Blog Archive

At his recent presentation in the Michigan League ballroom, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur engaged the 250-person audience in an active learning exercise. An expert on the use of peer instruction in college courses, Mazur wanted the many teachers present to experience the power of this pedagogical strategy from a student perspective. So, using an example of question-based instruction from his own field, he provided a very brief explanation of thermal expansion, posed a multiple choice question that required application of the concept, and then guided those present through a 4-step exercise:

  1. Think silently about the question
  2. Commit to an answer (in this case, by using clickers)
  3. Find another 'student' who had a different answer and discuss the thinking behind each answer 
  4. Answer the question again.

The second set of answers was significantly more accurate than the first. Such a result generally follows such a peer instruction protocol, as much research has shown. Why? Through discussion, students shift their focus away from the answer itself and toward the thinking behind the answer, and those with the more accurate logic are generally able to make a more persuasive case. The demonstration also powerfully illustrated how such a technique can engage students emotionally as they become personally invested in learning and understanding the correct answer. The discussion created remarkable buzz in the room about thermal expansion--a topic that Mazur noted would unlikely generate such excitement if simply explained in lecture format. (You can get a sense of that buzz by watching a video of the event.)

In discussing the peer instruction technique, Mazur highlighted several strategies that can help engage all students in active learning, even in a very large course. These included: Read more »

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silhouette of a brain using gears

How can we promote academic success for all students who enter the University, particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we help students overcome their own anxiety about achievement and get past “stereotype threat?” How can we increase retention rates--both for particular majors and at U-M generally--by encouraging students’ to see their abilities as malleable, rather than fixed? In early February, U-M Department of Psychology faculty member Bill Gehring addressed these topics at an LSA faculty seminar on Diversity and Climate. His research-based strategies can provide direction for instructors in all fields to enhance diversity and academic success at U-M.

In his presentation, Professor Gehring described four evidence-based interventions that work to create “identity-safe” classrooms:

(1)  Seeing Students Holistically: It is important for faculty to recognize that students’ performance in class can be affected by many factors beyond intelligence. For example, Professor Gehring’s research on students in his Psychology 111 course found that students’ motivation to do well was positively related to their performance on exams, while their anxiety about testing was negatively associated. To increase motivation, faculty can help students set goals for their learning, and to decrease anxiety, more frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help.  Other “non-cognitive” factors related to performance include discipline (i.e., the ability to resist distractions and procrastination). To reduce distractors, Gehring recommends that students not bring laptops to class, as his research finds a statistically significant decrease in exam grades among students who almost always bring their laptops, compared to less frequent users.

(2)  Framing Disappointment: The first undergraduate year can be a struggle, given that many students come into U-M at the top of their classes yet underperform relative to their expectations. (Incoming student survey data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program indicate that 75% anticipate having at least a “B” average.”) Similarly, many students experience doubts about making friends and fitting in socially.  Read more »

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The U-M Regents have announced six new recipients of the Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships. CRLT congratulates these outstanding teachers on this recognition of their remarkable contributions to undergraduate education here at Michigan. The new Thurnau Professors are:

  • Melissa Gross, Kinesiology and Art & Design
  • Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, Romance Languages and Literatures
  • Anne McNeil, Chemistry
  • Jamie Phillips, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Meg Sweeney, English, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Women's Studies
  • Michael Thouless, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering

portraits of the six 2014 Thurnau professors

More information about each new Thurnau Professor can be found in this University Record article. You can also learn about some of their outstanding teaching on the CRLT website. For instance, we feature Melissa Gross's innovative use of online collaboration tools here and Anne McNeil's Wikipedia project here. Congratulations to all of these teachers for this well-deserved honor!

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CRLT is accepting applications through February 24 for the May Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Seminar, which interested graduate students can learn more about here. In this guest post, American Culture PhD candidate Mejdulene B. Shomali reflects upon her experiences in the seminar last spring.

Mejdulene Shomali

Although I can hardly believe it, in a year’s time, I will be applying for academic jobs and preparing to defend my dissertation. When I began my graduate program in 2009, I remember thinking I would never survive my preliminary exams. When I achieved candidacy, I remember thinking the dissertation was an immaterial dream. Now, one chapter away from completing what I thought would be an impossible document, I found myself wondering how my chosen academic communities will receive me. Will I be selected for interview? Will I make campus visits? Receive offers?

While these matters are terrifyingly out of my control, my anxiety today is very different than it was at the beginning of the PhD and after achieving candidacy. Now, my worries focus on those elements truly beyond my control (the jobs available, the increasing pool of competitive applicants, and the complex decisions of selection committees). Participating in the 2013 Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Seminar allowed me to ease into the reality of finishing my degree and gain a stronger handle on those matters that I can control: how to prepare a teaching philosophy, how to craft compelling syllabi, and how to teach more creatively and effectively.

PFF Seminar participants discussing in groupsI would encourage anyone who feels mystified by the process of job applications and unsure of how to navigate the non-research elements of their academic career to participate in the 2014 PFF Seminar. PFF, like graduate school, is a brief but intense period of growth for students as they prepare to complete their graduate work and move on to the next phase. PFF gives participants breathing room to think in concrete ways about their future: At what kind of institution do you want to work? What kinds of classes are you prepared to teach? What strategies can you employ to navigate an academic job search and the demands of an academic career? And while it might be a scary question, PFF also provides an opportunity to ponder whether you want an academic position at all. Read more »

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SLAM logo

How can we help students be better participants in Forums and other online discussions?  How can learning analytics assist instructors in designing better questions, managing time, and optimizing in-class interactions? What do we know about student learning outside of the classroom at U-M, and how can we use that knowledge to create better bridges with in-class practices? 

Audience listening to a presentationThese are some of the questions explored by the February Student Learning and Analytics at Michigan (SLAM) presentations. Open to U-M faculty, staff and students in any field, these lunchtime talks focus on ways to improve teaching and learning through innovative use of data about students, courses, and academic programs.

Featuring both Michigan faculty and visiting experts who have devised or utilized learning analytics tools to foster student learning, past presentations have featured topics ranging from student study practices to digital badging to MOOCs. The talks are sponsored by the Provost's Task Force on Learning Analytics, which was founded in 2012 to investigate the relationships between student preparation, teaching approaches, and student success in the classroom.  

This month, CRLT is hosting three SLAM events: Read more »

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