Student Learning and Effective Teaching

Learning Environments


Core Component 3c: The organization creates effective learning environments.

In this section, we will describe several of the ways in which the University creates rich learning environments for its students and faculty, with a focus on learning communities, technology enhanced learning, unique academic programs and offerings, and academic student services that enhance the learning environment.

Michigan Learning Communities

mlcMany students choose the University precisely because of its size, a population of more than 40,000 students, and its breadth--on many dimensions. Many other students, however, prefer by nature or choice to study and learn in a more intimate setting. To meet this need, the University has developed thirteen learning academic communities (called Michigan Learning Communities or MLCs) that combine the personal attention of a small college environment with easy access to the unparalleled resources of a large research university. LSA, in collaboration with the Division of Student Affairs, administers the majority of these learning communities and provides faculty directors and instructors for the programs. Students in these communities, ten of which include the opportunity for students to live together in a residence hall setting, are each part of a friendly, supportive, and intellectually stimulating community that also gives them access to everything else the larger University has to offer. Students and faculty members, often from diverse backgrounds, choose to be part of these communities because of their common goals and intellectual interests. Those interests range from community service to cutting-edge research, and with regard to discipline from mathematics to communication arts. Descriptions of a sample of these communities are provided below.

Residential College

Founded in 1967 within LSA, the Residential College (RC) is a four-year interdisciplinary liberal arts program that is one of the longest running living-learning programs in the U.S. The RC’s interdisciplinary curriculum engages students in creative exploration of the humanities, the social and natural sciences, intensive foreign language study, and the visual and performing arts. The college seeks to foster in its students a genuine appreciation and lifelong passion for learning--not just an individual quest for knowledge but preparing students to engage effectively and responsibly in the real world. By combining typical residence hall facilities (residence hall rooms, lounges, dining halls, etc.) with the academic and artistic resources required for a liberal arts education (classrooms, creative arts studios, faculty offices, performance and exhibit spaces, and student support services) the RC is a small college fully integrated into a major public research university.

Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program

A joint program of LSA and the College of Engineering, the mission of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Residence Program, is to recruit, support, and retain a diverse group of students in the science, mathematics, engineering, and technology fields; to link students with resources and opportunities that support their academic and personal pursuits; and to allow students with similar interests to develop relationships and build a diverse community based on mutual respect. Made up of approximately 100 first-year students, 50 returning students who serve as Peer Mentors and Program Board Members, and four upperclass students who are Resident Advisors, the WISE Residence Program provides students with an abundance of academic and social opportunities to expand their horizons and help them to transition successfully into the University environment.

Comprehensive Studies Program

The Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) is a non-residential Michigan Learning Community within LSA whose mission is to support, academically enrich, and retain its students within and beyond the college. To achieve its mission, the program offers a variety of academic support services, including the Summer Bridge Program, academic year course instruction, academic advising and peer advising, tutoring, and freshmen interest groups. Through a comprehensive approach, CSP works to develop self-directed, successful students through course instruction, academic advising, mentoring, and other services. CSP collaborates with a wide variety of academic departments, offices, and programs throughout the University, including offices in the various schools and colleges, the Undergraduate Admissions Office, the Office of Financial Aid, and the Division of Student Affairs.

University Housing Theme Communities

University Housing offers a variety of Theme Communities that provide residents with customized resources for connecting with peers, mentors and campus resources. While there are no academic requirements, these Theme Communities allow residents to explore and experience the University with other students who share their interests. Theme Communities are available for first year students, sophomore students, female students interested in leadership in a global society, and students interested in international issues.

Distance Learning

Faculty and staff at the University use technology to expand the learning environment in several key ways, some of which we will describe below in the section on how the University uses information technology to enrich the education it provides to students. Therefore, in this section we will focus on distance or web-based learning, some of which requires students to spend time on campus. Web-based learning is used in two ways: to increase the flexibility for regular students to enroll in courses and to provide professional and continuing education. More details can be found at the Distance Learning Programs at the University of Michigan website.

School of Nursing

The School of Nursing offers several Master’s degree programs that include a great deal of web based learning. For example, in 2000 the school converted its graduate education program in Nurse-Midwifery (NMW), which was created ten year earlier, to a web-based format. The programs in Business and Health Systems and in Gerontological Nursing also include web-based learning. Among the school’s graduate courses, more than 25 are web-based.

School of Public Health

The School of Public Health (SPH) offers several distance learning opportunities. The Executive Master’s Program in Health Management and Policy is a non-residential program that combines 13 intensive four-day weekend class sessions in Ann Arbor with online instruction and interaction to facilitate the completion of readings, exercises, and projects during the periods between class sessions on campus. Students can complete the Master of Health Services Administration or the Master of Public Health degree in 24 months. The Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis Master of Science program in the Department of Biostatistics is also a non-residential program in which participants meet at the SPH for a four-day weekend once every four to five weeks, for thirty hours of class time. Between weekends on campus, participants complete course assignments and work on projects while remaining on their jobs. This Master of Science degree program lasts eighteen weekends spread over eighteen to twenty months. In addition to these degree granting programs, the School of Public Health also offers the 16-hour interdepartmental Certificate in the Foundations of Public Health, which includes coursework in each of the five major disciplines of public health for students wishing to earn graduate credit. Courses are taught by SPH faculty using distance learning technology, and certificate coursework may be transferable to an SPH degree program.

