Five faculty projects awarded Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize


Five faculty projects are being honored with the 11th annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize for their innovative approaches to improving student learning,.

The projects are led by Matthew Diemer, August Evrard, Elisabeth Gerber, Anne Ruggles Gere, Ginger Shultz, Eric Svaan and Stephanie Tharp.

The university community is invited to meet the recipients at a poster fair and breakfast that is part of the annual Enriching Scholarship Conference beginning at 9 a.m. May 6 in the Michigan League Ballroom. The awards will be presented during the keynote event at 10 a.m.

The winning projects were chosen from among 47 nominations from 13 schools and colleges.

“This year’s winning teaching innovations include a mix of projects that have enjoyed large-scale institutional support and newer ideas that have sprung from the ingenuity of our faculty as they develop creative approaches to teaching and promoting student learning,” said James Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation.

The annual recognition is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and the University Library.

The following project descriptions were compiled from applications:

Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion via Advanced Quantitative Courses

Matthew Diemer, professor of education, School of Education; and faculty associate, Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research

While many quantitative courses are experienced as “notation-heavy technical exercises that are divorced from both the lived experiences of students and from larger societal issues,” Diemer chose to integrate issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into his advanced quantitative methods courses.

Photo of Matthew Diemer
Matthew Diemer

In his classes, Diemer brings considerations of race and ethnicity, and gender and social class to the foreground. The perspectives of diverse scholars “who are sorely underrepresented in the quantitative literature and course reading lists” also play a central role, he wrote in an application.

In his teaching, Diemer also uses advanced quantitative techniques to address DEI issues while speaking “the language of those in power.”

Josefina Bañales, a doctoral candidate in the developmental psychology program who served as a graduate student instructor for Diemer, wrote Diemer’s focus on DEI issues in his advanced quantitative courses is unique compared to other courses in both the natural and social sciences departments.

She said he incorporates DEI issues in weekly readings, class examples and statistical procedures in class. He also ensures that the statistical concepts and techniques mastered in his courses address long-standing theoretical assumptions in the fields of psychology and education. This includes the assumption that quantitative measures developed with white, middle-class people also apply to people of color across the socioeconomic spectrum, Bañales wrote.

“His courses embody all desired elements of the TIP award,” Bañales wrote. “They are original in that Matt … discusses his White, male privilege in the context of his teaching of statistics; they are impactful in that his students, particularly students of color and women, become experts in quantitative methodology and spread this knowledge across campus and in the community.

“They are replicable and scalable because all disciplines must wrestle with how to address pressing real world issues related to privilege and oppression.”

Problem Roulette: A Stress-free Practice Zone for Student Learning

August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of physics and professor of astronomy, LSA

As the faculty lead innovator of the Problem Roulette service, Evrard helped thousands of students gain equitable access to U-M-authored study materials to assist them in mastering academic content.

Photo of August Evrard
August Evrard

Launched in 2011, the Problem Roulette online tool now supports 11 courses in physics, chemistry, statistics, nutrition, electrical engineering and computer science, and molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

The online tool provides students with practice questions from actual previous exams to help them prepare for future assessments. It also allows students to see responses from classmates, and provides a space where students can study without worrying about being graded.

“PR promotes self-efficacy in students by giving them more control of their studying, by broadening the scope of authentic material available to them, and (soon) by communicating to them the value of regular, interspersed study sessions,” Evrard wrote in application materials.

Evrard created Problem Roulette after discovering that students in U-M’s Greek fraternities and sororities could access archives of old exams that were not accessible to non-Greek students, according to a letter from Timothy McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of physics and astronomy, LSA; and professor of education, School of Education.

In a letter of support, U-M student Jon Reid said he first used the Problem Roulette tool in a statistics course. He noted its innovative group work feature, which allowed him to virtually meet up with friends in the class and work on the same problems at the same time.

“Problem Roulette was incredibly useful to me because I could identify areas of weakness during my studying,” Reid wrote. “After identifying these areas of weakness on Problem Roulette, I could target these weaker sections by reviewing my notes and then returning to Problem Roulette to see if my understanding of these topics improved.”

Supporting Engaged Teaching and Learning Through ViewPoint Simulation Software

Elisabeth Gerber, Jack L. Walker Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, associate dean for research and policy engagement, and professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; professor of political science, LSA; faculty associate, Center for Political Studies, Institute for Social Research

After a decade of creating paper-and-pencil simulations of the public policy-making process for her courses, Gerber developed ViewPoint, cloud-based software that supports custom-designed role-playing simulations.

