The Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (OVPTL) is excited to announce that Jessica Debats Garrison has been selected for a 2021 Curriculum Innovation Award by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Garrison, an Assistant Professor of Teaching at UCI’s Department of Urban Planning and Policy, was awarded for her curriculum proposal Advanced Geographic Information Systems.

The Curriculum Innovation Award honors excellence in teaching and effective course design that empowers student learning. Winning proposals incorporate innovative design of learning experiences that foster creative applications of policies, tools, and practices; integrate expertise from multiple disciplines and connect theory and research to practice; and have been taught with measurable student success. This year, Garrison was one of only four to receive the award and its $7,000 prize. 

Her proposal focused on designing the course “UPPP 120: Advanced GIS” to make it more inclusive and accessible—which was particularly important given the remote nature of UCI courses during the pandemic. In her new course design, Garrison worked to promote active learning through interactive lectures and activities and by providing multiple avenues for student participation. Garrison also made diversity and equity central themes of the course by teaching students how GIS software could be used to analyze social and economic inequality. “This approach validates students’ own lived experiences with inequality and provides an opportunity to connect those experiences with their academic studies,” she notes. 

Garrison also made accessibility a priority by reducing student course expenses. She accomplished this by providing course readings, which saved her students from having to purchase a physical textbook. She also made use of free resources such as cloud-based programs that allowed students to access GIS software without the need for high-powered personal computers. 

According to Garrison, winning the Curriculum Innovation Award would not have been possible without the support of the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI). She says:

“I’m honored to have received a Curriculum Innovation Award, and I’m grateful to the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation for providing opportunities for UCI faculty to finetune their curricula, strengthen their teaching, and become more responsive to the needs of a diverse student body. Through programs like the Active Learning Institute and Faculty Pedagogical Reading Group, I had the opportunity to discuss pedagogical research and compare instructional strategies with DTEI staff and other UCI instructors. Especially during this past year, DTEI has been an invaluable source of training, support, and community for faculty.”

The Active Learning Institute (ALI) is a special series of workshops that supports faculty in integrating active learning strategies into their courses. Topics covered in the ALI include setting course goals, designing active learning activities and assignments, incorporating technology in the classroom, and much more. ALI workshops provide an opportunity for UCI faculty to redesign their courses for active learning while gaining insights through discussion with other faculty across campus. As part of the program, faculty are observed and given feedback as they apply what they have learned to the classroom. Faculty who successfully complete the ALI receive a Certificate of Engaged Instruction from the DTEI and are given priority scheduling in active learning classrooms.

The Faculty Pedagogical Reading Group invites UCI faculty to read selections covering instructional best practices, applying education research into the classroom, creating inclusive learning environments, and a variety of other pedagogical-facing topics. Faculty then meet to discuss the assigned readings and consider strategies for applying the reading material to their own courses and teaching styles. Joining the DTEI’s reading group is a great way to learn about the latest pedagogical innovations and make meaningful connections with other like-minded faculty from a variety of different disciplines.

Andrea Aebersold, DTEI Director of Faculty Instructional Development, oversees both the ALI and the Faculty Pedagogical Reading Group. Upon hearing about Garrison’s award, Aebersold shared her excitement:

“I’m thrilled to see Jessica being recognized for her incredible work. Having had the opportunity to work with her personally, I can say with confidence that she is a dedicated faculty member who is truly committed to empowering and supporting her students. On behalf of the entire DTEI team, I’d like to offer her our enthusiastic congratulations!”

To learn more about Garrison and her work, email her at For more information on the Active Learning Institute, click here. For more information on the Faculty Pedagogical Reading Group, click here. Finally, to learn more about the DTEI and its programs and services, click here.