Five faculty projects honored for innovative teaching methods


Five University of Michigan faculty projects that demonstrate fresh approaches to advancing student learning will be recognized May 4 as winners of the seventh annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize.

The U-M community is invited to meet the innovators at a 9-10 a.m. poster fair and breakfast buffet in the Davidson Winter Garden at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

The award is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and the U-M Library.

“The Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize shines a light on the amazing work that our faculty are doing,” says James Hilton, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of information, dean of libraries and vice provost.

“When you find something that works in one place, how do you let other people know that it’s working? TIP identifies and helps connect faculty who are engaged with the question, ‘What are the most effective ways to teach?'”

“Getting people to experiment is not the hard part. I think the hard part is figuring out how we learn from each other and how we create comparable opportunities for our own department’s students,” Hilton says.

The TIP awards will be presented at 10 a.m. in the Ross School’s Blau Auditorium, on the opening day of Enriching Scholarship 2015 — a series of free seminars and workshops for faculty and instructors interested in integrating technology into teaching, learning and research.

In addition to TIP posters, the fair will feature projects by teams who received CRLT Investigating Student Learning grants, along with technology projects from Teaching and Technology Collaborative members.

A faculty committee selected the winning TIP projects from 57 nominated by students, staff and faculty peers. The winners will receive $5,000. The winning projects, with descriptions drawn from material provided by CRLT, are:

• Equal Opportunity 2.0: Calculus in the Commons
Jill Halpern, lecturer IV in mathematics, Comprehensive Studies Program, LSA

Halpern found that after attending summer bridge programs and boot camps, students benefited from hands-on learning experiences. Also, these CSP students, including first-generation college and underrepresented minority students, needed to feel more at home on U-M’s large diverse campus.

Jill Halpern

To address these needs, Halpern developed Calculus in the Commons, which has enhanced students’ motivation, understanding and retention of the material. Students in Halpern’s class solve real-world problems, often in connection with visits to campus sites, such as the museums or the arboretum.

For example, one project focused on using exponential modeling for understanding the dating of dinosaur fossils. It took place within the exhibit spaces of the Museum of Natural History.

LSA undergraduate Joshua Rainey wrote, “The symphony between mathematics and the natural world was not just presented to me, but it stood in front of me, grabbed my attention, and inspired me to think in a manner that I had never previously experienced.”

Another project centered on the March 2011 Japan earthquake. Students modeled the disaster in a way that dovetailed with class topics. They learned about logarithmic models and the Richter scale and used rational functions to model the concentration of contaminated ocean water.

The project grounded students in math, connected them to a current event and got them thinking about the environment.

•  EMG Whiz: An Interactive Electromyography Simulator to Teach Medical Reasoning
Zach London, associate professor of neurology, Medical School

EMG is a diagnostic test used by neurologists and physiatrists to identify peripheral nervous system diseases.

Zach London

During his fellowship training, London became adept at using EMG to identify common diagnoses, but was less confident identifying rare diseases. The only resources available to fill the educational void of limited clinical experience were textbooks and DVDs. While many included cases, they would just show data in table form. Something was needed to simulate the dynamic process of choosing which nerves and muscles to study.

EMG Whiz is the only commercially available clinical EMG simulator. It was developed for use by U-M physician trainees. U-M offers both institutional licenses to hospital-based training programs and individual licenses to trainees and practicing physicians.

EMG Whiz may result in better decision making by electromyographers and more appropriate care of patients.

“My experience with EMG Whiz better prepared me to perform electromyography on real-life patients. As I move forward in my career and pursue specialty training as an electromyographer, I know that EMG Whiz will be a tool I return to and recommend to my students in the future,” wrote Dr. Ryan Jacobson, neurology chief resident and house officer, U-M Hospitals.

• Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom
Richard Norton, associate professor of urban planning, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and associate professor of Program in the Environment, LSA; with Paul Fontaine, program manager, Taubman College; Elisabeth Gerber, professor of political science, LSA; Gail Hohner, managing director, College of Engineering; Patricia Koman, senior program manager, School of Public Health; and Jim Kosteva, director of community relations, Office of Government Relations

Students have to learn the culture and craft of their own discipline. And particularly in today’s increasingly pluralistic and specialized world, they also must recognize, value and work with the cultures and crafts of allied professions. The MECC initiative conveys this multidisciplinary perspective through engaged-learning settings, where students work with real-world clients to address problems.

Contributors to the Michigan Engaging Community Through the Classroom project are, from left, Gail Hohner, Patricia Koman, Richard Norton, Paul Fontaine, Elisabeth Gerber and Jim Kosteva. (Photo by Pam Fisher)

The first combined MECC project in fall 2013 addressed the Willow Run Airport-GM Powertrain plant in eastern Washtenaw County. Bringing together U-M courses from urban planning, public health, public policy and engineering, students engaged with client organizations to develop options for re-imagining the facility and considering impacts on the surrounding community.

Follow-up work took place in winter 2014. Two more recent MECC projects in winter 2015 focused on urban revitalization for several neighborhoods in Detroit and issues related to housing, transportation, and public health in eastern Washtenaw County.

“Feedback from students, including survey evaluations and focus groups, and from client organizations reveals powerful evidence of student learning and community impacts,” wrote Gerber, who also is the Jack L. Walker Jr. Professor of Public Policy.

• Using interprofessional student teams to teach contemporary interprofessional practice in health care
Burgunda Sweet, clinical professor of pharmacy and course director; with Dr. Mark Fitzgerald and Dr. Domenica Sweier (School of Dentistry); Dr. Joseph House, Dr. Joseph Hornyak and Dr. Jennifer Stojan (Medical School); Michelle Pardee and Cynthia Arslanian-Engoren (School of Nursing); Dr. Bruce Mueller (College of Pharmacy); Brad Zebrack and Debra Mattison (School of Social Work); and Anica Madeo (project manager)

Team-Based Clinical Decision Making, a two-credit course developed by Sweet and her colleagues, focuses on two core competencies for interprofessional education: understanding professional roles and developing teamwork skills. It is designed for students in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work.

Burgunda Sweet

Through a series of learning activities, students teach each other about their respective disciplines, critically reflect on their own work within the team, and set goals for future interactions.

The course’s impact on students’ attitudes towards interprofessional practice and skills for effective teamwork has the potential to influence the way that U-M graduates shape health care delivery.

“My understanding of the roles that other health care professionals play in providing patient care has increased exponentially over the last two months, and I feel much more prepared for future collaboration now that their roles are not such a mystery,” wrote Emily Jaynes, PharmD student.

• Learning from Museum Collections and Source Community Members: The Museum Anthropology Course Project
Lisa C. Young, lecturer IV in anthropology, LSA

Young said that when she taught Museum Anthropology previously, she used readings and videos to illustrate collaborations between museums and source communities. However, she was frustrated because students were not able to learn about the complexities of these partnerships by directly interacting with members of a community from which a museum collection had been gathered.

Lisa Young

In fall 2014 she restructured the course to emphasize a project in which students discussed a U-M museum botanical collection directly with its source community. The project involved creation of a digital plant archive as a platform for information sharing with the Hopi community in Arizona, a blog documenting progress of the project, and videoconference meetings between the students and community members.

The course project provided a real-world experience in which students applied knowledge they gained from readings and discussions about representing multiple perspectives in museums.

“The classroom transformed into a lab, a meeting, and a welcoming place allowing students to engage with and discuss the difficult history regarding Native American anthropological work and display … inspiring me to rethink the museum’s place in the world,” wrote Mary K. Snyder, an undergraduate history, anthropological archaeology and museum studies student.


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