Michigan Interdisciplinary and Professional Engineering

Drawing on the expertise of College of Engineering faculty and affiliates, the college’s Program in Interdisciplinary and Professional Engineering (InterPro) offers continuing education programs, including online engineering programs, that range from interdisciplinary graduate degrees to professional development short courses. Some of these programs have an online delivery option. For example, the Six Sigma Certification program offers classes through streaming video so that students can take classes whenever and wherever they choose. In addition, direct email communication with faculty members makes it easy for students to stay connected. More than 8,500 students have been certified through this program.

Executive Master’s in Business Administration

The Executive MBA Program at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business uses a variety of distance learning technologies to connect students and faculty from around the world. The twenty-month curriculum combines the intensity of on-campus classes with the convenience of distance-learning at home. Between residencies, teams engage in interactive web-based learning and team collaboration. Laptop computers and handhelds keep participants connected to the program. Lectures are provided as video podcasts, providing excellent portability. Program and course websites inform students about schedules and deliverables, and an enterprise-level collaboration suite helps teams and individuals stay connected.

Distinctive Academic Programs and Opportunities

The University also enhances the learning environment for students through a variety of distinctive academic programs, three of which are highlighted below.

First-Year Seminar Program

The First-Year Seminar Program in LSA offers entering students the chance to enroll in small classes, many of which are taught by senior faculty members. The seminars expose first-year students to intellectually-challenging topics and the sense of intellectual and social community that often develops in small classes. They also help students make the transition from high school to a large research university, and let them explore subjects of particular interest with a faculty member. All seminars remain closed until first-year students begin to preregister either during summer orientation for fall terms or the early registration period for winter terms.

The Honors Program

The four-year Honors Program in LSA provides a rich and challenging set of academic offerings to talented and highly motivated students. Honors Program students enroll in special courses, engage in early research with faculty members, and are part of a vigorous intellectual community that includes Honors faculty fellows. Through these activities and others, the Honors Program lets students identify and deeply pursue their intellectual interests. The Program’s curriculum offers a wide range of challenging courses in almost every department and in Honors Program concentrations in every field of the college. Students may enroll in special seminars and courses, and work directly with faculty members right from the start of their University experience. Students must elect half their course work in Honors; many enroll in even more. Many students also participate in research during their first two years, and almost all Honors seniors pursue their own independent research projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor, leading to an Honors Program senior thesis.

Service-Learning Courses

The University offers dozens of service-learning courses enabling students to provide direct service to local schools, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. In almost every department at the University, students can enroll in service-learning courses or earn independent study credit with the support of a faculty sponsor. Academic units that offer a cluster of service-learning courses include, in LSA, the Program in American Culture, Department of English Language and Literature, Department of Psychology, Residential College, and the Women’s Studies Department, as well as in the School of Art & Design. In addition, there are two large servicelearning courses, Project Community and Project Outreach, for which trained undergraduate students facilitate weekly seminars and serve as liaisons for service sites. Plus, a social justice course fair takes place each semester, where different programs recruit students for the upcoming semester.

More information about service and engagement opportunities for our students is covered in the section on Engagement.

Academic Services for Learning

Another important aspect of creating effective learning environments is to provide services to students that enhance their ability to take advantage of the University’s wealth of academic resources. These services fall on a continuum that begin with orientation and lead to a range of career services. Below is a description of key points along that continuum of services and support.

  • New Student Orientation programs for undergraduate and graduate students help new students to make a smooth transition into the University. This is a crucial first point in the continuum of basic academic services that students receive from their academic units, three of which will be described briefly below: orientation, academic advising, and career services.
  • The University requires all admitted undergraduate students to attend a three-day Summer Orientation Program, which is offered throughout the summer by the Office of New Student Programs. During the program students take any necessary placement tests, receive group and individual academic advising, and register for courses. On the first day, students receive an introduction to orientation, learn about money management, take placement exams, and become familiar with the campus through a walking tour and theater presentation. The second day consists of programs on academic success strategies and skills, as well as academic advising and course registration information. On the third day, each student meets with an academic advisor from the school or college to which he or she has been admitted and then registers for classes.
  • The Graduate School Student Fall Welcome and Information Fair, to which all newly admitted students to the Rackham Graduate School are invited, includes a keynote address, an information fair, and a welcome picnic.
  • Schools, colleges, and departments typically offer orientation programs tailored to the needs of their incoming students.

