Projects receive engaged learning grants; new program announced


The university has awarded $5 million to three projects designed to transform the educational experience for U-M students, and has created a new program that encourages faculty to form networks around engaged learning.

In the latest round of awards from the Transforming Learning for a Third Century grant program, the student-learning arm of the Third Century Initiative, funded projects will focus on writing-to-learn in large courses, case-based approaches to sustainability training, and field-based experiences at the U-M Biological Station that facilitate exploration of environmental topics across numerous disciplines.

“We are excited to see these three new projects move forward. Each has the potential to bring engaged experiences to many of our students,” said James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education.

“Through these projects they can learn to be creative, to communicate and work in teams, and to incorporate social and ethical considerations in their work.

“We would like to be able to deliver multiple high-impact engagement opportunities to all of our students, and these projects help move us towards that goal.”

The Third Century Initiative was created to encourage faculty to develop innovative ideas for enriching student learning as U-M prepares to celebrate its bicentennial in 2017. Leaders allocated $25 million to fund projects of various size and complexity. Transformation grants, the largest, range from $300,000 to $3 million.

To date, nine proposals have received funding under this program, and more than 100 projects have received smaller grants.

The new Transformation projects are:

MWrite II  

$1.89 million over five years

Six “early adopters” from the LSA and College of Engineering faculty, in conjunction with the Sweetland Writing Center, initially will introduce writing-to-learn pedagogies into five large, introductory courses serving 5000 students.

Because of the size of many of the university’s large courses, writing has not been a large part of the learning experience in these classes. Yet, the project’s authors say appropriately framed writing assignments can help students learn the core content of these courses while also gaining critical thinking skills.

MWrite II would infuse writing into the courses through technology. It will include a peer-review system and utilize automatic text analysis, which will allow faculty to spot problems and address misconceptions or missing knowledge in class.

The project also will use a version of the E2Coach personalized education system first developed for physics courses, and adapted to provide students with individual feedback on writing and learning.

Part of the proposal involves leading a faculty seminar to get others involved. The project calls for expansion later to an additional 10-15 courses, eventually serving up to 10,000 students.

“Michigan Sustainability Cases: Transforming Case Based Teaching and Environmental Training”

$1.6 million over four years

The School of Natural Resources & Environment and LSA Program in the Environment will adopt an approach to teaching graduate and undergraduate students that exposes them to case-based learning using digital multimedia materials.

The goal is to connect students with scholars from humanities, the social, natural and biomedical sciences, engineering, and landscape architecture.  A Michigan Sustainability Case model links students, faculty and professionals from the field in exploring sustainability topics.

One master case already created is titled, “Wolf Wars: Should We Hunt Gray Wolves in Michigan?” The case study provides podcasts, videos and other digital materials that explain the debate among groups that are pushing for a hunt, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Commission and various groups opposed to the idea.  

Field-Based Student Engagement and the Academy: U-M Main Campus — Biological Station Initiative

$1.49 million over five years

This proposal involving six U-M schools and colleges is in response to the long-held understanding among them that the answers to many of the environmental and public health issues of today will take engagement from all of their disciplines.

For years, the Biological Station, located in the northern Lower Peninsula on Douglas Lake near Pellston, has provided student research experiences in biology, ecology, and atmospheric and climate science.

This project will support the creation of courses that include a summer field placement at the Biological Station, and would engage students not only from biology, ecology, and climate science, but also natural resources and environment, public health, engineering, urban planning, and art and design, as well as the humanities and social sciences.

This program will create courses that embed field-based science focused on solving environmental problems and sustaining health, and that focus on climate change, the Great Lakes system, biodiversity protection and stressed ecosystems.

As work around engaged learning across the university continues to grow, leaders want to encourage faculty to keep the dialogue going and share best practices more widely.

To that end, they created TLTC Networks for Engaged Teaching, a program that offers small stipends to support regular meetings of faculty and staff communities to advance engaged learning.

Leaders say a universitywide Provost’s Seminar on May 16 also will focus on sustaining and expanding engaged teaching and learning practices.


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