Student Learning and Effective Teaching

Support for Teaching


Core Component 3b: The organization values and supports effective teaching.

In this section, we will provide information and examples of the ways in which the University supports and rewards teaching. A key aspect of teaching support is to provide opportunities for faculty members to explore new teaching approaches or to enhance their teaching in general —whether they are first-year assistant professors or senior faculty members. Some key examples of such support are described below.

University-wide Support

Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

crltThe Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), which has been mentioned in numerous places in earlier sections of this report, was founded in 1962 and was the first such teaching center in the country. Centrally supported, CRLT partners with University faculty members, graduate students, and administrators to promote a University culture that values and rewards teaching, respects and supports individual differences among learners, and encourages the creation of learning environments in which diverse students can learn and excel.

CRLT offers a full range of services for faculty members at all levels during their entire academic careers, for graduate student instructors, and for the academic units. The staff at CRLT offers a wide range of services to the University community, including orientations for new faculty members and graduate student instructors, fall and winter seminar series, teaching and learning grant programs for the faculty (some of which were described earlier), discipline-specific programs, presentations and workshops, interactive theatre presentations, research and evaluation services, and a variety of publications on teaching and learning. CRLT’s Annual Report describes the full range of their services in detail.

To provide a snapshot of its activity, in 2007-08 CRLT staff provided 15,964 services to University and external clients, including 3,787 unique individuals from the nineteen schools and colleges, and to central administration. During this time, CRLT distributed more than $300,000 in grant money to 96 University faculty members through eight grant competitions. A few of CRLT’s services are highlighted below.

Seminars for Faculty Members

CRLT’s seminars provide a forum for faculty members to explore topics in teaching with colleagues from across campus. Each term, CRLT offers seminars on a variety of topics. All seminars are interactive, solidly grounded in the research on teaching and learning, and designed to offer practical suggestions that faculty members can incorporate into their classrooms. In winter term 2009, seminar topics fell into three categories: Spotlight on Thurnau Professors (holders of the University’s most prestigious teaching honor, described in the section below on faculty awards), Best Practices, and Evaluation and Assessment.

Provost’s Seminars on Teaching

Begun in 1994, the Provost’s Seminars on Teaching, which the Office of the Provost offers in partnership with CRLT, provide an opportunity for academic administrators and individual faculty members across campus to engage in lively and substantive dialogue about a wide range of teaching and learning issues. The invitation list for each seminar includes faculty members at all ranks from all the schools and colleges, including faculty members who have special interest or expertise in the seminar topic. Many of the approximately 100 faculty members invited to each seminar are campus leaders in curricular and instructional innovation. The provost selects a topic for each seminar, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of faculty members and academic administrators to discuss an issue of particular importance to the campus. A history of seminar themes is available online.

CRLT Players Theatre Program

Through performances, workshops, seminars, and individual consultations, the CRLT Players Theatre Program provides educators and administrators with an original and dynamic approach to dialogue, promoting inclusivity, and effecting positive change inside and outside the classroom. This program develops and performs sketches that engage faculty members, graduate students, and staff in discussions of multicultural teaching and learning, and institutional climate. Sketches are based on research concerning the experiences of under represented students and faculty, such as women faculty members and students in science and engineering, students of color, and students with disabilities.

The CRLT Players perform regularly at campus-wide orientations and seminars, as well as discipline-specific workshops. In addition, the CRLT Players have become a national resource, performing at campuses and conferences around the country. In 2006, the Program won the 2006 TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Certificate of Excellence.

Public Goods Council

The thirteen members of the University’s Public Goods Council (PGC), which was created in 1998, includes academic units dedicated to the advancement of scholarship and culture that are not affiliated with a school or college. Collectively the members of the Public Goods Council encompass a rich body of public cultural resources, or “Goods,” including art, music, book and plant collections, historical archives, scholarly resources, performance programs, coursework, and experiential learning.

