.

“This has a huge impact on students,” Ritter said. “It impacts students’ ability to imagine themselves, and to imagine women generally, in different fields.”

Ritter said visibility is also crucial.

“I often hear from women students that they started out with a real sort of passion or interest in an area but got discouraged because they never saw anyone like them who had succeeded,” Ritter said. “For male students, I think being able to imagine that they are in a field open to talent from all places is an important thing as well.”

Gretchen Ritter

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, is excited to spend the coming fall in Ithaca — because, for all she will miss about the University, one thing she is not sad to leave behind is Texas weather. 

Ritter, also a government professor, is leaving UT to be the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. A Cornell alumna herself, she will be the school’s first female dean.

“It was actually a little surprising to me that I’ll be the first woman in the position,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it will feel like a big deal to anyone there.”

Ritter, who has been on UT’s faculty since 1992, was instrumental in the creation of the Course Transformation Program, an initiative designed to improve large, lower division gateway courses by promoting student and faculty engagement. Steve Leslie, outgoing executive vice president and provost, said the Course Transformation Program was one of Ritter’s greatest accomplishments. 

“UT was one of the first places in the country to launch these blended and online learning initiatives, and Gretchen built that,” Leslie said. “She had the strength and persistent focus on cutting edge ways of transforming courses to set the stage for the methods we use today.”

Ritter also mentioned the program as one of her proudest achievements. 

“I’m proud of having supported an experiment that uses educational technology in positive and thoughtful ways, and in ways that were faculty led and designed,” Ritter said.

Ritter said her decision to leave is based on a variety of factors, including her appreciation of Cornell and a desire to return to the region of the country where she grow up. But in making her decision, Ritter said she also reflected on more recent concerns she has had about the state of Texas public higher education.

“I’m going because this is a great opportunity for me,” Ritter said. “But of course, I did reflect on the fact that it sometimes feels as though there is not as strong a commitment to supporting public higher education in the state as there used to be. That worries and concerns me.” 

Last week, history professor David Oshinsky announced his resignation from UT in favor of working full-time at New York University. Though he cited family connections and personal opportunities as reasons for his departure, he told the Austin-American Statesman that recent conflicts between UT and the UT System Board of Regents made the choice easier. 

“I do leave with sort of a bittersweet taste ... I see the University under fire now,” Oshinsky told the Statesman. “It does disturb me.”

Ritter said if trends like a lack of public commitment and support for public higher education continue, the University will suffer.

“I think we will be paying the price a decade from now,” Ritter said.

Still, Ritter said, she will miss many things about the University, including her colleagues and certain things that make UT a distinctly Texan university. 

“I’ll definitely miss salsa and tortilla chips,” Ritter said. 

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost and government professor, leaving UT, heading to Cornell

Gretchen Ritter, UT government professor and vice provost for undergraduate education, is leaving the University for a new position at Cornell University.

According to a press release from Cornell University, Ritter will serve as the school's 21st dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Ritter is the latest administrator to leave an open leadership position, following Provost and Executive Vice President Steven Leslie's announcement to step down in February. Leslie is staying at UT, however, while Ritter is not.

Ritter will be the first woman dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

At UT, Ritter is known for directing UT's Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and more recently steering the Course Transformation Program, an initative that aims to improve large, entry level classes. She also co-authored the final report of a Gender Equity Task Force from 2008, which identified nine categories of gender equity issues on campus.

In a press release from Cornell University, Ritter said she is excited for her new position.

"I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as the next dean of this great college. Cornell is a special place – as I know from my years of having been a student there," Ritter said. "I look forward to working with the college's extraordinary students, faculty and alumni in making a great college even stronger in the years to come."

 

Five years after a thorough, University-backed report, a statistically significant pay gap between male and female full professors has shrunk, but the gap has not disappeared entirely. Female professors who disclose pregnancies to department chairs are given the choice to opt into, rather than out of, teaching classes during the semester when they are pregnant. Today, there are 16 lactation rooms on campus that did not exist five years ago. 

But according to Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance and government professor, there is still much that needs to be done to increase gender equity. 

