Great Teaching at University of Michigan

Steven Skerlos, Thurnau Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has become so well known among his colleagues as a deeply engaged and innovative teacher that his name has become for many of them a synonym for pedagogical success. His department has developed their own playful terminology: a “Skerlosian Effort” indicates a high score on the “Skerlosian Scale” of teaching effectiveness.

This video highlights Professor Skerlos discussing teams in a Sustainable Design course.  Hi explains using student teams and engaging each student in designing a sustainable system.  In teams, students bring complementary skills and multiple viewpoints into the design process.   Assigning students to teams and managing teams are also discussed in the video.


Engaged learning is a key focus of University of Michigan's teaching efforts, given the power of active, immersive approaches for promoting student learning. Service-learning, fieldwork, and other forms of what is often called 'experiential learning' allow students to make discoveries about course content, connect realms of knowledge and experience, and think critically about their own actions. 
Given the practical and logistical challenges often involved in setting up such experiential learning opportunities, how can instructors maximize the student learning that results? Several questions can be useful to consider carefully while planning such a student experience: What kinds of preparation will help students reap the greatest learning rewards of such activities? How can an instructor best connect an immersive activity to the learning goals of the course? How can the teacher effectively prompt students to reflect on their experience to promote learning?

Professor Michelle Aebersold

At the U-M School of Nursing, Clinical Assistant Professor Michelle Aebersold has led the way with integrating a powerful form of experiential learning—care for simulated patients—into the undergraduate curriculum, paying careful attention to all of those questions. In this video, Aebersold explains how she structured the simulations to enable nursing students at the Clinical Learning Center to practice key skills and apply their knowledge in a realistic but controlled environment. In these exercises, a few students interact with a state-of-the-art, high-fidelity mannequin or live simulated patient while instructors behind a two-way mirror control the patient responses (breathing and heart rate, for example). Classmates observe the activities through live closed-circuit video. 
Discussing the key components that make these simulations powerful learning activities, Aebersold highlights three elements that research supports as good practice for any kind of experiential learning:

Can technology help student teams improve their group process—and ultimately their learning? CRLT's recent Occasional Paper on "Teaching in the Cloud" explains some ways it can. In particular, the paper highlights how Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs) can enhance students' ability to collaborate effectively. OCTs can facilitate group members' access to one another and the team's efficiency by reducing spatial and temporal barriers. OCTs can also provide novel, efficient, and effective means for instructors to monitor and provide feedback on group projects.  

The paper features two U-M faculty members who successfully utilize OCTs to improve student teamwork as well as instructor management of group projects. 

  • Robin FowlerRobin Fowler of Technical Communication and Engineering: Fowler has improved student teamwork in Introduction to Engineering by shifting from face-to-face team meetings to synchronous, text-based online discussions. Her students share and assess design plans using Google Docs, a system that has increased student engagement and participation in group decision-making.  To learn more, watch a short video of Fowler discussing this teaching strategy and some of its outcomes.
  • Melissa GrossMelissa Gross of Kinesiology: Gross's studio course uses 3D animation and motion capture technologies to study the biomechanics of human movement. Students' group presentations include such animations to illustrate their research findings, and these require sharing and collaborating on many large video files. Gross uses, a cloud-based storage and sharing service, to solve storage and capacity challenges and facilitate student management and coordination of their teamwork.  To learn more, watch a short video of Gross discussing this teaching strategy.

For additional resources about using student teams effectively in a range of course settings, see this section of our website and this recent CRLT Occasional Paper



students working at a computerThere's no question that students' writing improves most when they have frequent opportunities for practice and feedback. But instructors sometimes struggle to find ways to provide those opportunities, especially in large courses. One method that many U-M instructors use to good effect is structured peer review. These three faculty members--featured in CRLT's recent Occasional Paper about Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs)--have made creative use of OCTs to facilitate collaborative writing as well as timely, frequent, low-stakes peer feedback: Read more »


CRLT recently published an Occasional Paper by Assistant Director Chad Hershock and U-M Associate Professor of Political Science Mika LaVaque-Manty detailing a range of innovative ways U-M faculty are teaching with Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs). In the coming weeks, we will highlight sections of this paper on our blog, starting this week with ideas from two Thurnau Professors about ways to promote student engagement and participation in large courses. Follow this link to the full paper, including recommendations for implementing OCTs effectively and efficiently in teaching.

Although students can easily become passive learners in a traditional lecture setting, with the right approach lectures can be a very effective way to disseminate content efficiently to large numbers of students, to present cutting-edge material not available elsewhere, and to model expert thinking. Here are two examples of U-M instructors who have used OCTs in large courses to increase student interactions and engagement.  Read more »