Award honoring innovative professors opens nominations
The Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize, an award celebrating new, innovative approaches to student learning, is accepting nominations for innovative projects from professors across the University of Michigan until Jan. 31.
The University’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching established the award in 2009 to fill a hole it saw on campus: Though there were many ways to honor outstanding teaching, there was no formal prize for professors who were altering the teaching field altogether. CRLT executive director Matthew Kaplan said the center created the award to draw attention to innovation on campus — a fundamental hallmark of the University.
“We know there are many innovative people on this campus; that’s one of the great things about being here,” Kaplan said. “There are faculty all across the campus taking creative approaches to their teaching of students. And this was designed to highlight that. We didn’t have something like that, and it seemed like it would be really smart to share the innovation across campus so that people could learn from their colleagues, which is something professors here like to do.”
Kaplan explained the selection committee is looking for unique projects from all fields of study. He said innovations can come in the form of new approaches to creating inclusive classrooms or new uses of technology, or any other number of concepts.
According to Kaplan, winners are selected by a team of five to seven former winners and other professors. The winner is expected to be announced in May at the Enriching Scholarship campus-wide technology conference.
The CRLT website states that selection criteria for the award include originality, effectiveness of the project and the potential for widespread use or scalability.
These traits were evident in the projects of Chemistry Prof. Brian Coppola, who has won the award twice. The first time he won was in 2011, for his Foundations for Undergraduate Teaching — Uniting Research and Education program, which paired undergraduates with high-school teachers to create classroom lab activities. Coppola earned the award again in 2016 for the Chemical Sciences at the Interface of Education departmental project, which he helped create. The program pairs students with faculty members to form teaching groups and advance instructional development in the same way faculty in the sciences perform their research projects with the assistance from students.
“(CSIE-UM) has enabled my colleagues to move forward in developing interesting teaching ideas they have for UM classes,” Coppola said. “UM students who develop these instructional activities get first-hand experience with teaching in a way that would be otherwise impossible; this kind of practical experience has contributed to the success of our students who have gone in into their own careers as professors.”
David Chesney, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, also won the award last year for his class that unites senior-level EECS students with patients from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to create technology that helps patients get through their daily life. He said he appreciated how the award recognized the importance of the class he’s been teaching for the past several years.
“I thought it was a great honor,” Chesney said. “I thought the work that I’d been doing — bringing technology and children with disabilities together in the classroom — was an innovative way of teaching … it had all of the things they look for in the award, so I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
Students or colleagues can nominate professors, or professors can choose to nominate themselves. Once the period is over, a group of applicants will be chosen to move on to a second round and submit more information about their innovative projects. The award comes with a $5,000 prize for winners to use at their discretion.
Coppola is using the money to build a permanent endowment fund for the CSIE-UM program, while Chesney said his prize money has gone to purchasing new technology for the class and travelling to conferences.