“We need to remain committed to this work,” Ritter said. “Representation issues at the full professor level and at the senior leadership level are still important issues — there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.” 

In 2008, Ritter and J. Strother Moore, an electrical and computer engineering, computer science and math professor, co-wrote the final report of a Gender Equity Task Force commissioned by the then-newly hired provost, Steven Leslie. Leslie asked the 22-member task force to focus on all that “remains to be done in order to make UT-Austin an inviting and productive place for women faculty members in all areas.”

The report identified nine categories of gender equity issues on campus, ranging from a promotion and attrition gap for advancing female faculty to a lack of awareness of family-friendly policies already available on campus. But today, the progress the University has made proves difficult to gauge. 

The University accomplished certain objectives, including creating a dual-career assistance office, while other goals, including reducing the wage gap, have faced roadblocks because of financial shortfalls stemming from an economic downturn. 

Hillary Hart, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering lecturer, served on the 2008 task force and has held a position on the Faculty Women’s Organization steering committee for 20 years. Hart cited the report’s findings on campus climate as an important part of understanding what it is like to be a female faculty member at the University but said no updated information has been gathered. 

“When I looked at the original report, that was the saddest part to read,” Hart said. “The women faculty, especially the full professors, not feeling that they were valued by their peers, not feeling that they were seen as doing good work, or worthwhile work. The women didn’t feel like they were making a difference.”

The report also found that on average, male full professors’ salaries were $9,028 higher than their female counterparts. University administrators attempted to address this through a series of targeted salary increases in the 2009-2010 school year, but state budget cuts slowed momentum. 

“The salary differential has not been eliminated, but it’s been addressed,” Hart said. “The administration made big strides in 2009-2010, but then all hell broke loose with the budget cuts. So they’re still sort of working on that.”

Ritter emphasized her belief that gender equity is directly tied to the competitiveness of the University.

“In academia you’re in the talent business first and foremost and you want to find the most talented teachers and researchers you can,” Ritter said. “To do that, you first need the broadest possible pool of talent — and if you’re somehow limiting your access to half the pool, you put yourself at a disadvantage.”

On the whole, Ritter said she would give the University’s efforts toward gender equity over the past five years a B grade.

“I think we probably deserve a B,” Ritter said. “By the way, I’m a tough grader, so a B’s not bad. I think it’s unfortunate that the timing turned out to be such that we’ve had so many things we’ve had to be focused on and address, but I am encouraged and hopeful about some of the plans I have heard.”

Samuel Gosling, a professor in the Department of Psychology gives a presentation on the world of synchronous massive online classes during the Course Transformation Program Showcase in Avaya Auditorium Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Large introductory courses at the University of Texas may better equip students with skills applicable to their major as faculty continue to review and refine required courses.

At a talk Wednesday, faculty presented progress of the Course Transformation Program, a plan to profoundly transform large gateway courses at the University.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance and government professor, said the program is designed to allow students to focus on conceptual understanding and help them to apply their knowledge to real life situations.

Lecturers and professors from the School of Biological Sciences, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and several other schools which participated in the program in its first cycle last semester addressed course redesign procedures and the challenges of continuing to improve gateway courses.

The program has restructured gateway courses to engage students through technology in multiple departments. 

“It is about experimenting with synchronous online course programs that gives students daily, personally-tailored quizzes,” Ritter said. “It allows them to check with each other virtually from any location on or off campus.”

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison said within each variant of the Masterworks of Literature courses at UT, faculty have discretion on the curriculum and do not teach out of a standard set of textbooks.

“The challenge is that we have a very heterogeneous audience, and they come with varying levels of preparation,” Coleman said. 

Economics lecturer Beatrix Paal said instructors need to get students from thinking like high school students to thinking like economists. 

“Some students take [macroeconomics] in four weeks in high school, and that counts as the same credit and this is a huge concern to us,” Paal said. “We are using the universal TUCE [Test of Understanding of College Economics] test to evaluate our students at the beginning of the course and we are checking their progress throughout the semester.”

Daily course planning is also undergoing assessment.

“Implicitly we continue to adopt backward design principles when designing our units,” Paal said. “Integrating more interactive activities in the large lectures necessitates being more explicit about the unit design goals.”

