11:20 AM

UHD’s Course Innovation Initiative Earns Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award


By Mike Emery

In its efforts to enhance undergraduate success, the University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) with support from faculty members launched the Course Innovation Initiative (CI2) in 2015. This program formalizes over a decade of faculty and staff work aimed at improving student performance in gateway courses – or those entry-level classes that provide the academic foundations for selected majors.

Taking cues from past projects, the current initiative was sparked by faculty members in the departments of English, History, Math, Biology, Chemistry and Political Science. These professors saw the need for a new strategy to increase success in gateway courses and helped spur the creation of the CI2.

The results of this initiative have been positive. So much so, UHD recentlyearned the University of Houston System Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award for its collective efforts to improve student success in gateway courses over the years. Now, the same program has received the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's Star Award. The Star Award celebrates the contributions of higher education institutions that are distinguished in promoting student success. Finalists and winners were honored during the Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference on Dec. 1.

“Receiving a Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is an absolute honor for our institution," said UHD President, Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. "It reflects the diligence of our faculty and staff and their commitment to helping our students succeed during those crucial first semesters at our University. I thank everyone who contributed to our Course Innovation Initiative and who continue to develop new programs aimed at enhancing our Gators’ learning experiences.” 

The Course Innovation Initiative targets those gateway courses with large class sizes and low percentages of students earning A’s, B’s or C’s. It utilizes strategies such as team environments (fostering collaborations among faculty, students and peer tutors/Supplemental Instruction Leaders); reading guides and interactive online video lectures; and classroom problem solving activities.

“The Course Innovation Initiative shows students that faculty members want them to do well,” said Dr. Timothy Redl, associate professor of mathematics. “I want students to know that I am encouraging them to do well and succeed.”

Redl has implemented CI2 strategies in various classes including interactive, online homework assignments (using MyLab) and in-class group exercises.

Such tactics have proven productive. The percentage of students earning a C or higher in College Algebra has increased from 42 percent to 64 percent. In General Biology, grades improved from 38 percent to 65 percent earning a C or higher. And students earning an A, B or C in U.S. History 1 improved from 52 percent to 71 percent.

The chart below reflects a partial list of the program’s target course outcomes, where the baseline semester varies depending on when the courses innovations began:

Course Name

2016/17 Enrollment

Baseline Semester

Baseline % ABC

Current % ABC

English Composition I


Fall 2006



English Composition II


Spring 2006



Integrated Reading & Writing


Fall 2015



US History I


Fall 2006



College Algebra


Fall 2006



College Math for Liberal Arts


Fall 2013



Beginning Algebra


Fall 2013



Intermediate Algebra


Fall 2013



General Biology I


Fall 2011



General Chemistry I


Fall 2011



Federal Government


Fall 2013



Faculty members appreciate the Course Innovation Initiative’s novel approach to supporting student learning, as well as teaching. The team environment approach has been particularly helpful in creating communities of practice. These communities enhance both faculty and instruction, as well as students’ comprehension of course subject matter.

“The team based learning model inspired students to study more and do better,” said Dr. Lisa Morano, associate professor of biology and microbiology. “They wanted to learn, as well as look good in front of their teammates. It held them accountable.”

Redl added that in-class activities also factored into students’ comprehension of course material. Whether students worked individually or in teams, they responded favorably to these assignments.

“Active learning has proven to be very effective,” Redl said. “During these activities, Supplemental Instruction Leaders and instructors will walk through the classroom to provide support when needed. Classes have grown beyond straight lectures and now provide more opportunities for discovery through exercises conducted within the classroom.”

UHD’s Course Innovation Initiative is just one of the programs aimed at supporting the success of First Time in College Students (FTICs). Other University initiatives include Supplemental Instruction (connecting students with peer mentors/instruction leaders); Freshman Seminars (courses exploring themes relates to students’ respective majors), Gator Gateway (an expanded orientation for freshmen); faculty and peer mentoring; and Gator Ready (registration event for freshmen).

The video, Active Learning and Gateway Courses, was created to document faculty and staff efforts to improve student learning in gateway courses at UHD. The video, featuring faculty and student testimonials, can be viewed here.


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.