Academic Advising

Ongoing academic advising is a critical aspect of the support the University provides to our students as they progress through their academic programs. Over the course of their undergraduate careers, students will have contact with general academic advisors, concentration advisors, pre-professional study advisors, and peer advisors. Through a variety of academic programs, individual advising appointments, and workshops, these advisors provide support to students as they navigate the range of resources and variety of programs available to them. Typical advising conversations will address academic aspirations, curricular planning and progress to degree, internship opportunities, study abroad, and career exploration. Declaring an academic concentration or major is a pivotal decision point for undergraduate students in their education at the University. Undergraduate students usually declare a concentration by the end of their sophomore year or very early in their junior year. Since the great majority of first-year students at the University are admitted to LSA or the College of Engineering, descriptions of the academic advising services in these units are offered as examples below. In the other schools and colleges, academic advising is provided by faculty and administrative staff in the department or academic unit, with a variety of structures in place, some more formal than others, for providing students with ongoing advising.

  • newnanThe Newnan Academic Advising Center of LSA serves undergraduates by helping them to make informed decisions about their educational goals and the curriculum, and by encouraging them to formulate academic programs appropriate to their individual interests and abilities. The center also provides them an opportunity to understand the purposes of a liberal arts and science education, challenging students to see connections among curricular and co-curricular experiences, their values, and professional directions. Characteristically, general advisors guide students from orientation to graduation, offering the necessary guidance to ensure a coherent program of study for each student. They provide students with a variety of resources to help them select a concentration, including a written guide with various techniques for making this important decision. Each department in the college appoints one or more concentration and academic minor advisors, usually faculty members and professional staff members who help students to shape and focus their academic goals. They discuss with students how best to progress in a concentration program (or minor) and provide official confirmation to the LSA auditors when a student has completed the academic requirements. Concentration advisors also provide guidance on post graduate options, and, in conjunction with general advisors, assist students as they prepare for admission to graduate and professional schools. They also discuss the ways in which the skills that students have acquired in their studies provide them with a foundation for the professional world.
  • enginadvThe Engineering Advising Center at the College of Engineering provides a similar array of advising services to engineering students, who, when admitted to the college as first-year students, must declare a major at the end of the first year. The center fosters success by assisting students in the development of their academic plans and career goals, as well as their personal decision making.

Capstone Experiences

Since many undergraduate students seek a capstone experience or must complete such an experience as part of their program requirements, the concept of a capstone experience is well worth including in this description of marker points along the continuum of a University education. Some departments have specific structures in place for an undergraduate senior capstone experience, which can be a designated course, a thesis, a research experience, or another type of faculty-supervised activity. In addition to the Honors Program thesis, which was mentioned above, two more examples are given below.

  • The capstone course of the Women’s Studies Department in LSA is offered in a seminar format. The goals of the course are to provide students with an opportunity to create a summary and synthesis of the field, to build community among the students enrolled in the seminar, and to help students make the transition to the next phase of life after they graduate.
  • The Program in the Environment, offered jointly by LSA and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), offers the Senior Capstone Course to give interested students an overarching experience in their studies in which students either focus material from their courses on a very specific environmental issue or draw from multiple disciplines to examine the environment. Capstone courses change each semester.

Career Services

The last category of academic services we describe in this section is connected to the final phase of a University undergraduate education: students’ plans for their lives after graduation. As with so many other types of services, the University provides career related services to its students in both centralized and decentralized ways.

Centralized career services

The descriptions below reflect only two examples of centralized career services.

  • The University of Michigan’s Career Center prepares students and alumni to develop and implement their career decisions as a step to becoming active, life-long learners. Guided by theory and reflective practice, Career Center staff members work with students to facilitate their overall development and to provide resources to help them explore and pursue their career and educational goals in a complex, diverse, and interconnected world. The Career Center also forges appropriate partnerships with the University community, as well as with employers and educational institutions outside the University. Career Center services include programs and special events, counseling, drop-in advising, information fairs, a library, e-mail groups, a reference letter service, and alumni profiles (by field) that provide a glimpse into how recent alums got where they are and what their work lives are like. In addition, the Career Center Connector links to employers who are seeking to hire University of Michigan-Ann Arbor students for internships and permanent positions--with access limited to full-time, degree-seeking students at the University, new graduates, and alumni. This service includes job and internship postings, on-campus interviewing opportunities, employer presentations, and job fair and graduate school fair information.
  • The Center for the Education of Women’s (CEW) interest in the work lives of women dates to its founding in 1964. Over the years, as women’s lives, work participation, and career paths have changed, CEW Career Services has assisted thousands of women and men as they navigate the processes of making a career choice, job searching, and managing their careers. Through its counseling program, workshops, and other events, and its library and information services, CEW works with career changers, re-entry workers, and those making other career- and job-related decisions.

Unit career services

All of the schools and colleges at the University of Michigan provide career services to their students and alumni, including those on the hotlinked list below: