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Six seed grants awarded Spring 2014

The Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL) awarded six seed grants in Spring 2014 on topics ranging from medical training to indigenous culture to linear algebra. Two teams from the School of Medicine, School of Engineering, and the School of Humanities and Sciences each received funding. Three of the teams will be teaching blended classes (one of which will also be offered as a free, public online course or MOOC). The two engineering projects will generate innovative course software. One of the School of Humanities and Sciences projects will implement mobile video-based support for assignments and is collaborative effort with the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.



Clean-Slate Linear Algebra

Professor Stephen Boyd and his team propose that everyone should understand one computational tool that impacts all of our daily lives: Linear Algebra. Their course will expose students to the basics of Linear Algebra and show them real world applications such as automatic flight control, MRI technology, and spam filters. Students will use an innovative open source software system that the course instructors are currently developing. After a pilot for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science majors, the team will open the platform to other departments, and later run the course as a MOOC.

Real-Time Feedback for Computer Science Assignments

There are more students enrolling in Stanford computer science courses every quarter and, increasingly, not enough course assistants to adequately support them. To help tackle this problem, Professor Leo Guibas and his team designed Codewebs, a system that allows students to receive automatic feedback on their problems as they solve them. Using data from previous computer science courses, professors will identify common pitfalls and write “hints” that can be shared through Codewebs as students solve problems and make mistakes. In order to gain insight into how students learn, the team plans to analyze course data, and will look at how students approach difficult problems as well as the paths they take to correct mistakes.

Thinking Critically: Skills for Understanding the Medical Literature

Professor Rita Popat and her team propose that critical appraisal skills are simultaneously some of the most important and some of the most challenging to develop in clinical practice, and a MOOC on the topic affords a unique opportunity to immediately reach Stanford students, physicians, and other health professionals around the world. Popat and her team will use a blended instruction model comprised of weekly face-to-face sessions for Stanford students, and online modules that are open to the public. The course will introduce learners to key topics such as study designs, sources of validity and bias, and interpreting results. Students will use their newly acquired knowledge to evaluate a variety of published studies.

Faculty Development in Increasing the Quality and Reliability of the Clinical Assessment of Trainee Performance (Medicine)

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) recently released new competency guidelines that require more frequent and accurate assessment of residents. This proposed blended course addresses the need to provide busy faculty in the Medical School with training on how to use the assessment instruments. Professor James Lau and his team will use trigger videos, detailed technical information, tips, quizzes, and pre- and post-tests.

Indigenous Cultural Heritage: Law, Practice and Theory 
(Humanities & Sciences)

This interdisciplinary course will explore the repatriation of cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and their ability (or inability) to exercise cultural rights under international law. The goal is to promote intercultural understanding by engaging Stanford students, faculty, and a global audience in meaningful dialogue about indigenous cultural heritage issues. A primary feature of the course will be the use of visual media, including Native American performances, recordings, and art, and interviews with indigenous and non-indigenous figures. Dr. Stacey Jessiman de Nanteuil and her team will offer the course first as a blended class for Stanford students before offering it as a MOOC for the public.

Jumpstarting Writing: Delivering Writing Support Outside the Classroom
 (Humanities & Sciences / Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education)

Undergraduate writers can sometimes be too product-oriented and prone to perfectionism. This team’s proposal is to use action-oriented “jumpstarts” to help students become more confident and generative writers. These “jumpstart” writing prompts, delivered through push notifications, will assist students when they actually need help with writing (usually outside of class). As part of their larger Jumpstarting Writing Project, Dr. Christine Alfano and Ph.D. candidate Annelise Heinz will collaborate with faculty who teach writing programs to integrate jumpstart videos into their courses. Julia Bleakney, Director of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking, will provide critical guidance on the project. The team hopes to bolster students’ writing skills through teaching a process-oriented approach and support professors in delivering strong writing instruction at the same time.

Every quarter, VPOL awards seed grants to faculty to promote innovation in online learning on campus. To learn more about VPOL faculty seed grants:


Published: June 30, 2014

Source: The Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning

For more information: 

Judith Romero, Stanford Online, (650) 725-7289,