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Dmitriy Babichenko teaches by example

A professor of practice, who is a full-time faculty member that has acquired expertise in a non-academic career, can provide students with up-to-date knowledge. Dmitriy Babichenko, is a perfect example of a professor of practice. He brings his wealth of experience into the classroom and he helps students get a taste of the real world by managing their student projects.

Prior to becoming a professor of practice at Pitt’s School of Computing and Information, Babichenko spent 10 years running various corporate IT departments. That industry experience is especially valuable when he’s overseeing student projects, since he uses his extensive project management experience.

Interested students must apply and go through an interview process in order to be considered for a project. “I actually interview them like I would if they were applying for a job,” says Babichenko.

And, just like a real job, the students work with both stakeholders and other team members. These projects, which can be used to fulfill a student’s capstone requirement, usually involve collaboration with other schools at Pitt.

As Babichenko explains, “the students have to work with the subject-matter experts who will actually use the software, plus they work on a long-term project with five or ten other people. They have to think about the following things: How do we collaborate? How do we not screw up each other’s code? How do we split up the tasks so we don’t step on each other’s toes, but get the work done?”

Babichenko manages these student projects in addition to teaching undergraduate courses and doing research on educational technologies. “It’s very rewarding,” says Babichenko when discussing why he enjoys working on the student projects. “You should see how proud they are once the disjointed work that they’ve been doing over the course of the semester coalesce into a coherent project.”

Here are a few recent student projects:

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: Exploring 3-D printing to create a medical stimulator.

Medical simulators play a vital role in helping medical students learn and practice various procedures. Unfortunately, the simulators tend to fall into two categories: very expensive mannequin simulators or low-cost options that have very low-fidelity. To combat this issue, Babichenko and his team of students set out to create an endoscopy simulator for no more than $300. They first explored building a stomach and esophagus with 3-D printing, which they planned to add sensors to. The 3-D printing, however, wasn’t a viable solution since the printers can only create small items. Instead, they created the shapes of the organs from high-density foam and are trying to vacuum-form a prototype. A more permanent mold will be created from another substance once the mold is created.

University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy: Using an alternate reality game to teach how drugs are developed.

Developing a drug involves numerous steps. To learn the process, pharmacy students are separated into teams where they create companies; select a drug and its indication; take that drug through FDA trials; write press releases and quarterly reports on their companies; and more. It’s a complicated process and tracking everything on paper can be quite laborious. Thanks to the alternate reality game Babichenko’s students developed, pharmacy students can now complete the entire process online, including filing the FDA paperwork through a mock website.

University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine: Developing an interactive system to teach dental pathology

One way to learn dental pathology is to look at pathology slides for hours on end. That doesn’t sound very engaging, does it? The dental pathologist teaching this course approached Babichenko to see if a team of students could create an interactive system for dental students to learn pathology by competing with each other. Babichenko’s students spent two semesters developing an interactive memory game with multiple levels and a competition component. Dental students are currently using this game and an updated version is in development.