Investing in the work of undergraduate faculty
This year’s recipient of Illinois State’s top award for undergraduate teaching wasn’t honored only for his work in the classroom. In addition, Associate Professor of Philosophy David Anderson received the Stan and Sandy Rives Excellence in Undergraduate Education for the 20 years he has spent developing the Mind Project.
Anderson started the Mind Project in the 1990s as an innovative way to create cognitive science curriculum for high school and college students. It grew into a multimillion-dollar, federally funded, Web-based project that has helped educators and students across the country.
“I thought it was an exciting and effective way to teach,” said Anderson, who is also director of ISU’s minor in cognitive science.
The award was established in honor of Stan Rives ’52, M.S. ’55, a longtime Illinois State University faculty member and administrator. It recognizes outstanding teaching or any significant contribution to the undergraduate experience, with special attention given to the first-year experience.
The Rives fund is just one example of how donor support impacts faculty research and teaching endeavors across the University. Private dollars enable professors to enrich their curriculum and find meaningful ways to engage students in active learning.
The Mind Project has previously been honored as a “Program of Excellence” by the College of Arts and Sciences. Anderson said the Rives award, which is a universitywide recognition, was especially rewarding because it honored his teaching, though much of his time has been spent securing and administrating grants while developing the Mind Project. The work has kept him from a regular teaching load.
“Curriculum development can be ignored when giving out teaching awards,” Anderson said. “It was a nice recognition. People were saying that it was another way to be a good teacher.”
Illinois State students helped him develop the project’s curriculum content, which includes virtual labs, videos, handouts, and whatever a teacher might need to explore cognitive science.
Anderson also collaborated with professors at Illinois State and other universities. For example, Illinois State Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology Paul Garris has created labs where students use virtual rats to conduct Parkinson’s disease research and test how cocaine affects dopamine levels. There are also virtual labs on robotics.
“Students can learn a lot about robots before they even handle a robot,” Anderson said.
He began working on the Mind Project after teaching a three-week session on the mind. The first grant was used to develop introductory courses on cognitive science for freshmen and sophomores in college. He took the curriculum to a private elementary school, and the teachers and students loved it.
“Then we knew it would work for any age group,” Anderson said.