PGC members continually collaborate on ways to extend the University’s reach into the community through teaching, partnering, and resource sharing. At the same time, the council strives to engage members of the community through innovative programs that encourage public participation or attendance. By promoting partnerships with community residents and groups, the PGC helps faculty members to share their knowledge and resources with a broader spectrum of learners.

Through its Grants for Teaching, the PGC provides funds to encourage faculty members to make greater use of the council’s resources in teaching undergraduates. The PGC invites proposals for projects that draw on public culture and cultural institutions to engage undergraduates and help shape their education. Priority is given to proposals that aim to empower students to engage actively with primary historical resources and public culture, to integrate the project into course content, to identify ways to document the project, and to identify student learning.

School and College Support

The schools and colleges support faculty members in their teaching in numerous ways. Some of this support takes place informally through mentoring, by discussing teaching at faculty meetings, by taking advantage of the resources described above, and by nominating faculty members for teaching awards. Some of the larger schools and colleges have more formal structures in place to support faculty members in their teaching endeavors, three of which are illustrated below.

LSA Teaching Academy

The Teaching Academy of LSA helps junior faculty members make the transition to being faculty members who carry a broad spectrum of teaching responsibilities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty members who participate in the Teaching Academy benefit from working with an interdisciplinary group of peers while preparing for their first teaching assignments. The Teaching Academy includes several sessions held throughout the year.


The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching North (CRLT-North) is a partnership between the College of Engineering and the campus-wide CRLT office. Established in 2004, CRLT-North, which is located on the University’s North Campus, is staffed by experienced engineering educators who collaborate closely with College of Engineering faculty members and administrators. Engineering services provided by CRLT-North and the main CRLT office include those below.

  • College-wide programs to promote a culture of teaching and learning in engineering.
  • A comprehensive range of services (including orientation programs, classroom interventions, and consultations) for engineering faculty members and GSIs at all levels of their careers.
  • National leadership to enhance the visibility of the University in engineering education.
  • Research in engineering education to explore issues related to teaching and learning in engineering.

Department of Medical Education

The Department of Medical Education is the Medical School’s primary resource for expertise in educational research, faculty development, instructional design, and educational assessment and evaluation. This resource is available to support all segments of the Medical School’s education mission. Faculty members in this department have expertise in a wide range of areas and apply this expertise to educational issues for practicing physicians, medical school faculty, students and residents, allied health professionals, and patients.

The department’s scope of educational activities extends from the first day of Medical School through continuing education for experienced medical professionals. Department faculty members provide expertise in such areas as curriculum development and reform, educational goals and outcomes, instructional methods, innovative educational technologies, and outcomes assessment.

Teaching Awards

One of the ways the University of Michigan demonstrates that it places a high value on good teaching is through its teaching awards, which both central administration and the schools and colleges bestow on the faculty. There are many centralized teaching awards, but two of the most notable include the Thurnau Professorships and Golden Apple Award, described below.

Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship

The Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships, named after a student at the University of Michigan from 1902 to 1904, are supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust that was established through his will. With these prestigious professorships, the Office of the Provost recognizes and rewards faculty members for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Specifically, the program honors tenured faculty who, through their commitment to and investment in undergraduate teaching, have had a demonstrable impact on the intellectual development and lives of their students. Each year five or six tenured faculty members are designated as Thurnau Professors and hold this title for the remainder of their careers at the University. They also receive a one-time grant to support activities to enhance their teaching.

University Undergraduate Teaching Award

The University Undergraduate Teaching Award honors faculty members who have demonstrated outstanding ability in teaching undergraduate students in the early stages of their careers. Nominees must have an evident commitment to students, a record of innovation in teaching and learning, notable dedication to working effectively with the University’s diverse student population, and a consistently positive effect on students’ intellectual and artistic development. Any tenure track faculty member who has been in the professorial ranks for more than two years may be nominated. Each year up to two awards are given, each with a $1,000 stipend.