The intent of the program is to develop new resources in introductory courses and to improve academic success. 

“In the evaluations programs, what we have learned so far is that students are learning more based on concept tests and are doing better academically,” Ridder said. “And one very exciting finding we’ve seen is that when students take more than one course transformation course, they seem to be doing better not just in that class, but in their other courses as well.”

Printed on Thursday, February 7, 2013 as: Faculty plans to increase course quality

MyEdu announced its student profile Wednesday morning, which will help students connect with potential employers (Photo courtesy of MyEdu).

Coinciding with a restructuring of UT’s career services on campus, MyEdu.com will now help students in the hunt for jobs and internships.

The online higher education platform launched an overhaul of its website Wednesday morning and introduced “the student profile,” designed to connect students with potential employers. Students can search for jobs and internships, while employers can search for candidates who are matches for their company.

“Our mission is to help students get a better return on higher education,” said Frank Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu. “After a couple of years of doing a lot to help students on the academic side, we are now adding this career aspect.”

Last year, the UT system invested $10 million in the online platform. MyEdu executive board member John Cunningham is the son of former UT President and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham.

Previously, MyEdu was a tool students could use to plan out their schedules for years in advance. The website has course data collected from more than 800 institutions, and Lyman said the scheduling service helps students graduate on time and save money. The scheduling service is still a part of MyEdu’s website, but now students can create a profile that shows their interests, skills and abilities.

Lyman said MyEdu spent a lot of time talking to students and trying to figure out what kind of services they were not receiving. He said many students wanted help finding careers and internships.

“What we are trying to accomplish is help students tell their story uniquely,” Lyman said. “The resume is a piece of paper, and everything interesting about a student is in one line at the bottom.”

The student profile will allow students to create an interactive resume where they show their work experience, volunteer hours, passion, skills, dream job, Facebook and twitter accounts, projects and more.

MyEdu’s new service coincides with UT’s establishment of the University Career Interview and Recruiting Center, which will oversee each college’s career services. The center was announced last spring.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Faculty, said having multiple career services across campus that were not overseen by one center made it confusing for employers who were trying to find an entry point to the University.

“We also felt that some of our students were not being served as well as we’d like them to be,” Ritter said. “Some of the smaller schools may not have as many resources.”

Ritter and Brad Englert, UT’s chief information officer, help lead the implementation effort for MyEdu on campus. Englert said this center will encourage students to use MyEdu’s student profile.

“I think they’re going to coordinate multiple tools to help students,” Englert said. “MyEdu is one of the tools in the toolbox. It is something that can be used.”

Ritter said UT System officials have been working with MyEdu since the company approached them about the idea of a student profile.

“It’s been something that has been refined through extensive dialogue between the company, the system, the regents and the campuses,” Ritter said.

Englert said the UT System responded very positively to MyEdu’s intial presentation of the student profile.

Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu, said MyEdu will work with career service officers across the nation to ensure they understand what the new student profile can do for students.

“Career services uses a lot of different tools to help students,” Lyman said. “Our hope is that this will be another tool career services will recommend to students.”

MyEdu is a free service for students, and the company said Wednesday it will always remain free.

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: MyEdu evolves to include career services for students

Two learning management systems are fighting head-to-head to secure a claim to the 40 Acres, a match that could possibly knock market leader Blackboard off campus.

Under the instruction of 44 faculty members, 3,000 UT students are currently testing Blackboard and Canvas, learning management tools that administer content, store grades and access student knowledge. The UT System Board of Regents has allocated $3.9 million for the pilot project and will make a decision on whether to switch all of UT to Canvas in 2016 based on student and faculty feedback. No decision has been made, but UT officials said they expect Canvas to be received well.

UT has used Blackboard since 2000 and recently upgraded to a new version of the system. It pays about $400,000 a semester to use Blackboard and house Blackboard’s servers on campus. Throughout the pilot, UT will continue to use Blackboard.

Because the pilot only affects specific courses, students involved in the pilot will most likely use both systems.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education, said searching for next-generation tools plays into UT’s plan to increase four-year graduation rates, which currently stand at 51 percent.

