Friday, September 13, kicked off another year of the Student Learning and Analytics at Michigan (SLAM) speaker series with a presentation by Tim McKay, chair of the University's Learning Analytics Task Force and Thurnau Professor of Physics. McKay spoke about the accomplishments of the Task Force from the previous year, presented data from recent Learning Analytics research, and discussed plans for the next year. 
For those new to the topic, McKay explained that Learning Analytics (LA) -- or the collection, analysis, and use of large bodies of student data to improve learning -- can assist instructors in achieving a wide range of teaching goals. Data can be used to drive changes to how we interact with students, teach material, and evaluate learning, ultimately improving student outcomes in the classroom. The U-M Learning Analytics Task Force works to facilitate and support LA projects within the University community.
Last year, the Task Force funded a variety of LA projects at University of Michigan. One of these projects involved using data and technology to personalize the guidance given to undergraduate students in large lecture classes using the software system E2Coach. For more information on E2Coach and the Thurnau professors who created it, click here. Other projects involved creating systems to customize course advising, with the goal of improving success throughout students' university careers.
If you are interested in learning more about learning analytics, sign up for the rest of the SLAM talks, or watch them online after they are posted. Videos of last year's series are already available here. If you would like to pursue a LA project related to your teaching, the Task Force will be sponsoring a Learning Analytics Fellows program during the Winter term. Applications for this program will be available soon and due by November 15. The last round of Exploring Learning Analytics grants also are due on November 15, and the call for proposals can be found here.

CRLT staff provide hundreds of Midterm Student Feedback sessions for U-M instructors every year. You can learn more about the process or request a consulation on this page. In this guest blog, LSA Associate Dean Phil Deloria discusses the value of these sessions even for very experienced teachers.

If you're teaching this term, I encourage you to contact CRLT soon to schedule a Midterm Student Feedback session for your course. I want to emphasize that these consultations are:

  • Wholly confidential, between yourself and the CRLT staff member only, with no communication to your department. They are meant only to inform your own teaching.  
  • Formative, not summative. They offer you an opportunity to improve upon a course while it is still underway.
  • Appreciated by students. Often, students experience the midterm evaluations as a sign that you are committed to hearing them and to thinking self-critically about your teaching (in the same way that we often ask our students to be self-critical about their experience with the material we are teaching them!).
  • Conducted efficiently and effectively. Having a midterm feedback session does not require giving up a significant amount of classroom time.
  • Consistently, year after year, the feature of the LSA Teaching Academy that receives the highest marks from new faculty for its usefulness in improving teaching.  

It's not always easy to let someone else into your classroom, but the rewards are substantial. I have been teaching since 1994, and I think I do a pretty good job. But I have never failed to learn from a midterm evaluation. Indeed, many of our most distinguished teachers have already scheduled their feedback sessions for this fall. I urge you to do the same.

Philip J. Deloria
LSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of History and American Culture 


Answering the same student questions over and over... An inbox full of student emails... Too little peer-to-peer interaction in your classroom... If these challenges sound familiar to you, you may want to check out the online discussion platform, Piazza.

A recent CRLT study of University of Michigan students and faculty (from Winter 2013) found that Piazza is a great tool for answering student questions, reducing email volume, facilitating student interaction between classes, and increasing the number of students participating in class discussion.
Available through CTools, Piazza can help you promote student engagement outside the classroom while keeping the workload manageable. Instead of emailing you with questions after class, students can post questions to Piazza, and other students or GSIs can answer them. As the instructor, you can also answer questions, endorse select student answers, provide feedback, edit student responses, and view reports of student participation. One key strength of Piazza is the ease of organizing questions: you can create tags or folders for each lecture of assignment, so students can easily find out if the question they have has already been answered. 
If you are a faculty member who is interested in learning more about Piazza or would like to try it out in your class, join the CRLT on September 23rd at 8:30am for Emerging Tech: Piazza, a workshop where you will get a hands-on guided tour of Piazza and learn about potential uses for it in your classroom. If you are a GSI and would like to learn more about Piazza, CRLT will be hosting Next Steps with IT on October 4th at 9am. This workshop will cover the use of multiple classroom tech tools including Piazza and M+Box.

CRLT is currently accepting applications for the Lecturers' Professional Development Fund (LPDF), a grant specifically for U-M's Lecturers.  If you are a Lecturer on the Ann Arbor campus with a continuing appointment, you are eligible to apply for a grant of up to $2000 to fund professional development opportunities related to your teaching or scholarship.  For example, the funds could be used to support:

  • attendance at a professional meeting
  • purchase of computer hardware or software
  • travel expenses associated with accessing resources at other institutions
  • editorial, graduate student, or work-study assistance.  

Applications for the grant are due on September 24th at 4pm.  Details about how to apply can be found on our LPDF application page. Prospective applicants can also view the reports from previous LPDF recipients to get a sense of the range of projects that have been funded in the past.  

Every year, CRLT provides over $300,000 to U-M's instructors to support improvements to teaching and curriculum.  For more information about the range of grants available from CRLT, click hereRead more »


With the beginning of the semester just around the corner, many instructors are strategizing about how best to start productive classroom conversations. Students who speak even briefly at the beginning of a class meeting are more likely to participate in discussions going forward, and a well-chosen icebreaker can help everyone join in. As quick, low-stakes, and often fun activities that involve students at the beginning of a session, icebreakers can be a good way to learn about who's in the classroom, reduce anxiety, and engage all students in thinking together about course content.  

CRLT provides examples of icebreakers and guidance for using them in the Handbook on Departmental GSI Development. We also recently polled our Graduate Teaching Consultants (GTCs) to gather a list of their favorites. Here are some good ideas we received when we asked the GTCs to "tweet" us a particularly effective icebreaker they have used, seen, or heard about: Read more »