Five faculty projects honored for teaching innovations


Five faculty projects that involve innovative approaches to improving student learning will be honored next month with Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prizes.

The winning projects were chosen from 57 nominations from students, faculty and staff. They fell within one of two focus areas: anti-racist and inclusive teaching, and remote and hybrid teaching developed in response to the pandemic.

The honorees will talk about their projects during a virtual panel discussion from 11 a.m.-noon May 5 as part of the Enriching Scholarship conference. James Hilton, vice provost for Academic Innovation, will moderate the session.

The Provost’s Teaching Innovative Prize is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the University Library. The winners receive $5,000.

Here’s a look at the 2022 TIP honorees.

From Welcoming to Belonging: Community-Engaged Research with Schools in Support of Newcomer Migrant Students

Michelle Bellino
Michelle Bellino

Michelle Bellino, associate professor of education, School of Education

Traditionally, graduate students learn research methods through scholarly literature that renders invisible real-world methodological, ethical and relational dilemmas. Bellino wanted her graduate students to grapple with these important decisions, to engage in all the stages of research, and to experience a sense of shared ownership and agency with a research project.

She redesigned her EDUC 792: Qualitative Research Methods class around a community-engaged research project with Melvindale High School, where 14 student-researchers could investigate what makes a school welcoming and inclusive for newcomer students and families with diverse identities and experiences.

The team constructed the research inquiry collaboratively, focusing on issues of importance to MHS stakeholders, determined through dialogue about current challenges and priorities. Graduate students defined the driving research questions, developed instruments for data collection, and engaged in collaborative analysis. They co-authored a written research report and oral presentation to MHS staff.

In nominating the project for the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize, doctoral student Mara Johnson wrote, “This is one of the first times I have left a course feeling like I had a firm sense of theory, methods, and application in conjunction with each other as opposed to engaging with limited slices.”

Beyond Bellino’s qualitative methods course, the Educational Studies doctoral program is being reimagined to center educational justice and equity, and the project with MHS is serving as a model for an “educational equity lab” that supports students as they enter communities responsibly, develop meaningful relationships and provide substantive value to community partners.

LIFE: Longitudinal Interprofessional Family-Based Experience

Olivia Anderson, clinical associate professor of nutritional sciences, School of Public Health; Thomas Bishop, assistant professor of family medicine and director of interprofessional education, Medical School; Debra Mattison, clinical associate professor, School of Social Work; Laura Smith, associate professor of physical therapy, College of Health Sciences, UM-Flint. Other team members are: Karen Farris, professor, College of Pharmacy; Mark Fitzgerald, associate professor, School of Dentistry; Danielle Rulli, clinical associate professor, School of Dentistry; and Peggy Ursuy, clinical assistant professor, School of Nursing

Interprofessional education programs provide aspiring health professionals with opportunities to understand each other’s roles and build positive teamwork practices. These exercises, however, can lack authenticity when they rely on one-time case studies or simulations, rather than repeated interactions with real patients and their families.

To solve this problem, the LIFE team affiliated with U-M’s Center for Interprofessional Education developed a fully virtual, co-curricular certificate program, for which Michigan Medicine’s Office of Patient Experience connects students with real patients, referred to as patient advisers, and their families.

Each team of health science students plans how to conduct two interviews with a patient adviser to explore how chronic illness affects daily life and interactions with health-care providers. After each interview, the students debrief what they learned and evaluate how they performed. The patient adviser also assesses the students’ teamwork.

Students gained deep insights from authentic conversations with patient advisers about the time-consuming and emotional work related to chronic illness, including advocating for care, handling complicated insurance issues, managing medications, and completing prescribed daily therapies on top of their work and family roles.

One student’s patient adviser taught her that, “‘It is important to remember the patient’s burden in every plan of care, not that you would CHANGE it but just that you acknowledge their burden and how hard they are working to complete everything,’ which is not something that has been talked about before in my studies.”

The LIFE program’s materials are shareable with other faculty or institutions wishing to implement this collaborative IPE approach.

