CRLT Blog

As we end the fall term and look forward to winter, students and faculty are confronting significant turmoil around the world, as well as protests and passionate discussions within academia. Whether it’s the horrible incidents of violence in this country or elsewhere across the globe, or incidents of racial bias that have led to protests and heightened rhetorical exchanges on a number of campuses, distressing events far from home and close to it are likely to be on students’ minds.

photo of the Michigan Diag

At this point in the term, the disturbing events of recent weeks have the potential to make an already stressful time of the year even more difficult for many students. What can instructors do?

  • Acknowledge the incidents: Research conducted in the wake of national tragedies, such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, indicates that students find it helpful when their instructors simply acknowledge traumatic events, recognize that students might be experiencing distress, and show extra support, such as offering to grant extensions for students who request them. (Huston & DiPietro, 2007)
     
  • Refer students to campus resources: Offices include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS ), Depression Center, Psychological Clinic. CRLT’s blogpost on Supporting Students in Distress offers an overview of resources and advice on this topic, including this web page from the Mental Health Workgroup which offers resources for instructors who encounter students in need of mental health support.

When planning for courses next term, it is useful to keep in mind that the turmoil of recent weeks may still be on students’ minds—and therefore enter your classrooms, whether you anticipate it or not. Because these issues in so many ways relate to differences in social identity and power—and because so many of our students have personal or family connections to places experiencing crisis—events in the news may also influence ongoing conversations about the campus climate here in Ann Arbor.

Over many years, CRLT has developed guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise topics from the news in your classes in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, you can find strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics. Other resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them.

4 people in a group talkingFaculty frequently name critical thinking as one of the most important goals for student learning. However, a key challenge to cultivating critical thinking can be the development of complex assessments. This can be especially difficult in large classes, when many tests and quizzes are in a multiple-choice format.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Dental Education, a team of U-M faculty from the School of Dentistry (Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas and Margherita Fontana), School of Public Health (Olivia Anderson) and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (Mary Wright) investigated a new approach to mitigate these challenges. This student-centered approach to testing asks students to work in teams to design their own multiple-choice questions.

US flag in the DiagDuring U-M's Veterans Week, it's a good time to reflect on the needs of our students who have served in the military. Did you know that record numbers of veterans are enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities--and many of them are here on U-M's campuses? As a result of the university's new tuition policy which took effect in January 2014, allowing students who have served in the military to qualify for in-state tuition, our number of student veterans is expected to rise. If you teach at U-M, odds are good you've had or will have student veterans in your classroom.

How might your awareness of veterans in the classroom make a difference in your teaching? The research on student veterans suggests several strategies and cautions for teaching inclusively with veterans in mind. Here are a few:

6 people walking outside the Law Quad

In a recent Educause Review article, John Seely Brown and Richard Adler write that becoming a master in a field involves a process of both “learning about” a subject and “learning to be” a practitioner of that field. Typically, in the early years of a curriculum, students spend a lot of time mastering content, but the important work of “learning to be”–or practicing the methods of the discipline–is left until the end. When we save experiential elements such as internships or research until the final stages of a curriculum, we miss an important opportunity to engage students early with some of the most complex and compelling aspects of our discipline.

How might we flip curricula in order to create more front-loaded experiences that engage students in “learning to be” earlier in their course of study? The U-M Law School offers one example. In a traditional law school curriculum, first-year students’ schedules are largely filled with doctrinal courses, which inform students about case law precedents in fields like contracts and criminal law. Only in the second year at the earliest do students usually engage in simulations, applied exercises, and clinics, where they represent real clients and practice lawyering skills in an applied setting.

Last year the U-M Law School engaged in an experiment to reverse this sequence of learning experiences. They now engage second-term, first-year students (1Ls) in activities that allow them to start practicing and thinking like a lawyer earlier.  The Unemployment Insurance Clinic (UIC), directed by Steve Gray, provides an opportunity for 1Ls to work with real clients on administrative law cases. Second- and third-year students (2Ls and 3Ls) serve as mentors, to supplement Gray’s supervision of their work. Students work with clients, puzzle together through litigation strategy, and take the lead in administrative hearings.