When a professor receives a standing ovation from his students at the semester's end, he must be doing something right. And something rare as well: in the words of one student of Thurnau Professor of History Brian Porter-Szűcs, “the much deserved standing ovation was something I have never seen before or since.”

Porter-Szűcs certainly doesn’t win his students’ acclaim by taking on obviously popular topics. His courses on the history of Poland and the development of the Catholic Church, for instance, focus on subject matter about which many students report having had no prior interest or knowledge. And his courses often treat grim and difficult themes such as the effects of war and the moral complexities of major European social struggles.

Brian Porter-Szűcs But as both students and colleagues report, Porter-Szűcs is beloved for his remarkable commitment to taking undergraduates seriously as intellectual interlocutors and key members of the History department’s academic community. In his undergraduate classes, he engages students as fellow thinkers by giving them primary documents along with a range of historical interpretations—often arguments with which he fundamentally disagrees—and asking them to come to their own conclusions. He uses class blogs to facilitate their interactions with one another’s analyses. And he inspires students to pursue their intellectual passions beyond the bounds of the classroom. Under his guidance as the department's first Director of Undergraduate Studies, the once-moribund History Club has grown into a vibrant intellectual community for undergraduate concentrators. And under his mentorship, a steady stream of students have proceeded to post-graduate study, many of whom who say they would never had thought of themselves as scholars before taking one of his courses. In short, students stand up and applaud Porter-Szűcs not because he entertains them but because he respects them as thinkers.

They do also admit, though, that he is an extraordinarily engaging speaker.

In this space, we occasionally highlight items from around the Web that offer interesting perspectives on college teaching and higher education. Here are some short, thought-provoking pieces about learning and technology that have recently caught the eye of CRLT staff:

  • An article from Campus Technology about two professors at Albion College who have developed mobile apps for learning in a liberal arts context. These tools, one for a chemistry course and one for a literature course, provide intriguing examples of interactive course materials that allow students to practice and get feedback on their learning. 
  • A blog by Teaching Professor author Maryellen Weimer about recent studies assessing the effects of "multitasking" on student learning. She compiles data showing that students who engage in text messaging, social networking, and internet searching during classes learn less and perform more poorly, concrete evidence for what many teachers know from experience.

CRLT has also published an Occasional Paper on a related topic, discussing best practices for using laptops as an effective tool to promote student learning. You can link to the pdf here.

“I studied really hard for the exam and felt like I knew the material, but I did poorly.” 

Have you ever heard something like this from your students? Do you wonder how you might prevent such experiences? In a November Student Learning and Analytics at Michigan (SLAM) series lecture, Thurnau Professor of Psychology Bill Gehring explains how he has integrated key findings from the science of learning into his teaching in order to help students study more effectively and improve their course performance. 

If you haven't been able to attend the SLAM series talks but want to learn more about the ongoing conversation at U-M about using student data to enhance learning, this video is a great place to start. Professor Gehring's topics in this hour-long talk include:

U-M Faculty, are you interested in...

  • evaluating the impact of innovative teaching strategies in your courses?
  • using academic data to understand and improve student learning?
  • supporting your department's assessment efforts by documenting how students learn key concepts?
  • presenting or publishing research about your teaching?

kids working at a computer

If so, you might want to apply for an Investigating Student Learning (ISL) Grant from CRLT. These grants fund faculty (or faculty-student teams) who wish to investigate aspects of student learning in U-M courses or departments. This year, the Provost's Learning Analytics Task Force will be providing additional funding, allowing a greater number of grants to be awarded on a wide range of topics and approaches.