“It is not telling people, ‘you have this number of this semesters to graduate and you’re out.’ It is ensuring [students] have the tools they need,” Ritter said. “What a lot of people do not appreciate is that by using these online tools you can increase what happens in a face-to-face environment.”

The learning management tool evaluation originated in 2010, after a UT survey revealed many of Blackboard’s features were not being used. Information Technology Services also found that students and faculty thought Blackboard was clunky and slow. The results propelled ITS and the UT Center for Teaching and Learning, a campus-wide institution focused on innovating education, to evaluate Blackboard the following year and search for alternatives.

Ritter said contrary to Blackboard, Canvas is a more intuitive learning management system. One of the main differences between the two is Canvas’s ability to integrate social media and learning management. For example, students using Canvas can opt to receive notifications on Facebook whenever their professor posts a certain grade. Canvas also boasts a calendar that syncs with Google Calendar as well as Google Docs, a popular collaboration tool. UT is currently trying to figure out how to securely use Google Docs through Canvas and limit the service to only those with a UT Mail account.

All nine UT System universities currently use Blackboard, and the company has about 100 colleges and universities using the system in Texas, a Blackboard official said. UT Chief Information Officer Brad Englert said a UT-Austin decision to switch to Canvas will not affect all UT System schools, although schools will likely be interested in what UT is doing.

Blackboard representative Anne Jenkins said UT is a strong and valued partner and the company is focused on building on their relationship. Jenkins said the company will deliver more Blackboard updates during the year that aim to help students collaborate. She said the company also plans to make Blackboard compatible with Facebook and Twitter, something Canvas already does.

Mario Guerra, an instructional technology specialist at the Center for Teaching and Learning, said UT is currently in the process of developing a support structure for Canvas. UT handles a majority of Blackboard’s troubleshooting since its servers are housed on campus. Canvas uses off-site cloud computing, so UT will depend on Canvas to fix server problems.

Guerra said if all UT decides to switch over to Canvas, the University wants faculty to start fresh instead of just transferring course materials, although Canvas offers a course transfer tool.

“We don’t want them to just plop their Blackboard course into Canvas,” Guerra said. “We would like them to be more organized and think about what they want to do with a learning management system. It is no longer just a course repository.”

Canvas spokesperson Devin Knighton said if UT decides to switch over to Canvas, it will be the company’s biggest client. Canvas currently has more than 200 clients. Knighton said about nine of 10 institutions that pilot Canvas end up switching over, and a significant portion of them switch from Blackboard.
“They want something that is modern, up-to-date and easier to use,” Knighton said.

Knighton said the company is confident it can support UT for various reasons, such as its use of cloud computing, meaning Canvas operates and supports its customers from remote locations. Also, instead of upgrading to a new version of Canvas every year, the company automatically updates the software every two weeks.

Kimberly Gonzales, curriculum and instruction graduate student, is using both Blackboard and Canvas this semester in her classes. Gonzalez said Canvas’s overall look is refreshing, but navigating the website and taking advantage of its features has been a challenge.

Gonzalez also said she had problems with the Canvas iPad application because it did not load videos her instructor posted for class. With Blackboard, she said she has had trouble finding her assigned content materials and finds the platform cluttered. Despite her troubles with both tools, Gonzalez said she prefers Canvas.

She said if professors catch on to Canvas, students will follow.
“If professors are properly trained and know how to lay out a course in a way that it makes sense, students will not have difficulty moving from one system to another,” Gonzalez said.

Printed on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 as: Blackboard faces new competition

Students sit and talk before the beginning of a lecture on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Jackson | Daily Texan Staff

Using technology to enhance introductory courses has helped students earn better grades, said representatives of the Course Transformation Program.

The program, which began in spring 2010, aims to increase success rates in classes by adding more educational technology and added online educational features to the classes students typically take in their first few semesters. Last spring, Biology 311C/311D, Chemistry 301 and 302 and Statistics 302 all started selected piloted sessions of the courses.

“I do think one of the great things about what we're doing is it can help make the big class experience feel smaller,” said Gretchen Ritter, director of CTP.

The CTP hosted a panel Tuesday which reported results and feedback from the first year of the program.

