Couple’s 1996 gift transforms teaching in UO classrooms

The old-school lecture format had stopped working for Psych 201’s classes of up to five hundred students, but Psychology Professor Jennifer Freyd knew it would take loads of time—far more than she could spare from her other teaching and research obligations—to do much about it.

When she learned six years ago about a new funding source for development of new courses—the Williams Fund—she seized the opportunity to rethink the way the university’s core sequence on the mind and brain is taught.

“Totally revamping a course is like writing a book,” Freyd says. “The Williams award funded a half-time graduate research assistant who worked incredibly hard with me for a year on every aspect of how Psych 201 is taught.”

Freyd’s initial overhaul jumpstarted a creative process in which her colleagues, including professors Ed Awh and Michael Anderson, continue to improve and update the course.

The result: many students now say Psych 201 tops their list of favorite courses. Their professors tap the full potential of multimedia and the Internet for engaging presentations that always include live, interactive demonstrations such as the opportunity to hold and touch a preserved human brain.

Fresh ideas and innovation—that’s what Tom and Carol Williams were thinking about ten years ago when they endowed the Williams Fund.

Two dozen awards later, their vision has touched nearly every undergraduate on campus both through creation of new courses and makeovers of classics that had gone stale.

Among the highlights:

• A new course in software design is the first ever to be modeled after the studio approach used for teaching architecture.
• Two new classes in tropical ecology include summer field projects in Ecuador.
• A new watershed science and policy course gives students
    hands-on experience with salmon recovery and watershed management.
• A new mediation course for undergraduates offered by the law school has given rise to a new interdisciplinary degree in conflict and dispute resolution.