Blog Archive

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." Read more »


Follow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Photo of professor Melanie YergeauMelanie Yergeau, English, teaches in computer labs to help integrate technology into her teaching. The twenty-five students in her disability studies course participate in blogging and commenting activities, both in and out of class, supporting student dialogue and critical engagement with course content. Blog posts contain reading responses composed across a variety of media.

For example, during one class, groups of students use digital cameras to create short, impromptu YouTube videos about disability, normalcy, and the built environment on campus and then integrate them into blog posts that are compliant with web accessibility requirements. In another assignment, students synthesize their learning through “carnival” blogging: blog posts that synthesize and link to other blog posts on controversial course topics.

Using students’ carnival blog entries as a starting point, Yergeau invites authors of external blogs to interact with her students on the class blog, creating a dialogue not possible in the context of the traditional classroom.


In this space, we will occasionally highlight articles from around the Web that offer interesting perspectives on college teaching and higher education. Here are some short, thought-provoking pieces that caught the eye of CRLT staff during the past week:

  • Bookmark iconAn article from the Faculty Focus newsletter on the relation between grading and student learning. Why not give all of your students A's?
  • A Tomorrow's Professor blog post that offers helpful suggestions for inspiring students to set challenging goals for themselves.  What if not all of your students come to class eager to be challenged?

Do you have other recommendations you'd like to share with U-M teachers? Include them in the Comments section below. 


CRLT Occasional Papers logoCRLT's latest Occasional Paper, "Teaching in the Cloud: Leveraging Online Collaboration Tools to Enhance Student Engagement," has just been released. A collaborative effort by CRLT Assistant Director Chad Hershock and U-M Political Science and Philosophy Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty, the paper describes how a wide range of instructors at Michigan use online collaboration tools to enhance student engagement and course management. 

Here's how the authors explain the research behind this new publication: Read more »


Dr. Haithcock

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Michael Haithcock is well-known beyond U-M as a great conductor. He has garnered widespread acclaim for directing the world-class University of Michigan bands, he has commissioned and recorded numerous new musical works, and he is much in demand as a guest conductor.  Given this high profile, it might be easy to lose track of the fact that he's also an outstanding teacher of student musicians right here at the University of Michigan. As a teacher of conducting and director of student ensembles at U-M since 2001, Haithcock has gained a reputation as a professor who devotes extraordinary amounts of time to his individual students. He meets one-on-one with every member of the Symphony Band each semester, attends the senior recital of every band student, and writes scores of recommendation letters annually. Read more »