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University of Minnesota
SEMINAL

Phase II Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that have been answered for your convenience. In the future, please check this page for replies to additional questions. Please email all further questions to seminal@aplu.org.

Institution / Course Questions

Proposal / Process Questions

SEMINAL Participation / Research Questions

Financial Questions

RFP Clarification Questions

Institution / Course Questions & Answers

Q: Does my university have to be a member of APLU (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities)?
A: No. Any 4-year college or university (public or private) with some type of graduate program in mathematics is eligible to apply.

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Q: What counts as “mainstream” Precalculus to Calculus 2 courses?
A: Mainstream refers to those courses that serve as prerequisites for subsequent mathematics courses, such as linear algebra or differential equations. With a goal of broadening participation, we expect most proposals will focus on Precalculus, Calculus 1 and/or Calculus 2. However, if a Calculus 1 for Life Sciences or Calculus 1 for Engineers is accepted as a prerequisite for a regular Calculus 2, then such a course could be included in the proposal. Proposals that only focus on more specialized mainstream courses (e.g., calculus for life sciences) are unlikely to be funded.

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Q:  How much of a dept. needs to be on board? (all vs some)
A:  Applicants do not need 100% of the department to support the transformation proposed in your project. We will be looking at least for support by those involved in P2C2, the chair, and course coordinators (if they exist). We suggest that you need sufficient faculty on board so that a significant proportion of the target course can all be reformed. Solo faculty efforts are unlikely to be successful.

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Q:  Do we have to have learning assistants?
A:  No. Undergraduate (or graduate) learning assistants are one structure that can support active learning, but are not required.

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Q: If our university doesn't offer precalculus, would this hurt our chances?
A: No. You can focus on Calc 1 (and/or Calc 2) and do not need to include precalculus.

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Q: Can other pre- and post- courses (ex. College Algebra, Calc 3) be included in the proposal?
A: As long as your focus is "P2C2", if you also are working on something like college algebra or Calc for life sciences, that is okay, and could be part of your budget and plan. Including Calculus 3 in the plan of work is also acceptable, especially if Calc 3 is or proposed to make a coherent sequence with Calc 1 and 2 (e.g., similar instructors, similar instructional approach, etc.).

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Q: If a course has multiple sections, do the changes need to include all sections? How should we deal with on-line sections?
A: You should have a plan that gets you to all sections, but the first work does not need to be all sections. Online sections may be included in initial efforts, or might be part of a later wave of reforms.

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Q: Do you have a requirement on enrollment for those courses?
A: We don't have a particular requirement for the enrollment of the targeted courses. In general, the expectation is that P2C2 courses are "mainstream" and "high-enrollment". But, some places have 1000 in Calc 1 each fall, others 80, others 2500. So, no set minimum.

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Proposal / Process Questions & Answers

Q: What font/font size should the proposal use?
A: We recommend proposals follow NSF guidelines for fonts (e.g., 10 pt Ariel or Palatino Linotype, 11 pt Times New Roman, etc).

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Q: Who is eligible to be a PI on a proposal? What about co-PIs?
A: Since these awards will be about transformation of college/university mathematics departments, the assumption is that at least some members of the PI/Co-PI team will be in a mathematics department. The PI does not need to be the mathematics department chair, nor have a formal leadership position in the mathematics department, but should be reasonably positioned to carry out the proposed work. If the PI is not the department chair, someone with a formal leadership role in the department may well be a Co-PI. Other potential Co-PIs can include: other mathematicians, mathematics education researchers, administrators with a role in the planned work, or others who have a role in the planned work (such as a sociologist or psychologist who may help with research aspects). Given the transformation focus of these awards, it is expected that there will be Co-PIs, in addition to a lead PI.

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Q: Do I need to get IRB permission prior to submitting the proposal?
A: No, you do not need IRB permission prior to submitting a proposal. Should your proposal be accepted, the SEMINAL leadership team will work with you to get the most appropriate IRB permission to satisfy your requirements – probably along one of the following choices:

  1. SEMINAL has an existing IRB protocol to which your own institution’s IRB can defer. Typically we would send you the SEMINAL protocol and approval letter and your own IRB agrees to defer to the existing IRB approval. If your institution is part of the nationwide “SMART IRB” then this route will work for you. This approval might be the short-term approach for many participating institutions.
  2. Eventually, however, most institutions will likely wish their own IRB approval for their own sustained transformation and course improvement efforts.  Additionally, some institutions will need local approval to start as they have IRBs which do not agree to defer to other IRBs. If this is your situation, we will work with you to help you submit an appropriate protocol to your own IRB.

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Q: Does the submission system save my work if I want to work on the submission in pieces?
A: Yes, the system saves your work. The person who starts the submission process can return to the submission site regularly to revise the submission. Once you submit your proposal, however, you will no longer be able to make revisions.

