Five faculty teams awarded Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize


For their creative and inventive approaches to improving student learning, five faculty projects led by Michael Cole, Mary Lou Dorf, Craig Regester, Stephen Rush and Adam Simon will be awarded the ninth annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize.

The university community is invited to meet the winning teams at a poster fair and breakfast from 9-10 a.m. May 1 in the Michigan Union Rogel Ballroom.

“The range of strategies and disciplines represented by this year’s Teaching Innovation Prizes reflects just how widespread the pursuit of teaching innovation is at the University of Michigan,” said James Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation.

“Winning teams include faculty and staff from seven different schools and colleges, and their projects range from new approaches to diversity and inclusion, to strategies for promoting creativity, and ways to incorporate new technologies into teaching.”

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

At the poster session, faculty will be able to “meet these teams and discuss opportunities to bring similarly creative approaches to their own teaching,” said Hilton, who also is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, dean of libraries and professor of information.

The poster fair will also highlight the work of teams that received Investigating Student Learning grants funded by CRLT and the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.

The TIP award ceremony and Enriching Scholarship keynote address will begin after the poster fair at 10 a.m. During the Enriching Scholarship conference (see related article), guests will get the chance to participate in more than 100 sessions centering on effectively integrating teaching and technology.

The winning TIP projects were selected from 65 nominations from 13 schools and colleges. Each project receives $5,000.

The following project descriptions were compiled from team applications:

Teaching Early Learners “How Doctors Think” in the Chief Concern Course

Michael Cole

Michael Cole, assistant professor of emergency medicine, Medical School; Sandro Cinti, professor of internal medicine, Medical School; and Michelle Daniel, assistant professor of emergency medicine, assistant dean for curriculum and assistant professor of learning health science, Medical School.

The study of “how doctors think” — more formally known as clinical reasoning — is a rapidly growing field in medicine, with its value underscored by studies and guidelines that demonstrate clinical reasoning to be a significant cause of misdiagnosis, inappropriate testing and medical error.

While medical students have historically learned about clinical reasoning in a more hands-on approach through clinical duties, the Chief Concern Course is a dedicated course that teaches students an approach to clinical reasoning.

Whereas the hands-on approach expected students to learn through observation and informal discussion, the CCC is a longitudinal, case-based curriculum that encourages students to engage in largely analytic thinking while honing their skills to interpret patients’ symptoms and connect them to patterns of disease.

“We are teaching students a method to approach how to think about clinical disease and treatment to offer students a ‘framework’ on which to hang the content knowledge from other courses,” according to the team’s application. “This has been well received by students as a way to offer meaning and context to otherwise isolated diseases processes.”

Medical student Genevieve Allen wrote that the CCC is unique because of its integration of technology, innovative methods to encourage student collaboration and feedback, and the use of authentic clinical classes in small group settings.

“The CCC encourages collaboration by implementing the jigsaw cooperative learning technique,” Allen said. “This allows us to become mini experts on a certain disease, to share this knowledge with our peers and to collaborate as a team to come up with a refined diagnosis for the patient in the case scenario.”

Inspiring Confidence Through Achievement: Inclusive Teaching in Computer Science

Mary Lou Dorf

Mary Lou Dorf, lecturer IV in electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering.

In the field of computer science, some novice students doubt their ability to excel in the subject. These fears disproportionately affect female students and underrepresented minorities — two student groups that are less likely to have experience in computer science before attending the university.

In order to bridge these confidence gaps, a final project and showcase event were introduced to EECS 183, “Elementary Programming Concepts,” which is the “gateway” course to studying computer science for students in other U-M colleges outside CoE.

Instead of taking a final exam, the culminating experience in many introductory courses, EECS 183 students undertake a major, authentic programming project in teams of four. Successfully completing the project and sharing their work at the showcase are significant accomplishments that solidify students’ earned sense of belonging.

Since the addition of the project and showcase event, university officials have seen significant growth in the number of students pursuing a computer science major, including a significant increase in female students choosing computer science in LSA.

U-M student Diana Gage took EECS 183 and wrote the final project was unlike any assignment she had ever completed.

“I loved getting the chance to be creative and explore computer science concepts on my own, and create something I could show my friends and family, as well as companies at the Showcase,” Gage said.