The attendance rate for Statistics 302 has gone up from previous years to 92 percent after starting the program, said Cathy Stacy, the Statistics and Scientific Computation faculty leader for the program. She said the percentage of Ds and Fs on the final exam also fell from 33 to 15 percent but the final exam itself was essentially the same from those prior to the class’s redesign.

“The area on the final where we saw the greatest improvement was calculation,” Stacy said. “It is essentially what we removed from the lecture periods and left to the students to do on their own.”

Ritter said the courses in the program are using online materials to help teach the class. All the courses have moved some materials previously taught in lectures to online assessments and readings, she said.

“By taking some of the material that you may traditionally cover in lecture to outside of class, you can do different things inside of class,” Ritter said. “You can make the classroom experience itself a more engaged environment.”

Chemistry 301 and 302, for example, places skills students can learn on their own online on Quest and on the class website. The course website has all the material content resources, along with videos of every lecture.

David Vanden Bout, the program's chemistry faculty project leader, said last semester the website received about 61,000 hits, with more than 10,000 visitors spending at least 30 minutes on the site throughout the previous semester.

“The website was a huge hit, for people not just in our class but obviously it's leaking over to other sections of 301,” Vanden Bout said. “For all the surveys that we did, this was students’ No. 1 favorite thing about the class.”

Ritter said UT was committed to a face-to-face learning experience, so the University will not move to a primarily online-only set of courses.

“But we are really headed much more in the direction of a hybrid model where in fact we are trying to make the inside the classroom experience more engaged,” Ritter said.

Architectural engineering sophomore Amanda Nogay, who took a Chemistry class last semester that was not one of the program's piloted sessions, said online resources are a good supplement, but they can not replace in-class lectures.

“There is also no substitute for picking a professor's brain,” Nogay said. “While the Internet has a bounty of resources, only the professor knows exactly what he wants you to get out of the lesson.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Integration of technology enhances student learning

Victoria Rodriguez, the University’s vice provost and dean of graduate studies, is stepping down after nine years in the role and returning to the LBJ School of Public Affairs as a professor and researcher.

In a letter to his colleagues, executive vice president and provost Steven Leslie announced Rodriguez’s departure and named vice provost Judith Langlois as interim dean. In the letter, Leslie praised Rodriguez’s work in building partnerships with academic deans and her fundraising efforts to support the graduate school. Rodriguez will continue her work at the university at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, furthering her research and teaching in the areas of women in politics and public policy, said Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance.

Ritter said Rodriguez’s 11-year service in the central administration department, nine of which were spent as dean, was successful and goal oriented but also very demanding.

“It is not at all unusual that someone there for that long would want to return to focus primarily on teaching and research after an extended period of service,” she said.

John Dalton, graduate studies assistant dean, said Rodriguez helped raise millions of dollars for graduate student support during the capital campaign and created the 1910 Society, an organization focused on philanthropy and alumni connections.

“She’s been really open to communications with other deans and students,” Dalton said. “All the communication we do has been totally reorganized to better communicate with graduate students and faculty.”

Langlois was an obvious choice for interim dean because of her position of vice provost and because she formerly served as interim dean of liberal arts, Ritter said.

“[Langlois] is a very engaged graduate instructor and mentor,” Ritter said. “She’s someone well-suited to play the role of interim dean.”

Ritter also said the cooperation between Rodriguez and Langlois will help create a smooth transition for the new interim dean.

“Dr. Langlois and Dr. Rodriguez have worked together extensively in the past,” Ritter said, “and I know they have been working very strongly in the last week or two in transition issues, and that’s going extremely well.”

Executive provost assistant Janet Hart said a search committee will be formed in the fall to select a new dean.

Graduate Student Assembly president Manuel Gonzalez said Rodriguez’s dedication and commitment to students will be remembered.

“Dean Rodriguez has always been willing to commit resources, time and effort to advance graduate student issues on campus,” he said. “GSA is losing a great advocate for graduate students, but at the same time, we’re looking forward to working with interim dean Langlois.”  

Printed on Friday, January 20, 2011 as: Graduate studies dean returns to teach, research