Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, April 29, 2013

Five honored for teaching innovations

Five U-M faculty projects that demonstrate fresh approaches to advance student learning will be recognized May 6, as winners of the fifth annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP).

The award is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), and the U-M Library.

“The five creative projects developed by faculty demonstrate effective ways to inspire students and engage them in learning,” Provost Phil Hanlon says. “The collection of innovative teaching projects that faculty are pursuing across the university is impressive.”



Read more about Enriching Scholarship 2013.

The U-M community is invited to a 9 a.m. poster fair and breakfast buffet in the Michigan League before the TIP awards are presented at 10 a.m. in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the opening day of Enriching Scholarship 2013. In addition to TIP posters, the fair will feature projects by teams who received CRLT Investigating Student Learning grants.

A faculty committee selected the winning TIP projects from 67 nominated by students, staff and faculty peers. The winners will receive $5,000.

The winning projects, with descriptions drawn from material provided by CRLT, are:

• Feeling Is Believing: Haptic Feedback Links Math and Intuition — Brent Gillespie, associate professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering.

  Brent Gillespie

Students may be capable of manipulating mathematical models of physical systems in the abstract, yet lack intuitive understanding of how changes in system variables will manifest physically. The Cigar Box is a tool that makes the same behavior that is being described mathematically accessible to students’ haptic senses of touch and motion.

The tool turns code into virtual environments that can be touched and manipulated, much like the real world objects to which they refer. Best of all, model parameters can be changed on the fly as students interactively explore dynamic systems. This teaching innovation addresses challenges that may be found in any discipline.

The instructor identified a gap in the experiences of current student cohorts, who tend to be far more familiar with clicking a computer mouse than tinkering directly with mechanical objects. The Cigar Box provides an alternative and more flexible means of acquiring mechanical experience and intuition.

“My group designed a program that lets (Cigar Box) users feel the force feedback of a ball bouncing between a ceiling and a floor,” one student wrote.

• Gamifying a Large, Introductory Course and Fostering Student Autonomy — Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of political science and philosophy, LSA.

  Mika LaVaque-Manty

“Gamification” is the application of structures, rules and logics encountered in games to non-game contexts. Conventional reward systems mark students down. This discourages them from a crucial part of learning: failing and trying again. However, when students focus on earning points, they are motivated to do more work and to take on new challenges.

The most important game element in a course is having multiple paths to achievement. Autonomy and problem solving are fostered when students must think about how to navigate the challenges posed by a menu of creative options for major assignments.

Reflecting on their interests and strengths develops students’ metacognitive skills, and they become self-regulated learners. Choice and creativity also rev up students’ willingness to thoughtfully and enthusiastically engage with complex texts by authors who died centuries ago.

One student wrote that students were encouraged “to create unconventional projects about the texts … (students) were presenting card games and comic strips to explain political theory.”

• SecondLook (or if Socrates taught with an iPad): Helping Students Evaluate Their Learning — Michael Hortsch, associate professor of cell and developmental biology, Medical School.

  Michael Hortsch

This is a study aid that lets learners self-test their ability to recognize visual structures and interpret their significance. Originally developed for PowerPoint and disseminated via a Medical School website, the resource became available through the iTunes Store in November 2012. During the first three months it was downloaded 1,438 times across 74 different countries.

This innovation is particularly relevant to any discipline that introduces students to large amounts of visual material. Several features of the SecondLook iPad app make the resource an especially useful guide for navigating these landscapes.

The instructor organizes new visual information and makes it more manageable by restricting the slide deck for each system to 12-30 images. Arrows and other markings direct learners’ attention to key features. This approach tends to result in better retention.

“Helps students to understand the importance of active studying and self-testing to make broader connections and to recognize patterns within the material — a skill which carries over into all disciplines,” one student wrote.

• The Drum Diaries: Inspiring and Integrating Exploration and Practice — Michael Gould, associate professor of jazz and contemporary improvisation, School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Residential College, LSA.

  Michael Gould

The project provides access to vast collections of audio and visual music recordings through one technological device. Digital tablets now offer opportunities to surpass the predominant format typically available to new players of instruments — the method book plus CD.

With the Drum Diaries iBook loaded on an iPad propped on a music stand, a student can quickly switch from reading, seeing or hearing to playing along or improvising. Music methodology, technique, styles and history all can be integrated with examples, practice tips and hyperlinks.

Gould’s work heading percussion clinics and master classes, as well as online drum lessons inform the instruction. Skype clinics with external students who have been immersed in the Drum Diaries have shown that these students master material much more rapidly and ask more penetrating questions about specific techniques or styles than students who have worked only with printed method books.

“The curriculum of Drum Diaries provides a new and different challenge each day, with the goal of kick-starting one’s own creative process,” one student wrote.

• The Stick Project: To Transform and be Transformed — Antonio (Tony) Alvarez, lecturer I, School of Social Work.

  Antonio Alvarez

In social work, it is challenging to convey to students the process of personal transformation for clients seeking change in one or more aspects of their lives, and to address the responsibility inherent in guiding another. Not only must practitioners be able to build effective relationships with clients, but they must also practice effective self care to protect against burnout.

Part of an experiential-based syllabus, the Stick Project assignment invites students to observe, write about, and physically transform ordinary sticks. The experience teaches clinical humility and empathy with a client’s purpose for engagement. Future practitioners develop flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity.

“Why would I want to spend hours and days carrying a stick around in awkward situations and wracking my brain to find some unique way to make it my own?” asked one student. “Because being a good social worker requires self-reflection, creativity, innovation, and knowing how to handle awkward moments.”