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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005




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Initiative to increase team teaching, multiple perspectives

The University will invest $2.5 million to stimulate team teaching and develop multidisciplinary courses and degree programs, President Mary Sue Coleman announced Sept. 26 in her annual address to the Senate Assembly (see U-M to invest $2.5M in team teaching, ethics curriculum>).

The new initiative is being launched in response to recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching, appointed by Coleman last year.

"We see great benefit in affording our undergraduate students more opportunities for multidisciplinary study," Coleman said. "This investment will give our faculty the resources they need to launch new courses, and encourage them to bring to the classroom the same valuable multidisciplinary perspective that we see in our best research."

The Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs will commit the $2.5 million over five years to develop three multidisciplinary degree programs and three large-scale interdisciplinary courses with a focus on innovations that can be sustained beyond their start-up funding. In response to a task force recommendation, the Provost's Office will begin work immediately identifying members for a steering committee and putting in place a mechanism to develop and fund proposals from faculty groups, with a goal of launching first projects in fall 2006 or winter 2007. The steering committee will play an active role in developing proposals, determining funding and evaluating outcomes.

"This initiative plays to our strengths as a University, our very broad expertise, our prestigious graduate and professional schools that intersect with areas of intense undergraduate interest, and our capacity to align advanced undergraduates, graduate students, post docs and faculty in innovative approaches to intergenerational instruction," says task force chair Philip Hanlon, associate provost for academic and budgetary affairs and the Donald J. Lewis Collegiate Professor of Mathematics in LSA. The task force report also recommends these actions:

• Create a central source, including a resource person and a Web site, for information and advice to faculty on a range of issues related to team teaching, including a variety of instructional models, different methods of evaluation and potential resources to support new initiatives;

• Enhance the support model offered by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) to broaden involvement in the program across disciplines;

• Convene a working group to recommend budgetary steps to provide incentives or reduce barriers to team teaching. This group should consider budget models for undergraduate programs shared between the schools and colleges, financial incentives to encourage participation in team teaching, and standards of compensation for a unit when a faculty member teaches for another unit.

"I'm very excited about the prospects that this report opens up," says Rebecca Blank, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a member of the task force. "We have a wonderful tradition of cross-disciplinary research and collaboration, and this report will help bring that tradition into the classroom. I'm especially pleased to see an emphasis on helping professional schools engage in undergraduate education. I hope that the Ford School will find many ways to be part of this initiative."

Connie Cook, CRLT director, notes, "Team-taught interdisciplinary courses usually deal with the big issues of our time—from the environment to the elderly, from poverty to peace—issues that do not divide themselves neatly into single disciplines. As task force members, we became convinced that U-M's undergraduate education would be enhanced by offering more courses of this nature."

The task force reported that there were 14,800 organized course sections mounted across the University in 2003, of which 442 sections, or about 3 percent, were team taught (fairly evenly divided between undergraduate and graduate level). Of those, about 32 percent featured faculty from different departments and programs.

Successful multidisciplinary degree programs include Women's Studies, American Culture, Industrial Design, and Urban and Regional Planning, which reside within a particular school or college, and Global Change, which ranges across schools.

"The report offers important insights about how to remove barriers and stimulate growth and innovation in multidisciplinary instruction," says Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and a task force member. "Michigan is already a national leader in collaborative and interdisciplinary research. The recommendations in our report have the potential to make us a national leader in collaborative and interdisciplinary instruction as well."

Other members of the task force are Sherman Clark, professor of law, Law School; Jared Feeney, student, LSA; June Howard, associate dean, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and professor of English, American culture and women's studies, LSA; J. Wayne Jones, professor of materials science and engineering, College of Engineering; John King, dean and professor, School of Information; Andrew Kirshner, School of Music/Art & Design; Martin Philbert, professor of toxicology and senior associate dean for research, School of Public Health; Thomas Perorazio, graduate student research assistant, School of Education; and William L. Smith, Minor J. Coon Collegiate Professor of Biological Chemistry, Medical School.

The full report is available at

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