CRLT Blog

Photo of an apple on a deskGSIs across campus are being recognized for their excellent teaching this month. CRLT warmly congratulates winners of Rackham's Outstanding GSI Award and the College of Engineering's Richard and Eleanor Towner Prize for Outstanding GSIs. Selected from large pools of nominees, all of these instructors have demonstrated extraordinary commitment, creativity, and overall excellence in their teaching.

The four Towner awardees were honored at the College of Engineering's Student Leaders and Honors Brunch on Sunday, March 15. Rackham will be hosting a public awards ceremony to honor its twenty prize-winners, along with outstanding faculty mentors, on April 13. For more information, including the names and departments of all of the winners, see this Rackham page and this College of Engineering page

How do U-M undergraduates choose their courses and majors? CRLT recently investigated this question for five LSA departments by analyzing Registrar data, surveying students, and conducting student focus groups. Our findings can help faculty and programs across the university successfully inform students about their offerings and increase the numbers of students who take advantage of them. A summary of the results and recommendations can be found here.

Some of our key findings about students' selection processes include:

  • Above all, students use the online Course Guide (rather than printed publicity such as posters) to learn about course options. They look to departmental websites for information to help guide their decisions about concentrations. 
  • Other people strongly influence students' course and concentration choices. These include their academic advisors (especially in the first and second year), their peers, and their parents. 
  • While meeting a requirement is reported as the primary reason students choose a course, the second is an "interesting topic" -- often defined as an interdisciplinary course or a class that makes connections to future professional/educational plans.

What practices do these findings suggest if you're interested in recruiting students? Some include:

Recent months have seen heightened national conversation about the ways implicit biases can perpetuate racial and gender disparities in powerful domains from policing to hiring. This conversation invites us as teachers to examine the ways our implicit attitudes might negatively affect our perceptions of and behavior towards students in our classes. As teachers, we assume responsibility for fostering the learning of all students in our classes. Even when we have the best of intentions, subtle biases that we're unaware of can undermine our efforts at creating inclusive classrooms.

What are some practices that can help us check our own assumptions and biases about our students? And how can we safeguard against our implicit biases—i.e., attitudes we may not even be aware of—negatively affecting students’ experiences in our classes?

Some strategies for becoming aware of our potential biases (or their negative effects) in teaching include:

CRLT is accepting applications through Monday, February 23, for the May Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Seminar, which interested graduate students can learn more about here. In this guest post, Screen Arts and Cultures PhD student Katy Peplin reflects upon her experiences in the seminar last spring.

As with so many opportunities in graduate school, I was thrilled beyond measure to be teaching my own course in the Summer term of 2015, but was filled with an equal measure of fear. I had many goals, and spent a great deal of time imagining all the ways that my class would transcend all previous classes. It would be challenging and accessible, discipline specific and yet inviting to everyone, and be effortless to prep and teach. In my years as a GSI and as a student myself, I had cultivated considerable “back seat driving” skills when it came to others’ courses, but I had no language or framework for translating my opinions about what did and didn’t work about other courses into a syllabus or teaching philosophy.

Luckily for me, the notification of teaching assignments was in my inbox as the email encouraging me to apply for the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) seminar arrived. When I read that I would leave the 10 day seminar with a course syllabus, in addition to a teaching philosophy and a CV item, I jumped at the chance and applied. What I didn’t know is that not only would PFF help me shape my syllabus, but it would help me shape myself as a teacher, a scholar and a professional as well.