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Q: How are proposals judged?
A: Consideration will be made for diversity among the awardees (institution type, student body) as well as numbers of students impacted (number of courses targeted, enrollment in those courses), as part of our larger goal of broadening participation in STEM. Since these SEMINAL Phase 2 awards are about institutional transformation, strong proposals will show sufficient levels of institutional and departmental commitment to reasonably expect the personnel will be able to carry out the planned work. A key tenet of SEMINAL work is that transformation is greatly aided by active participation in a networked improvement community, so a strong proposal will commit to such participation with the SEMINAL leadership team and other awardees. The SEMINAL leadership team will review all proposals; the SEMINAL national advisory board will be involved in providing feedback on proposals under consideration for funding.

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Q: Who is funding this proposal?
A: SEMINAL is a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Nebraska, and San Diego State University. The Phase 2 awards will come from APLU’s portion of the collaborative SEMINAL award, as sub-awards.

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Q: Do I need a project evaluator?
A: No, the evaluation of your project would fall under the SEMINAL evaluation team, led by Dr. John Sutton at RMC Research, Inc.

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Q: Are projects that start early 2018 preferred over those beginning in summer 2018?
A: No. Given the timing of funding, fall 2018 are likely to be the beginning of actual course changes. Spring 2018 might be just gathering the people to do the work, and the work could start in summer 2018, for implementing in fall 2018.

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Q: Do you want literature references to support the elements of our proposed changes?
A: If you have relevant literature, you are certainly welcome to include those references. We expect many proposals will be based at least loosely on the characteristics of successful calculus programs. See www.ams.org/notices/201502/rnoti-p144.pdf and www.maa.org/cspcc.

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Q: What are our options if our institution does not qualify for a Phase II proposal, but we still want some support in making reforms to undergraduate math courses?
A: If your institution doesn't meet the SEMINAL profile, or your work isn't primarily focused on P2C2, while you may not be able to apply for a SEMINAL grant, you could connect with an Active Learning Mathematics group associated with the Math Teacher Education Partnership. This group has some travel funding, and has formed a networked improvement community to work together to increase active learning in college math classes (mostly freshman-level).

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Q: How long can/should our project last?
A: As stated in the RFP, the Phase 2 proposals can start as soon as January 1, 2018, and extend as late as June 30, 2021. Many institutions anticipate focusing Phase 2 spending in year 1 or years 1-2, recognizing that an institutional transformation process is ongoing work. However, proposals that fit in the 3.5 year time-frame specified in the RFP are perfectly acceptable. It is not inherently better to use all the funds in Year 1 vs use them across 3.5 years.

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SEMINAL Participation / Research Questions & Answers

Q: What can we expect for regular meetings/support as part of the SEMINAL network of universities?
A: We do not yet have a fixed schedule for meetings and communications fully defined as we would like to involve the new members of the network to suit their needs and interests. There will be an initial meeting and annual mini-conferences.  We anticipate regular communications that would include some combination of video conference calls (perhaps as often as monthly, at least initially), initial (pre-semester) meetings/calls to get things set up and in place, regular check-ins (could be a listserv), and some form of discussion/chat board for participants to ask questions and discuss issues with others.

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Q: Do we have to have a fully laid-out plan for using active learning? How detailed do our active learning plans need to be?
A: While you may not have a fully defined plan, you will need to have decided your initial approach (e.g., reforming recitations first with active learning structures). There needs to be a strategy that addresses issues of sustainability so that those reviewing the proposals see that you have a viable plan for initiating institutional changes. Certainly, plans will be revised and adapted after efforts begin, but you need a core plan that has been thought through and has the support of P2C2 instructors and other dept. leaders. Your plan should have goals and targeted outcomes (how will you know if your plans are working), and should have a process for periodically revisiting efforts, actions, and outcomes.

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Q: Do we have to have course coordination as part of our plan (common lessons, common exams, etc.)? How might we assuage any faculty concerns about “academic freedom”?
A: Sustainable efforts across a course are difficult without some form of coordination. However, having a (semi) permanent course coordinator is not required. Institutional change will include a consistent vision so a communication plan among instructors will be needed. We note that “academic freedom” does not mean that someone can teach anything they want in a course like Calculus 1.

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Q: Do we have to include/address all 7 characteristics of successful calculus programs?
A: No. However, these are strategies shown to be effective, so you likely will include some/many of these. See www.ams.org/notices/201502/rnoti-p144.pdf and www.maa.org/cspcc.

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Q: Are participating institutions agreeing to be studied for the next three years or can we opt out of being studied?
A: In brief – yes, participating institutions will commit to be studied and share with other institutions in the network. There are several important attributes of this project to transform instruction in these foundational math courses. SEMINAL is a research project using a networked approach to aggregate the experience and successes of all for adaptation at individual institutions suitable to their own needs. As described in the RFP, we will collect data to determine progress.  We will conduct interviews during occasional site visits to see how each university addresses challenges. We anticipate our research to provide beneficial feedback to individual participating institutions and seek to contribute eventually to math department transformation at a very significant national scale.