Shifting Eurocentrism, and Enhancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Specialized Lyric Diction and Vocal Literature Classes

Timothy Cheek
Timothy Cheek

Timothy Cheek, clinical professor of performing arts (voice), School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Cheek’s innovation addresses the inherent Eurocentrism of skill-oriented Italian, French and German lyric diction and vocal literature courses that are required of voice majors, conductors and collaborative pianists worldwide.

In the wake of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, Cheek turned to technology to break through the compartmentalization of such courses and elevated songs by African American composters as an equal component of an international Virtual Exchange.

The innovation thus shifts the centrism, gives students perspective beyond the classroom, increases their skills and knowledge, and sets them on a road to genuine communication, independence and global collaboration.

U-M students meet virtually with European peers who help them with pronunciation, understanding of text, style and cultural and historical context of European vocal music. In exchange, European students learn songs by African American composers with support from their U-M peers. This work culminates in performances for the combined classes that are in a master class format, with students’ respective teachers leading the sessions for their country’s repertoire.

Students on both sides of the exchange attest to the positive impact of the experience. Collaborating with native speakers gave students more confidence and a deeper connection and appreciation for the music.

Cheek encourages the adoption of this innovation in his upcoming short-form book “Reimagining Lyric Diction Courses: Leading Change in the Classroom and Beyond,” which addresses instructors’ misgivings and helps lay out a strategy for incorporating a Virtual Exchange element into diction courses.

Simulating Interactions Between Science and Policymaking

Josh Pasek
Josh Pasek

Josh Pasek, associate professor of communication and media, and of political science, LSA

The return to in-person learning during a pandemic provided the impetus for Pasek’s innovative redesign of COMM 467: Debating Politics and Science.

While students taking COMM 467 needed no primer to learn that science could be distorted in translation from academic studies to popular behavior, could they develop a richer understanding of the links between scientific research, journalism, public opinion and policy by simulating stakeholders in these domains and making decisions about coronavirus messaging?

Pasek combined an experiential, inquiry-based approach to learning with an extended simulation to reach this goal.

Throughout the fall 2021 semester, Pasek’s students assessed what they needed to know to feel confident about meeting in the basement of North Quad during the COVID-19 delta wave, learning about viral spread, air ventilation and whether the members of the class were regularly interacting with people who were vulnerable.

Students rotated through four class committees that:

  • Researched the relative value of various mitigation strategies and identified vulnerable populations that should motivate decision making.
  • Surveyed students about their contact with vulnerable individuals, actions they were taking, and the most common misperceptions in the local community.
  • Tested messaging and incentive-based approaches to correct misperceptions and encourage mask-wearing.
  • Facilitated the work of the committees as effectively as possible.

“As our students go on to careers where they will try to persuade the public, the lessons they learned in COMM 467 will help them think critically about what the messages they are creating are likely to accomplish,” said Sol Hart, the department’s associate chair of undergraduate studies.

Slack Bots for Remote Asynchronous Education

Elle O'Brien
Elle O’Brien

Elle O’Brien, lecturer III and research investigator, School of Information

In industry, data scientists often encounter the practice of daily standups, where team members update their colleagues on their work in a Slack channel. O’Brien wanted to give her students this authentic professional experience, so she added bi-weekly video standups to her course.

Classmates were asked to leave comments on two other teams’ standups. The number of students in the course made grading standup participation burdensome. To respond to this challenge, she wrote software using the Slack developer toolkit in Python to get automated reports about standup participation. She developed a bot that checks whether every team posted a video, and every student gave feedback to peers. The bot returns a spreadsheet of scores.

Next, O’Brien built another bot to create a shared communication channel for every project team, plus the members of the teaching team.

As Slack does not have an easy way to message the entire teaching team, students often sent messages to only the lead instructor or sent the same request to every instructor individually. Shared project channels make group progress visible to the whole teaching team and gets students faster responses.

Qiaozhu Mei, the director of the fully online Masters in Applied Data Science, describes O’Brien’s innovation as a “game changer” for the program. Student engagement in asynchronous courses is often a challenge, but in O’Brien’s capstone with standups “interactions between teams are kept at a high level despite the large size of the class.” Mei anticipates that the practice will be quickly adopted by other MADS courses.


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