Five faculty projects honored for innovative teaching methods


Five U-M faculty projects that demonstrate fresh approaches to advance student learning will be recognized May 5 as winners of the sixth annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize.

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

“These projects offer effective new ways to increase student engagement with and mastery of course material,” said Provost Martha Pollack. “The faculty’s commitment to improving student learning is a real strength of the university.”

The U-M community is invited to meet the innovators at an 11:30 a.m. poster fair and strolling lunch in the Michigan Union, before the TIP awards are presented at 12:30 p.m. in the Rogel Ballroom on the opening day of Enriching Scholarship 2014.

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

A faculty committee selected the winning TIP projects from 49 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:

Davoren Chick A Comprehensive Training Portal for Clinicians Serving At-Risk Populations — Dr. Davoren Chick, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine, Medical School; with April Bigelow, clinical assistant professor, School of Nursing; F. Jacob Seagull, assistant professor, Department of Medical Education; Heather Rye, certified case manager and complex care management specialist; Dr. Pamela Davis, assistant professor of pediatrics, Medical School; Dr. Brent Williams, associate professor of internal medicine, Medical School; and staff at Michigan Creative.

Many health care professionals lack formal training regarding social determinants of health, public healthcare systems, or special care needs of the medically underserved. Supported by a Graduate Medical Education Innovation grant from the Medical School, the Caring With Compassion team developed a curriculum regarding public healthcare systems and bio-psychosocial care for the underserved. It stressed innovative adult learning methods through an online, modular curriculum supplemented by a novel, game-based learning tool.

 Student learners have repeatedly expressed their appreciation for Caring With Compassion, describing it as practical and highly relevant to their learning needs.

Danielle Stegena, a graduate student in the Family Nurse Practitioner program caring for homeless patients at a federally-funded health clinic in Grand Rapids, wrote, “If I hadn’t completed the Caring with Compassion curriculum I would have been over my head in terms of how to care for these patients, make a difference and impact their care to improve their health.”

Sherif El-Tawil

Dancing with Steel Girders: Interacting with 3-D Representations of Buckling Columns in Virtual Reality — by Sherif El-Tawil, professor of civil and environmental engineering, who is accepting the award on behalf of the project team: Julie Fogarty, Ph.D. candidate, and Jason McCormick, assistant professor, both in civil and environmental engineering; Theodore W. Hall, advanced visualization specialist, UM3D Lab; and Eric Maslowski, UM3D lab manager and technical creative consultant, Digital Media Commons.

Educators in the structural engineering field who struggle with depicting three-dimensional figures in two-dimensional space have resorted to physical models that are cost prohibitive and cover only some configurations. The project team’s solution has been to develop a virtual reality environment to help structural engineering students and other engineering and science students gain an appreciation for complex spatial arrangements.

VR is an immersive environment. Users wearing the proper equipment can “climb” up a model, “squeeze” through an opening, or “fly” up for an overview. The team has developed the necessary software and deployed it in the Design of Metal Structures class, CEE-413. There, students can see various examples of local and global buckling behavior and appreciate how complex modes of structural response occur.

Anne McNeil

• Trailblazing with Wikipedia: Improving Student Learning and Easing Implementation — Anne McNeil, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, associate professor of chemistry, LSA, and associate professor of macromolecular science and engineering, College of Engineering.

In 2008, McNeil began developing a class project for students to edit science content on Wikipedia to enhance learning, build collaborative skills and improve scientific information available to the public. The Wikimedia Foundation became aware of the project, consulted McNeil, and created the Wikipedia Ambassador Program and the Wikipedia Education Program to support faculty-guided student contributions.

The project was highlighted as a case study on the Wikipedia Global Education Program website, where McNeil’s course materials are freely available. The broader impact of this project extends beyond the classroom, as 60 science-based Wikipedia sites have been edited (or created) by the students in her courses.

“These impact-driven projects are innovative because they push the boundary between learning in the ‘Ivory Towers’ and fulfilling real-world needs of accurate and accessible scientific information; because they challenge students to develop fundamental understanding of concepts by finding, digesting and synthesizing relevant information with the general public as the audience in mind; and because it’s a lot of fun for students to publish their work conveniently and engage in global conversations on their topics,” wrote Ye Li, chemistry librarian, Shapiro Library.

Mark Moldwin

Doing Science Firsthand Through Dorm-Room Labs — Mark Moldwin, professor of space sciences and applied physics in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, College of Engineering. Dorm-room labs engage students in large lecture, introductory science and engineering courses that do not have labs to broaden their appreciation of the content of the course and the process of science.

Moldwin first developed the concept at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was trying to impress upon students that tracking sunspots offered observational evidence that the sun rotates. The next year, he assigned as a dorm-room lab a series of images of the sun, a latitude-longitude grid, instructions on how to measure the sunspots location and to track them in time.

Questions on the mid-term dealing with sunspots and solar rotation disappeared from the list of concepts that students struggled with, he said, because giving students the opportunity to discover or demonstrate for themselves some physical concept often has positive impact on learning.

“Based on my experiences grading lab/exam questions, the dorm-room labs were effective: students performed well on exam questions pertaining to lab concepts,” wrote Michael Hartinger, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

Steven Yalisove

Dropping Lecture and Summative Exams to Accelerate Deep Learning — Steven Yalisove, professor of materials science and engineering, CoE.

Lecture can be dropped by creating environments that promote peer instruction by using digital technology, small group work, bringing one’s own device, audience response systems, problem-based learning, and visually rich activities including video.

Yalisove measured the learning improvement in lecture and in non-lecture sections of the same course by tagging questions on the midterms and final exams. He found that students scored between 10 and 19 points higher on exam questions based on material presented in active learning sessions compared to traditional lecture.

The potential impact is that a simple method has been developed along with a set of resources — rubrics, problem-based learning templates, tips on how to convince publishers to provide PDFs of their books and more — to allow a faculty member to easily transform their course.

“The structure of this course gave me the opportunity to interact with the teaching staff and the students at a far deeper level than any course I had taken before. It was through the interactions with the teaching staff and my fellow peers that I developed a conceptual understanding of the course material,” wrote Sharmin Begum, undergraduate engineering student. 


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