By Linda Lockhart and Christine Shaw
When Assistant Professor of Music Charles Savage received a call a few weeks ago informing him he was being recognized with an award for innovation, he thought his colleagues might have been pulling a prank. Background noise from construction prevented him from catching the caller's introduction: It was Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, congratulating him for earning one of 10 University System of Ohio Faculty Innovator Awards for 2009.
"When I received the official e-mail from the chancellor later I thought, oh gosh this one's for real!" said Savage, a faculty member at Ohio University-Zanesville. "I was quite honored … and surprised."
The award recognizes creators of innovative ways to introduce digital course materials that enrich learning and make college textbooks more affordable for students. Last week, Savage and this year's other recipients were recognized by Gov. Ted Strickland in Columbus. The honor includes a $1,000 award.
"Making college more affordable, including leveraging technology to reduce out-of-pocket textbook costs for students, is a priority of the University System of Ohio," Fingerhut said in a news release after the event. "We commend the awardees for developing outstanding, affordable materials for their students and want to share their 21st century ideas and practices with others across the system."
Savage's motivation was his desire to engage students in his introductory music theory class. And the first step was to get them enrolled.
"Students would tell me, 'I can't afford a $90 or $120 book for an elective class,'" Savage said. "So I thought: I'm going to replace the textbook!"
He did so by posting class notes online and requiring only a $3.50 workbook. Enrollment in the class has climbed slightly, but that may be a result of more than just affordability.
Savage also created audio and video clips that present music to students in a new way. Using a combination of technologies, he developed a way for students to "watch music." Synchronized video and audio allow them to listen to the music while they follow along with the notes as they move across the screen.
"Because it is an introductory course, I don't expect music majors," Savage said, explaining that some students don't know how to read music or don't do so very well. Much of their music experience has come as members of garage bands or choirs. "If students can see the music and hear it as it goes across the screen, they can understand better how to read music. I've had students tell me 'Now the music makes sense.'"
Savage, who has been teaching at Zanesville for 10 years, has been working on ways to incorporate these and other ideas into his course through technology for nearly half that time. He confesses to "muddling through the technology" and said the results have come because he continued to ask questions, even when things seemed impossible. He also credits updates in IT structures in Athens, including additional hard drive space for use in the Blackboard system, with enabling the results.
Bill Christy, a fellow faculty member at Zanesville, nominated Savage for the award.
"Charles has been working for several years on perfecting the delivery of an interactive online music fundamentals course," Christy said. "His nomination was a logical choice."
Faculty from Miami, Bowling Green, Ohio State, Cincinnati and Sinclair Community College also were recognized.