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Barry Fishman, co-creator of a new gaming web application designed for higher education and University of Michigan professor of Information and Education, was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Michigan Association of State Universities this past Friday at a luncheon in Lansing.
Fishman is a distinguished Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies who currently serves as director of the University’s Undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Information program along with a dual appointment as a professor in both the School of Education and School of Information. According to a press release, he was one of three professors to receive the award out of a pool of nominations from Michigan’s 15 public universities.
Interim Provost Paul N. Courant, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University, and a fellow Arthur F. Thurnau professor, said in the release he thought Fishman deserved the award.
“Professor Fishman is a visionary instructor, whose passion for engaging, challenging and supportive undergraduate education has fueled an award-winning tenure as an educational technology scholar and administrator, both at UM and across the nation,” he said.
Each year, MASU accepts nominations from all 15 Michigan public universities for accomplishment to recognize outstanding faculty whose contributions and dedication have made a significant impact on the lives of undergraduate students. Dr. Daniel J. Hurley, CEO of MASU, emphasized the prestige of the award and its recipients.
“They symbolize the distinction for excellence and innovation in higher education for which Michigan’s public universities are globally renowned,” Hurley said. “These professors represent the very best of teaching, innovation and dedication to student success at the state universities of Michigan.”
Fishman graduated from Brown University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in Honors English and American Literature, and went on to obtain a Master of Science in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University in 1992 and a doctorate in Education & Social Policy in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University in 1996.
Since 1997, Fishman has taught at the University. In an email interview with the Daily, he discussed how, through a desire to grasp and understand concepts of learning more thoroughly, he decided to enter the realm of education professionally.
“I wanted to teach because the best way to understand something is to try to teach it to someone else,” Fishman wrote. “The classroom is where I share knowledge with students, but also try and work out new ideas. My students have been great at pushing my understanding and testing the limits of my ideas.”
According to Fishman, the foundation of any great teacher lies not with the passion they have for the subject, but with a nuanced understanding of the educational needs for each individual student.
“Good teachers listen,” he wrote. “If you can’t perceive where someone is coming from, and what their current level of knowledge or interest is, how can you teach them? As a teacher, it’s important for me to push to understand my students better, and then shape my instruction to meet them where they are, in order to take them where they need to be.”
Fishman’s research specializes around the development of videogames as models for learning environments, teacher learning and the role of technology to support teacher learning, along with helping to establish sustainable, feasible innovations through design-based implementation research.
In 2012, Fishman, with Caitlin Holman, a School of Information Ph.D. candidate, used his focus on empathy and dedication to research to create the game-inspired learning management system GradeCraft.
Unlike the traditional university classroom setting where the syllabus outlines the entirety of assignments, papers, and exams to be completed by students to earn their grade, this new game-based web application lets students choose not only when, but also what type of work they wish to complete to obtain their grade, along with providing additional learning opportunities where students can take risks without the fear of putting their grade in jeopardy.
"Ideally, I want to help my students become their best selves," Fishman said in a statement from the University. "To do this, they need to be empowered to explore the opportunities around them and take risks.”
Currently, over 30 University professors have integrated the web-based learning management application to their classroom structure since its debut in 2012. The software will soon be available to other universities, higher-education institutions, and K-12 schools.
Fishman and Holman’s work received an Innovators Award in 2016 from Campus Technology, a prominent media organization for higher education. Fishman additionally worked with the Obama Administration to develop the nation’s first National Education Technology Plan.
According to Fishman, his unconventional, nuanced approach to education is what led to his distinguishment as Professor of the Year by MASU.
“I think I was selected this year because of the range of different ways I am engaged with instruction at the U-M,” he wrote. “This includes my work as Faculty Director of the Bachelor of Science in Information program at UMSI, my years of teaching EDUC 333, ‘Video Games & Learning,’ my work on Academic Innovation across campus, and of course the work my wonderful team, led by my doctoral student Caitlin Holman and my colleague Rachel Niemer, (Director of the Gameful Learning Lab,) has done with GradeCraft and gameful learning.”
Fishman went on to emphasize the role his colleagues hold in his work.
“Let me be clear: I think that a lot of my colleagues at Michigan are worthy of this kind of recognition,” Fishman said. “I’m proud of the work I do on teaching and learning, but I’m even more proud to work at a university where teaching and learning are valued so highly.”
This past semester, Information junior David Nguyen took Professor Fishman’s course titled Video Games and Learning within the School of Information, describing it in an email interview as “welcoming and engaging.”
Nguyen also described how, through video games, Professor Fishman’s course is unlike any other the University has to offer.
“Barry runs his class very differently than a traditional class here at Michigan,” Nguyen wrote. “He introduces this element of ‘gaming’ into the classroom which motivates students to be more active in the classroom and it has been received very positively among the classroom.”
He went on to describe Fishman's evident devotion to both the subject and his students.
“Within the classroom, I can see Barry's passion towards his topics and also towards his students,” he wrote. “Barry is not just a professor, he's also there as a friend.”