When Thurnau Professor of Art Sadashi Inuzuka visited a colleague’s performance studies class to give a guest lecture, he began by handing each student a chunk of clay to work while he talked. The gift of clay invited students to engage their bodies in the process of thinking about land and their physical connection to it—an invitation they delightedly accepted as they kneaded the lumps into small forms that Inuzuka later fired and returned to them. Inuzuka is internationally renowned as an artist whose sculptures powerfully explore the relationships between humans and the natural world. But he is equally renowned among U-M colleagues and students as a remarkable teacher who can guide students, through such simple acts as handing them clay, to deeply embodied insights about the transformative social power of art.

Thurnau Professor of Art Sadashi Inuzuka

The sheer breadth of Inuzuka’s teaching speaks to his flexibility as a teacher. But whether through his innovative drawing workshops for first-year medical students (designed to develop skills of observation as well as a comfort with loss of control), or his interdisciplinary course on environmental concerns in the Great Lakes region, Professor Inuzuka’s teaching consistently reflects two core pedagogical principles: 

  • The artistic process creates community and provides tools for social engagement.
  • Learning happens best when students are given the space to find their own methods, forms, and answers.
Inuzuka’s enactment of these ideas is perhaps best illustrated by the innovative ways he has connected the School of Art & Design to Southeast Michigan’s low-vision community. Through his “Many Ways of Seeing” courses and workshops, created in partnership with the Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Detroit Public Schools, and community groups, Professor Inuzuka has given students what many describe as a life-altering experience of collaboration with blind and visually-impaired children and adults.

Congratulations to Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mathematics Stephen DeBacker for being named the 2012 Michigan Professor of the Year!  Already recognized as an outstanding teacher here at U-M, DeBacker was honored with the Thurnau Professorship in 2011.

You can learn more about DeBacker and the Professor of the Year award in this University Record article. Follow this link for further information about the U.S. Professors of the Year awards program, including winners nationwide. [Note: This awards program was discontinued after 2015.]

The University's Learning Analytics Task Force has recently announced a new Fellows Program. This program will bring together faculty, staff, graduate students, and postdocs in a semester-long collaborative study of Learning Analytics. If you're considering applying for this opportunity or just curious what "Learning Analytics" means, read this guest post by Natalie Sampson, Public Health Ph.D. student and Graduate Student Instructional Consultant at CRLT.

Natalie Sampson

As academics, many of us think a lot about assessment in the classroom. How do we best assess our students' learning? How can we be sure they are getting it? In this information age of "big data," Learning Analytics is an emergent field that is tackling these core pedagogical questions.

You may have heard the term "Learning Analytics" (LA) around campus but still wonder what it refers to. According to the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR), LA is "the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs."

What might that mean for your teaching?  In practice, Learning Analytics may look like...

What if every college course had "curiosity" as an explicit prerequisite?  

When Bradford Orr introduced the course "Everyday Physics" into the University of Michigan curriculum in 1993, he included such a prerequisite on the syllabus. Moving away from the then-standard Physics pedagogy of lecture and textbook lessons, the course focused on "hands-on" discovery, as student groups performed lab experiments to study a series of everyday phenomena: soap bubbles, light waves, electrical circuits. The students worked with familiar materials to learn about the ways basic physical principles affect their daily lives--and can be observed and tested without elaborate equipment.  At the time a pioneering venture in curiosity-driven, experiential learning, the course continues to be the most popular elective in the U-M Physics curriculum.  

Bradford OrrAnd Orr himself continues to be an extraordinarily innovative teacher. Honored in 2012 with an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship, his creative and committed instruction has also been acknowledged with a range of teaching awards, including the Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP), a Rackham Graduate Student Mentoring Award, and the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award.

While Orr's teaching continues to develop with every new course and semester, students repeatedly return to the fundamentals--instructor passion and student engagement--in their praise of his teaching.  They describe Orr as encouraging students to "actively think about the material instead of receiving it passively." They attest that he "demonstrates genuine concern for fostering a love of learning and discovery of new ideas for all students." And they praise his creation of a "learning environment . . . that prepares future physicists for the road ahead and opens all students to what 'real' science and physics is all about."