Sheryl Ball, Catherine Eckel, Scott Midkiff receive 2004 team XCaliber Award

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 17, 2004 – Sheryl Ball, of Christiansburg, Va., Catherine Eckel, of Blacksburg, and Scott Midkiff, of Blacksburg, have received Virginia Tech’s 2004 XCaliber Award for excellence by a team.

Established in 1998 by the Center for Innovation in Learning to recognize outstanding contributions to learning made by teams of faculty, staff, and students as they develop courseware using technology, the XCaliber Awards celebrate and illustrate innovative approaches to teaching using technology.

Ball, associate professor of economics and associate dean for curriculum, instruction, and advising, and Eckel, professor of economics, both in the College of Science, incorporate experimental methodology in teaching economics. The successful "double-action market" experiment allows students to set up a market in the classroom. This valuable hands-on experiment allows students to be either buyers or sellers and encourages greater understanding of true market experiences.

To accommodate larger class sizes, Eckel worked with the National Science Foundation to develop the idea of using hand-held wireless devices with a server to facilitate the use of experiments. Called the Wireless Interactive Teaching System (WITS), the program uses wireless technology to adapt small classroom active-learning techniques to large introductory economics courses. The system includes wireless handheld PDAs in an intranet served by a wireless laptop computer to facilitate the use of interactive exercises with large numbers of participants. The researchers have used the system to scale up market simulations and economic games to teach introductory economics.

In a test of the system in fall 2003, use of the exercises improved learning as well as course evaluations compared with a more standard-format class. The researchers found substantial and statistically significant evidence of better test scores, deeper thinking about course concepts, and improved teaching evaluations. The final exam grade was 6.59 percentage points higher (about two-thirds of a letter grade) in the experimental class. In addition, they saw the greatest improvements in learning among younger students and women, with female freshmen seeing an average increase in performance of about 11 points. Department Head Aris Spanos said "the system they are developing has the potential to revolutionize the teaching of introductory economics."

Having earned a bachelor's, a master's, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Ball has received Virginia Tech’s Alumni Advising Award, the Diggs Scholarship award, and the Certificate of Teaching Excellence. A native of St. Louis, Mo., she is a member of the American Economic Association, the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, the Economic Science Association, and the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Economics.

As one of four University Advance Professors, Eckel helps implement a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded program to advance women in science and engineering careers at Virginia Tech. She is director of Virginia Tech’s Laboratory for the Study of Human Thought and Action and president-elect of the Southern Economic Association as of December 2004. She has held offices in the Southern Economic Association and the Economic Science Association and has served on the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession of the American Economic Association. She has served on the executive boards of the Southern Economic Association and the Economic Science Association. Eckel is associate editor of the Southern Economic Journal and Experimental Economics and is on several journals’ editorial boards. She has a bachelor's in economics from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Ph.D. is from the University of Virginia.

Scott Midkiff, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, with a specialty in wireless technology, solved the technical problems involved in using a number of wireless devices to do the project. Midkiff is a professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He received a bachelor's degree summa cum laude in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University, a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Duke University. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a member of the ACM and ASEE. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, and Eta Kappa Nu honorary societies. He is a member of the editorial board and the "Education and Training" department editor for IEEE Pervasive Computing magazine.

Kevin Oliver, formerly of Educational Technology, helped design the assessment instrument for judging the educational effectiveness of the approach.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech’s eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.