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Updated 4:00 PM January 24, 2007




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  Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching initiative
Projects selected, RFP announced

The first four projects to be funded under the President's Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching (MLTT) initiative have been announced just as members of the initiative steering committee prepare to receive another round of proposals.

"The inaugural projects chosen by the MLTT Steering Committee truly exemplify the intent of President Mary Sue Coleman when she announced her commitment to team teaching through the development of multidisciplinary courses and degree programs," says Associate Provost Philip Hanlon. "We received a number of interesting proposals, but the four chosen stood out as projects that served a large number of students across disciplinary boundaries."

The projects include:

• Public Policy 201: Systematic Thinking About The Problems of the Day— Systematic thinking can make a difference in the way we encode and try to solve current problems. Formal modeling can be very helpful in the real world. This course teaches students that many difficult problems facing society can be made somewhat tractable through the use of relevant expertise and analytical methods. It covers five current policy issues, each presented by a member of the faculty with relevant expertise, who come from four different schools and colleges. Former Provost Paul Courant, the Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; professor of economics, LSA; professor of information, School of Information; and University Librarian is the primary faculty member.

• Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Course on Contemporary Social Issues in Southeast Asia—Southeast Asia is at the forefront and center of a host of global social, political, environmental and public health problems and issues. U-M has one of the leading Southeast Asian Studies programs in the United States. The course aims to leverage University resources that are heavily concentrated on graduate education, for the benefit of undergraduates. The course will introduce undergraduates to the relevance of Southeast Asia to global social, health and environmental issues, and encourage them to enroll in Southeast Asia language offerings, and the Southeast Asia area concentration and minor offered by the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. The primary faculty member is Linda Lim, professor of corporate strategy and international business, Stephen M. Ross School of Business; and director of academic programs, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, LSA.

• Applied Complex Systems: Emergent Challenges—Many of the biggest challenges facing the modern world: global warming and sustainability, epidemics, terrorism, and the impacts of technology and globalization can be formally characterized as complex—the products of diverse agents and/or entities that interact in spatial temporal frameworks, in which positive and negative feedback produces emergent structures and path-dependent outcomes. Understanding these topics requires a multidisciplinary approach and nonlinear thinking. In this course, students learn the fundamental properties of complex adaptive systems and apply that knowledge to the most pressing challenges of the age. Meeting these challenges requires thinking in terms of systems with adaptive, interacting agents, or what commonly are called complex adaptive systems. Scott Page, professor of political science; professor of economics, LSA; and research professor, Center for Political Studies, Institute for Social Research; is the lead faculty member.

• Interdisciplinary Practicum Concentration Initiative—The real world offers tremendous challenges and numerous opportunities for students when they leave the University. Many of these challenges are intrinsically multidisciplinary and require work across the boundaries of traditional educational programs. The College of Engineering is initiating new efforts to find ways to expand and improve experience-based opportunities for students to help prepare them for this multidisciplinary world. The Interdisciplinary Practicum Concentration Initiative is an important part of this effort and will focus on essential core requirements deemed to be common aspects of "real-world" problems. Brian Gilchrist, professor and interim chair of electrical engineering and computer science and professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences; is the lead faculty member.

Coleman announced in 2005 her plan to invest $2.5 million in team teaching and the development of multidisciplinary courses and degree programs. Her commitment came in response to a report from the Presidential Task Force on Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching that had been appointed a year earlier as one of four presidential initiatives for the University.

Saying many of society's problems—including issues involving the environment, the elderly and poverty—do not fit neatly into specific disciplines, the presidential task force called on University faculty and staff to think creatively about how to cross disciplines in teaching.

"The concept of multidisciplinary learning really seems to resonate on campus," says Ben van der Pluijm, steering committee chair, who is director of the Global Change Program and a professor of geology and of environment. "There's a lot of energy there—not the same old approach to education, so people seem to step up to the plate," he says, adding that the committee is looking forward to the next round of proposals due March 1.

Looking toward the future, the committee plans to focus on professional schools and their role in undergraduate education during the 2007-08 academic year, van der Pluijm says. While the group will entertain all proposals, it particularly is looking for plans that will focus on how to better prepare undergraduates for graduate programs, which are what the majority of professional schools on campus offer.

To encourage more involvement from those schools, van der Pluijm says the Provost's Office is holding a retreat later in the spring for deans and associate deans to focus on the role of professional schools in multidisciplinary learning.

For a more complete description of the funded projects, or additional information on the MLTT initiative or the RFP due March 1, go to

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