Great Teaching at University of Michigan

FEI WEN  (Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering)

Supporting students in the production of work that will be valued by real audiences, not just a grader, is a hallmark of innovative teaching. In 2012, Chemical Engineering 342 won a TIP award by challenging students to demonstrate heat and mass transfer principles for visiting high schoolers. In 2014, ChE342 students took demos of heat and mass transfer to the next level by creating YouTube videos, a multimedia assignment.

Students respond enthusiastically to meaningful opportunities for autonomy and creativity. Careful scaffolding of the video project process by the instructor can ensure that rigor is not lost in the fun. Identify: Groups first develop and defend a project proposal with an eye to scientific accuracy and feasibility. Notably, if a group chooses a very complex example of heat and mass transfer, the students may address just one or two key experimental parameters; this approach respects their intrinsic motivation while keeping projects manageable. Solve: Students design original experiments or simulations. When intuition conflicts with rational prediction, they build experimental systems, define relative parameters, and set up mathematical models. Broadcast: Groups meet regularly with the course instructor and GSIs as they figure out how to organize their demonstration into a clear and engaging video.


When cutting into a human body, surgery students and their supervisors appropriately focus their full attention on the patient. Providing high quality feedback on a student’s performance in the moment is understandably a lower priority. But if there is no mechanism for pursuing feedback after the fact, the teachable moment evaporates, impeding learning and frustrating students, administrators, and faculty.

Using Qualtrics survey software, the Minute Feedback System makes it quick and easy for students to request feedback on a specific aspect of their clinical care via the web. The process is intended to take less than one minute for each party. After a student completes a brief survey, Qualtrics emails a link to the feedback giver where they can assess the student’s skills on a five-point scale and write (or dictate) a sentence or two. (Images of screens seen by residents and clinicians are shown below.)

BRIAN COPPOLA & CSIE|UM PARTICIPANTS  (Chemistry, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts)

Launched in 2014, the Chemical Sciences at the Interface of Education (CSIE|UM) program models a way to institutionalize faculty-led engagement in instructional development throughout a department. Faculty form teaching groups (analogous to research groups) supported by internal funding and the administrative leadership of a new Associate Chair for Educational Development and Practice. In turn, the teaching groups bring together undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates to undertake meaningful projects that also develop their professional skills. Below are some of the creative opportunities for chemists who are passionate about both research and teaching:

David Chesney

Creating opportunities for students to engage deeply with “real-world” problems has long been recognized as a high-impact teaching practice. In EECS 481, the innovation lies in the web of relationships that connect undergraduates in the capstone software engineering course with a child (identified by CS Mott Children’s Hospital) who could benefit from assistive technologies.

Students learn about a specific disability selected for the semester from clinical faculty and through interaction with the child and family. After an overview of cutting-edge technologies, each student writes a one-page proposal for developing software that aims to improve quality of life for a cognitively or physically impaired audience. After experts select the best proposals, the student creators “pitch” to the rest of the class to recruit 3-4 teammates. Teams develop, document, and celebrate three product releases in a “tradeshow floor” format over the course of the semester. In addition to hard technical skills, students also figure out soft skills, especially how to work effectively as a team and manage their time.

Not only have course enrollments grown substantially since 2009 (table below), but women are participating at twice the national average for computer science courses (25-30% vs. 10-15%).

Sapan Ambani, Medical School

Time. Urology surgery residents just don’t have much left for studying—after performing surgery, caring for patients, and advancing research. Worse yet, cramming doesn’t support retention of concepts fundamental to the field (see survey results below). Fortunately, personalized learning technology can a) keep track of what material each student has mastered and b) schedule periodic testing of remaining content. Best of all, spaced questioning can actually increase retention up to two years.

Here’s how it works. At any spare moment, residents access a web-based app, answer two daily questions, and immediately see their results and an explanation. (Question sequencing follows a two-year curriculum, so that questions about kidney stones appear when residents begin learning about them.) A correctly answered question returns after 6 weeks and, if answered correctly a second time, it is retired from that student’s question bank. Incorrectly answered questions return after 2 weeks.

UroStream is housed within Qstream, a commercial learning platform. Instead of writing code, faculty members can focus on selecting critical material, developing questions, and monitoring aggregate and individual response patterns. Delegating question management work to software makes the most of scarce faculty and resident time.