Great Teaching at University of Michigan

Steve Yalosove (Materials Science and Engineering)
Picture a section of 60 engineering students working in 12 groups, each with its own whiteboard. Prior to class, everyone has carefully read the assigned text and marked it up with social annotation software developed at MIT. After individuals bring homework solutions to class, each group strives for up to 90 minutes to create a superior, collective response. Almost as much time is then spent analyzing differences between the best solution and one’s initial effort: distinguishing conceptual from procedural errors, rating overall understanding, listing areas that need review, and assessing other group members. Grades reflect working really hard and being honest about effort, rather than punishing mistakes.
No one is checking Facebook, and the room is buzzing with energy. When groups hit a roadblock, they appreciate quick and direct access to an instructional aide (an undergraduate who recently took the course), a graduate student instructor, or the professor.
This course, MSE 220, Introduction to Materials and Manufacturing, is open for any U-M faculty to visit, just as Yalisove was able to learn about these pedagogies through multiple visits to the Harvard physics classroom of Eric Mazur, the founder of Peer Instruction.
Mark Moldwin (Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences)
Identifying students’ most common misconceptions is a strategy for focusing interventions that can yield tremendous payoffs in student learning. Dorm-room labs offer a method for moving difficult concepts off the “wrong answer” list. They are particularly valuable in large, introductory science and engineering courses whereby non-majors can fulfill a breadth requirement, yet lack access to fully equipped lab classrooms.
Dorm-room labs consist of short activities followed by a few questions and a highly structured lab report. They cover abstract concepts that are less familiar to students. For example, inexpensive UV Color-Changing Beads enable students to conduct experiments in almost any setting, including their dorm rooms. As they have fun determining which materials block ultraviolet light most effectively, students are practicing valuable skills, such as plotting data.
Anne McNeil (Chemistry and Macromolecular Science and Engineering)
Editing Wikipedia allows students to transmit the knowledge they are gaining to real-world audiences beyond U-M. However, crafting assignments that promote effective student learning and meaningful collaboration, while also respecting Wikipedia’s rules and style conventions, can present a daunting challenge.
Fortunately, instructors no longer have to “go it alone” or “reinvent the wheel,” thanks to the pioneering efforts of Prof. McNeil and her GSIs, who began creating Wikipedia class projects in two graduate level-courses (CHEM 538 and 540) in 2008. After further course iterations, their body of experience was parlayed into national and local structures that facilitate other instructors’ effective use of this teaching strategy.
At the national level, the Wikipedia Education Program is home to a vigorous online community eager to help instructors incorporate Wikipedia assignments into their teaching. The website also serves as a storehouse of instructional videos and sample syllabi, including materials from McNeil.
Sherif El_Tawil (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Traditional methods of teaching structural engineering are static, making it difficult for students to visualize and appreciate how complex spatial arrangements change when subjected to varying circumstances. When 3-D objects are depicted in 2-D spaces like screens, boards, or lecture notes, students have no opportunity to reconfigure the models at will. Even when working with 3-D physical structures in a controlled, laboratory environment, it can be difficult, costly, and dangerous to demonstrate limit states, especially those associated with compression members and connections.
By contrast, digitized models in a virtual reality (VR) environment lend themselves to an immersive, interactive experience. Students climb or fly around a model, discovering the size and extent of important features. Instead of seeing just a few 2-D sketches of flexural or torsional buckling, students can quickly “dance” with several different columns undergoing various buckling modes. By discussing with an instructor what they are observing, students identify key aspects that affect the design of column members.
Davoren Chick (Internal Medicine and Medical Education)
Although national accreditation standards expect clinicians to be aware of socioeconomic barriers that impact patient care, no national curriculum existed. A local needs assessment revealed that exposing U-M residents to an informal curriculum through training in underserved clinical settings resulted in no significantly improved knowledge of content essential to the care of the homeless and uninsured.