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Updated 11:00 AM November 1, 2004




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  Provost's Seminar on Teaching
U strives to bring disciplines together in the classroom

What do architecture, literature and Berlin have in common?

In a team-taught, interdisciplinary course—taught by Art and Architecture lecturer Mick Kennedy and his wife, LSA lecturer Karein Goertz—the three topics come together as a study of Berlin from both literary and architectural aspects.

Kennedy and Goertz jointly brought together residential college and architecture students for "Berlin: An Architectural, Literary and Cultural Exploration," a course that looked at "the encounter between physical space and the creative mind that maps out its particular features," examining the interplay and tension between the city as a physical fact and symbol.

"You can learn a lot about people from looking at how they live," Kennedy said. "The architecture students were excited to read the novels and books to learn how the people felt, but the literature students appreciated the focus on how that influenced design."

U-M is considered a national leader of interdisciplinary teaching and collaboration, and University faculty and administrators are working to take that leading role to an even higher level.

To that end, more than 100 faculty members gathered Oct. 22 for the Provost's Seminar on Teaching. More than 75 percent of those in attendance said trading ideas on collaborative teaching for just 90 minutes gave them thoughts about potential new courses they would enjoy teaching.

"It's always great to bring together faculty and brainstorm together," Coleman said when answering questions from the group. "We understand that there are challenges here and that they're structural. This is important and ultimately very profitable for our students."

Provost Paul N. Courant opened the seminar—which was organized by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT)—by noting that people too often erroneously believe research universities don't care about students, even though "teaching students is our core business."

"The world is all multidisciplinary and we must prepare students," Courant said. "The challenges they will face will not come from single disciplines."

He noted that an increasing number of issues need a multidisciplinary approach, adding, "It doesn't work unless the disciplines are rock solid."

Some of the featured multidisciplinary classes included courses on global change that combined undergraduate natural science and social science, as well as a course exploring architecture, gender and race, and how each impacts the other when viewed through the lens of architecture, the American culture program, and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.

"The economics of environmental protection is one huge example," Courant said. "This University does that better than any other university that I know about."

CRLT Director Constance Cook suggested the one-day program could be expanded later into multi-day programs that could further explore ideas for more collaborative classes.

Philip Hanlon, associate provost for academic and budgetary affairs who was appointed by Coleman to chair the Presidential Task Force on Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching, answered questions at the seminar with Coleman and Courant. Hanlon said people love that U-M is decentralized, but one of the consequences is that different credit requirements sometimes make it harder for units to collaborate, one of the details the task force will work to address.

Various faculty members outlined a host of other details that need ironing out to make it easier for various units to collaborate, including different course and credit requirements, demands between various colleges, and a financial disincentive to invite students from other units into programs.

Hanlon said he hopes the task force will have concrete recommendations by late spring.

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