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Updated 11:00 AM May 17, 2005
 

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  Opening Up Public Spaces for Teaching
Public Goods works to bring resources to students

The University's museums, libraries, live performance venues and other public resources can help faculty members help their students. And faculty who get creative about using these resources really can find them useful in getting their concepts across.
Kristin Hass, right, associate professor of American culture, and Ruth Slavin, Museum of Art curator, address University faculty and staff and take questions at the museum May 5 on the subject of Collaborating in Collections. It was the opening session of the first-ever Public Goods Council Faculty Institute, "Opening Up Public Spaces for Teaching." (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

That was the message from the U-M Public Goods Council (PGC), which last week presented its first-ever faculty institute, "Opening Up Public Spaces for Teaching," May 5-6. "Our goal is to bring these resources into the classroom or bring students out of the classroom to these libraries and museums," said Lisa Herbert, council member and director of Arts at Michigan. "These public goods can have a real impact on teaching and learning."

The two-day event included a workshop on exposing students to music performance, a tour of the Nichols Arboretum and a presentation on outdoor resources there and at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, panel discussions, and informal talks with program presenters.

When it comes to using public resources to help teach, "There's almost nothing you can't do," said Laurie Talalay, associate director and curator at the Kelsey Museum of Archeology. She recalled a writing instructor who used a 1920s setting at the Kelsey to inspire an exercise in which students were asked to write dialogue for two Great Gatsby-era characters.

Her comments came during a question-and-answer session on the opening morning of the faculty institute at the U-M Museum of Art (UMMA). Around 30 faculty members posed questions and comments on getting their classes into public facilities such as museums.

The questions followed opening remarks by Janet Weiss, associate provost for academic affairs, and a presentation on Collaborating in Collections by Kristin Hass, associate professor of American culture, and Ruth Slavin, UMMA curator.

"We have on this campus this incredible set of cultural resources," Weiss told invited faculty and facilities managers. "We can help faculty make use of the various collections we have for a variety of educational purposes. The goal is deepening your students' engagement with all the resources we have available."

Backing the idea that faculty can get creative in their use of public spaces to teach, Hass said she has sent students to a museum gallery to observe how the social production of knowledge is conveyed in the physical presentation of museum displays.

Slavin recalled an introduction to sociology class assigned to visit the museum to observe how people were portrayed in art works, and to evaluate body language and gestures.

Michele Hannoosh, a professor of romance languages and literature, asked Hass about the relative merits of sending students on their own or in a group. "Sometimes in a group dynamic their attention is more on each other," Hass said, adding she breaks students up into small groups for museum visits.

Elaine Gazda, history of art professor with the Kelsey Museum, said, "I have often approached individual objects as if they were a window to a culture. It's remarkable what a range of issues you can raise."

The PGC was founded seven years ago. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and PGC steering committee helped plan the event.

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