Detroiters Speak: Building Community Classrooms

Craig Regester

Craig Regester, adjunct lecturer and associate director, Semester in Detroit; Lolita Hernandez, lecturer II in Residential College, LSA; Stephen Ward, director, Semester in Detroit, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies and of Residential College, LSA.

In the fall of 2012, Semester in Detroit launched the first “Detroiters Speak” series, creating a unique public space for dialogue around several contemporary debates. University students as well as community members Detroit and surrounding communities attended the events.

After growing attendance and interest in Detroiters Speak, they created a one-credit mini-course. Now in its fifth semester, Detroiters Speak: Toward Education Justice enrolls students from U-M and Wayne State University, and several community students.

A year ago, officials moved the “community classroom” from the U-M Detroit Center to the Cass Corridor Commons, a community organizational hub and gathering space.

Classes are taught by, composed of or facilitated by people who have either lived or worked in Detroit for a substantial amount of their lives.

LSA senior Sierra Ayres wrote one aspect she admires about the Detroiters Speak course is that it does not boast to be “an all-inclusive community classroom setting.” She wrote that every semester the program adjusts accordingly after listening to critiques and criticisms about the effectiveness of class sessions.

“All of the professors and faculty that I have met through this class understand that learning is, and can, always happen — no matter your age, background, qualifications — and that knowledge can continually be shared,” Ayres wrote.

Opening Students’ Minds Through Interdisciplinary “Making”

Stephen Rush

Stephen Rush, professor of music (dance/music technology), School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The “Creative Process” course originated out of the desire of North Campus deans to have an interdisciplinary course that addressed creative process on a personal level, during which students could be creative instead of just studying creative people.

Designed by Rush, the course has several learning outcomes, including demystifying creativity, assisting students in developing a conceptual foundation for identifying creative approaches to arrive at their own creative process, and fostering the ability to recognize creative potential in unexpected contexts.

The course is co-taught by five instructors from a range of disciplines, and culminates in a final project. During the semester, students attend mid-week lectures, where tenets of Creative Process are introduced, followed by optional meditation sessions.

Final projects are assigned by giving balloons to students, each with a random word inside like “butter” or “salmon.”

“This playful approach propels the students immediately into the deepest values associated with abstraction and metaphorical thinking — a hallmark of genius,” according to the team’s application. “The students are encouraged to explore their words etymologically, physically (through dance), spiritually and socially.”

Finally, projects are displayed at a gallery showing and can include creative works like videos, paintings, children’s books, performance art, etc.

U-M junior Danielle Ziaja wrote that the course was “more life-changing” than expected.

“The best part about Creative Process is that students were at all skills levels, and despite this, everyone could contribute constructively,” Ziaja wrote. “My background in math and science helped me contribute to class discussions. The skills we learned, especially through powerful teamwork and camaraderie, could be applied to any field.”

Mapping Possibilities for U-M’s Energy Independence

Adam Simon

Adam Simon, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, LSA; IT specialist Peter Knoop.

When Simon taught EARTH 380, he noticed two major problems with a course that explores energy resources and their consumption by society. 

First, many of his students came into the course filled with “alternative facts … to the point that there was collective delusion about fundamental energy concepts.”

Second, students often still held onto their preconceived beliefs about energy as they exited the final exam.

To combat these systemic issues, Simon decided to transform the class by having students do an energy-focused investigation instead of listening to a lecture.

“I wanted students to learn how to conduct such a study, what methods were appropriate for problem-solving and, most importantly, recognize that their results, rooted in reality, make the energy crisis both a fascinating and daunting challenge that their generation can solve,” he wrote.

Knoop’s expertise in geographic information systems and educational technology helped bring this project to fruition.

For the project, students are introduced to a particular energy-related concept each week and given a problem to investigate. Each student produces a unique solution, and submits their results via Canvas to discuss during the weekly discussion section.

U-M student Kate Mather wrote that throughout the semester in the course, students worked on a project centering on one question: Can U-M acquire 100 percent of its power from renewable energy?

Each week, students took on a new sub-topic related to the main question and completed related activities, such as using a geographic information system to plan the placement of wind turbines and solar panels. At the end of the course, they created a story map that encompassed each weekly lesson into an argument for U-M to support renewable energy.

“I can say with confidence that this is the only project that I have completed at this university that taught me facts about the energy sector, theoretical problems within it and how to develop practical solutions for a complex question,” Mather wrote.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.