Great Teaching at University of Michigan

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

Professor Benjamin PaloffBenjamin Paloff, LSA-Slavic Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature, teaches a comparative literature course where students learn to identify structural components of poetry, such as rhythm and rhyme, that influence the reader's interpretation of the poem's meaning. Students often struggle to extract these elements, so Paloff makes the concepts more concrete using highly visual examples and practice. Using SiteMaker, a customized webpage and database creation tool, students collaboratively edit webpages to build a library of annotations of poems.  Paloff provides tailored feedback on students' annotations to facilitate revisions.  Students can select any poem and view its annotations for a number of literary elements. Consequently, the library created by students serves as the basis for class discussions of the literary elements and interpretations of the course material.  Read more »


When Thurnau Professor of Art Sadashi Inuzuka visited a colleague’s performance studies class to give a guest lecture, he began by handing each student a chunk of clay to work while he talked. The gift of clay invited students to engage their bodies in the process of thinking about land and their physical connection to it—an invitation they delightedly accepted as they kneaded the lumps into small forms that Inuzuka later fired and returned to them. Inuzuka is internationally renowned as an artist whose sculptures powerfully explore the relationships between humans and the natural world. But he is equally renowned among U-M colleagues and students as a remarkable teacher who can guide students, through such simple acts as handing them clay, to deeply embodied insights about the transformative social power of art.

The sheer breadth of Inuzuka’s teaching speaks to his flexibility as a teacher. But whether through his innovative drawing workshops for first-year medical students (designed to develop skills of observation as well as a comfort with loss of control), or his interdisciplinary course on environmental concerns in the Great Lakes region, Professor Inuzuka’s teaching consistently reflects two core pedagogical principles: 

  • The artistic process creates community and provides tools for social engagement.
  • Learning happens best when students are given the space to find their own methods, forms, and answers.
Inuzuka’s enactment of these ideas is perhaps best illustrated by the innovative ways he has connected the School of Art & Design to Southeast Michigan’s low-vision community. Through his “Many Ways of Seeing” courses and workshops, created in partnership with the Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Detroit Public Schools, and community groups, Professor Inuzuka has given students what many describe as a life-altering experience of collaboration with blind and visually-impaired children and adults.

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.  

And 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 »


Professor James MorrowFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

James Morrow,  Political Science, teaches a large introductory lecture course that employs a team of GSIs who lead weekly discussion sessions of 20-30 students on assigned readings and lecture content. Training GSIs and coordinating teaching across sections can be challenging in large courses. Likewise, maintaining and sharing institutional memory of successful and unsuccessful teaching practices is difficult, especially given rapid turnover of GSIs across terms.

Consequently, Morrow used the wiki within CTools to collect and archive effective instructional materials and lesson plans for GSI discussion sections. Weekly course meetings with GSIs can include group reflections on instructional practices and updates of wiki content. GSIs in physics have used a similar approach to document and share common student problems and effective teaching practices within and across terms in gateway lab courses. 


Professor Joe BullFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Joe Bull, Biomedical Engineering, teaches an “oldschool, chalk and blackboard” lecture course, introducing biomechanics to 95 sophomores. The course emphasizes quantitative problem-solving techniques to help students learn to think like biomedical engineers. Many students use office hours as a critical support mechanism. During a term with demanding travel obligations, Bull did not want to decrease his accessibility to students or the quality of student-instructor interactions. Thus, on several occasions, he used Google+ Hangouts to hold virtual office hours from another continent.

First, Bull added his students to a Google+ “circle,” a private group within this social networking application. Circle members can share documents and create and join hangouts of up to ten participants. A Hangout enables video and audio web conferencing, as well as text-based chat, and it also allows participants to share screens and files. Consequently, Bull could create a Hangout and hold office hours at the usual times with any students who wished to join online. Read more »