Golden Apple Award

In 1991 Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching (SHOUT), a self-named group of students, created the Golden Apple Award to honor “University teachers who consistently teach each lecture as if it were their last, and strive not only to disseminate knowledge but to inspire and engage students in its pursuit.” Each year, SHOUT invites University students to nominate the faculty members they believe to be most worthy of this award. When a winner has been identified, SHOUT representatives deliver the news to the winner while he or she is teaching. The recipient is invited to give his or her “Last Lecture,” which is open to the University community and consistently draws a large audience. The recipient also receives a modest grant to support activities that will enhance his or her teaching.

Teaching Innovation Prize

In 2009 the University’s Teaching Innovation Prize was established, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRLT), and the University Library. Program goals are to recognize faculty members who have developed innovative approaches to teaching that incorporate creative pedagogies, and to encourage the dissemination of best practices by sharing promising innovations with faculty more broadly. Details about the project are available on the Teaching Innovation Prize Winners website.

School and College Faculty Awards

In addition, many of schools and colleges administer their own teaching awards. Below are three examples.

  • Each year the College of Engineering bestows its Teaching Excellence Award on three professors who have shown sustained excellence in the instruction and guidance they provide to undergraduate and graduate students. To be eligible for nomination, faculty members must demonstrate excellence in supervising graduate students or in developing new courses, teaching labs, teaching techniques, or software packages for self-teaching. Award recipients receive modest grants to support activities to enhance their teaching.
  • Each year, the School of Public Health selects one faculty member to receive the Excellence in Teaching Award. Nominees must have shown notable achievement in teaching based on students’ and faculty members’ evaluations of the nominees, their courses, the content and appropriateness of their course syllabus, evidence of having taught a diversity of students, and evidence of having provided student support or mentoring.
  • Complementing the Excellence in Education awards LSA gives to individual faculty members, the College each year also awards $25,000 to a department that has demonstrated a special commitment to undergraduate education.

Support for Graduate Student Instructors

At the University of Michigan, Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) are important members of the University’s community of educators. Working in partnership with faculty, GSIs contribute to the teaching enterprise by providing instruction in a variety of ways. They facilitate discussions in small sections connected to large lecture courses, run laboratory sections, hold office hours for one-to-one teaching, and, in some cases, teach small introductory classes. Because of the crucial roles GSIs have as educators, the University provides several services to support and support them, a few of which are described below.

CRLT Programs and Services

The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) offers programs and services to support GSIs in all stages of their teaching careers at the University. These services, which range from helping GSIs to prepare for their first teaching experiences to helping them enter the job market, include orientations, guidebooks, workshops, seminars, conferences, individual consultations, student feedback, information about employment opportunities, and other publications. For more information, see GSI Training Resources on CRLT’s website.

Graduate Student Instructors

Guidebook Among several handbooks and guidebooks, CRLT publishes the GSI Guidebook. While not a comprehensive teacher-training manual, it offers information to guide GSIs along the path to becoming good teachers. The guidebook is available to GSIs, faculty, and departments free of charge.

Departmental Training for GSIs

Many departments provide information and skills to their GSIs that are tailored to their fields. In many departments, professors with teaching expertise or associate chairs for education develop and run these training sessions.

For example, the Department of English Language and Literature appoints a large number of GSIs. Since graduate students in the department do not teach in their first year (to give them time to adapt to their program of study), in the second year prospective GSIs take a required three-credit course in pedagogy. Concurrently, they lead discussion sections for large literature courses and are supervised by the professor teaching the course as they work with undergraduates in class and during office hours. This opportunity demonstrates to the GSIs how the theory and practice of teaching are intertwined.

During the spring before their third year, English graduate students participate in the faculty-led GSI Training Workshop, where they learn such skills as how to write syllabi, grade student papers, and lead class discussions. In the following term most English GSIs begin teaching an introductory composition course. Throughout their first term they meet with faculty members in small groups called Teaching Circles. A faculty member also observes them once they begin teaching. To supplement these experiences, the English department selects graduate student mentors who provide classroom visits and additional support, such as regular lunchtime programs on teaching. Together these experiences provide the skills English graduate students need to become excellent teachers.