Photo of Elisabeth Gerber
Elisabeth Gerber

In application materials, Gerber wrote that role-playing simulations give students the opportunity to experience the challenges that occur when decision-makers must come to a collective decision. She said they provide students with knowledge of the issues and processes covered in the simulation, as well as soft skills like empathy, collaboration and compromise.

ViewPoint allows instructors to create custom simulations tailored to their classes, and the simulations can be built from scratch or from templates.

The tool’s facilitator features allow instructors to implement the simulation and monitor and communicate with participants. The participant feature allows learners to access simulation materials, communicate with one another, and share materials, information and feedback, according to application materials.

Graduate student Ben Eikey wrote that he saw ViewPoint in action through his participation in the Ford School’s Integrated Policy Exercise.

Students simulated being in the legislature, executive branch and media to create a policy to reform the North American Free Trade Agreement. Through ViewPoint, Eikey wrote, legislative allies could share ideas in private messages, and a public news feed offered an opportunity for participants to deliver public news releases.

“This was an engaging, rewarding simulation and ViewPoint was essential in ensuring such a positive learning experience for so many students,” Eikey wrote.

M-Write: Writing to Learn in Large Introductory Courses Across Campus

Anne Ruggles Gere, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of education, School of Education; professor of English language and literature and director of the Sweetland Center for Writing, LSA
Ginger Shultz, assistant professor of chemistry, LSA

Although writing-to-learn pedagogies — where students write about key course concepts — have been shown to foster student engagement and deepen learning, many faculty members do not employ these activities because of logistics, the time required to respond to student writing, and doubts about their ability to teach writing.

Photo of Anne Ruggles Gere
Anne Ruggles Gere

Photo of Ginger Schultz

Ginger Schultz

To address these concerns, Gere and Shultz developed M-Write, a program that includes an automated peer review system and trains undergraduates to become writing fellows, who provide formative feedback on student writing.

M-Write also partners with faculty to design and conduct writing-to-learn assignments and to ensure writing-to-learn is implemented in a sustainable way.

Over the last seven years, M-Write has been used in several of the largest courses on campus affecting more than 12,000 students. M-Write has been implemented in a variety of courses, including biology, chemistry, economics, materials science engineering, physics, statistics and mechanical engineering.

In a letter of support, Daniel Borkin said he served as an undergraduate writing fellow in the M-Write program from 2016 to 2018 for two courses, one in economics and the other in statistics.

Borkin witnessed how the M-Write assignments helped students in science, technology, engineering and math classes gain experience in describing how they solve problems and identifying the context for the problems they are given.

“The writing assignments offered a safety net to identify if students understood the material,” Borkin wrote. “If a student missed a point on a ‘low-stakes’ writing assignment, they could clarify their understanding of the concept before a much higher-stakes test.

“As every student was also required to peer-review three other assignments for each writing prompt, the M-Write program facilitated many opportunities for students to identify faults in their own or their peers’ conceptual understanding, which holistically improved their understanding of the material.”

Design Charrette and Follow-on Integrated Product Development Course: Hacking Health through Community Engagement, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Eric Svaan, lecturer IV in technology and operations, Stephen M. Ross School of Business
Stephanie Tharp, associate professor of art and design, Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design

Tharp and Svaan’s Hacking Health program consists of a one-day design charrette and a semester-long, follow-up interdisciplinary product development course offered jointly between the Stamps School, the College of Engineering, and the Ross School.

Photo of Eric Svaan
Eric Svaan

Photo of Stephanie Tharp

Stephanie Tharp

Design charrettes are design workshops involving an interdisciplinary group of stakeholders to address problems and inform the design of products, services and systems so that they fit the needs of a target population.

After the charrette, students work in teams to develop physical prototypes in response to user feedback, and do business planning to compete with other teams.

Past charrettes and courses in the program focused on health of senior adults and pre-adolescent children.

“This experience provides immersive learning for students, builds empathy and understanding of diverse populations, teaches critical thinking and problem solving in a project-based environment, teaches front-end problem definition, and engages and empowers community members from diverse backgrounds as experts in a shared learning environment,” according to the project team’s application.

Holly Meers, a student majoring in art and design, and industrial and operations engineering, took Tharp and Svaan’s Integrated Product Development course. She wrote her team had to create a product with active technology to aid and maintain senior health, and that she later became a teaching assistant for the course. Meers wrote that the course has been the most impactful one in her curriculum.

“Working with teams which included international students and graduate students with significant industry experience, I gained an understanding and appreciation of how to align a team comprised of a diverse range of experiences and perspectives,” she wrote.


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