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Q: Are the data collection instruments such as surveys determined by the individual institutions? Is an institutional research plan required and/or desired?
A: Your proposal should be about course redesign/dept transformation. We'll ask you to collect DFW data and be part of the SEMINAL research, but your direct work may be able to be classified as "curriculum", since SEMINAL can be doing the data analyses, especially of surveys. In some places, part of deciding how successful your change is, is to observe classes. That could be done via a grad student, but wouldn't have to be.

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Q: Are professional development activities for faculty on active learning techniques and/or philosophy appropriate?
A: Yes

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Q: How will data from active learning courses at institutions who receive SEMINAL Phase II funding be used by the SEMINAL project?
A: SEMINAL data will be de-identified prior to any publications or presentations; student data will be de-identified prior to sharing with the research team, while some other data like interviews may still have names when shared internally with the research team. While the SEMINAL website will list the Phase 2 institutions, publications and presentations will talk about "university 1" and will not tie particular data or results to a particular institution. Members of the SEMINAL research team will have access to the de-identified database of survey responses and student data. All of the SEMINAL work will comply with approved IRB protocols; we take data security and confidentiality very seriously. Phase 2 institutions themselves may choose to publish aspects of their own findings in ways that are not anonymous, but that is at the choice and discretion of each institution.

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Financial Questions & Answers

Q: What travel funds ought we include in our budget?
A: The RFP requires participation in an annual mini-conference by members of the network, and we believe institutions would gain more by sending a small team of perhaps 2-4 individuals. It would be prudent to budget travel at perhaps $1200/per person per meeting.  We anticipate meetings to be held at participating institutions to maximize opportunities to showcase work underway. Meeting length will be a maximum of 3 days, so planning for a two-night stay would suffice. There will be no registration fee and meals during the meeting will be covered.

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Q: Is cost share required?
A: No, proposals are not required to include any cost share. We realize that expecting institutional transformation for ~$100k is a tall order, and transformation that is sustained will include other institution and department resources that are in addition to this proposal. While you may allude to such support in your description of institutional commitment and/or plans for sustainability, no particular dollar amounts need to be attached to such resource support.

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Q: Is there a limit on indirect costs?
A: No. Institutions may use their federally approved rate for organized research. Some institutions may choose to limit or waive their recovery of indirect costs as part of their demonstration of commitment to provide resources to institutional transformation efforts.

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Q: Do we need to budget to attend the mini-conference both years or just one year? How long is the mini conference? Will mini-conference be associated with another conference?
A: Please budget for two years to attend the mini-conference. Plan for 2 days/2 nights. We’ll choose a “reasonable” location that will likely be close to some of the SEMINAL institutions. We may hold the mini-conference immediately before or after another conference. It will depend on which institutions are funded from SEMINAL, and the availability of the personnel involved. Our estimate of costs per person per mini-conference include: $500 airfare, $400 hotel, $300 ground transportation and meals.

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Q: Is there a standard rate for learning assistants or can that vary depending on local conditions?
A: Learning assistant rates vary (mostly $1000-1500/semester) but depend on what you ask them to do: attend class 3 days per week vs once a week, have office hours, meet with instructors, have ongoing LA meetings/training, etc.

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Q: What is the maximum allowed budget request?
A. $100,000

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RFP Clarification Questions & Answers

Q: Please clarify the statement in the RFP: "We encourage proposals that include a focus on broadening participation."  What is the population that this statement refers to?  Does it mean that we should be aiming to broaden participation of faculty in implementing active learning in their courses, or is it referring to broadening participation of students in mathematics by fostering greater success for a diverse group of students?
A: Broadening participation is included in the NSF sense of diversity among students, to increase P2C2 student success for students in underrepresented groups. However, a sustainable change effort includes broad participation of faculty. The main intent of this phrase is to address student diversity.

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Q: Does a proposal need to address all questions in Part 2 of the RFP?
A: No, we do not expect all proposals to have significant things to report for all questions. Some funded proposals likely will have little to report on some of the questions.

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Q: In the RFP you mentioned three facets of active learning (deep engagement in reasoning, peer-peer interactions, using student thinking). Is it ok for us to focus one facet each year rather than trying to address all three at once?
A: When implementing active learning in classrooms we expect instructors to attend to all three principles. Expertise in helping students deeply engage in mathematics, to interact productively with their peers, and using student thinking can grow over time and take different forms. But these are core principles of active learning and should be considered as a bundle.

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Q: Do we have to start implementing active learning right away?
A: No. It is fine for the first phase of the work to focus on designing rich and engaging tasks and then the second phase could focus on implementation.

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