To celebrate the University’s upcoming bicentennial, six University faculty projects received funding grants totaling almost $6.4 million from the University’s Third Century Initiative.

The Third Century Initiative is $50-million five-year project established by University President Mark Schlissel and University Provost Martha Pollack meant to encourage faculty to brainstorm ways to improve student learning. The recent grant comes from Transforming Learning for a Third Century, a part of the initiative dedicated to creating new ways for students to experience learning.

Four other projects, two of which are new, received smaller grants that will go toward testing their potential for future viability.

James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, said while the bicentennial allows for reflection on what the University has accomplished in the past 200 years, the efforts are also focused on future innovations.

“As we approach the bicentennial of the University, we are thinking very consciously about what teaching will mean in the third century of the University of Michigan,” Holloway said. “A residential, public, research institution like the University of Michigan can provide a unique form of engaged learning for students, in which activities like undergraduate research, education abroad, projects and practica, and engagement with the cultural assets of the University and the wider world will lead to learning that is the foundation of our students’ future success.”

Holloway said the overall goal of the program is to capture the innovative spirit of University faculty, students and staff, as well as challenge the current philosophy on student engagement in an educational environment.

“Of course, as the core of a liberal education, we have long developed students’ critical thinking, writing ability and quantitative reasoning skill,” Holloway said. “With the Third Century Initiative, we hope to further develop our students personally, intellectually and professionally along dimensions of learning that build their understanding of creativity as a process, their intercultural ability and understanding of the role of values in decision-making, their social and ethical reasoning facility, their understanding of and capability to collaborate, and their self-agency of entrepreneurial mindset.”

In total, $25 million was allocated for distribution across three project tiers, the top tier being the Transformation Learning grants, which vary from $100,000 to $3 million each.

Holloway said these projects were chosen by the Transforming Learning for the Third Century Committee over 15 other proposals in the second round of Transformation grants and were chosen because of their potential for future impact and investment.

“They look for evidence that the proposal will have a transformative impact on learning at the University and that the project will provide access and visibility for engaged, action-based learning experiences for a significant number of University students,” Holloway said. “They also consider the extent to which there is evidence for the learning effectiveness of the transformation, for its sustainability in the long term.”

Six projects received grants from the program, including “Reimagining Legal Education,” a project that aims to innovate first-year law student curriculum by adding more hands on learning. The project, which received $1.57-million grant, calls for the creation a law clinic where first-year law students can help upper-level students with intricate judicial case.

“Gameful Assessment in Michigan Education: Building of Engaged Learners and Teachers Supported by Gradecraft” received the largest grant from the program at $1.88 million. The project aims to develop a curriculum that integrates gameplay through the software program GradeCraft.

Barry Fishman, who was a co-author of the Obama administration’s 2010 U.S. National Educational Technology Plan and is now a key researcher of the project, said the funding is allocated toward implementing the program in classes across campus and teaching instructors how to use it in their classrooms.

Fishman said gameful learning gives the students the opportunity to feel a stronger connection with the material they are learning.

“We use the term gameful to describe courses that are intended to maximize students’ feelings of autonomy — the ability to make choices about their learning that matter — a sense of belonging or being part of something larger than yourself and also support for students’ developing competence,” Fishman said. “Our team has been experimenting with gameful course designs for about five years now. We realized early on that such classes can be complicated to manage — for both faculty and for students.”

Fishman said GradeCraft will manage the classes with their own unique approach.

“The centerpiece of GradeCraft is a tool we call the ‘Grade Predictor,’ which is designed to support student autonomy by helping them visualize the possible ways a course can be completed successfully,” Fishman said. “The tool enables students to actively experiment with which assignments they will work on and visualize the course grade they will earn as a result.”

The project aspires to create tenable innovation at the University. Fishman said he anticipates gameful learning and Gamecraft will be used in many places beyond the University.

“The University is unusual in that we manage to do so many different things well across such a broad range of areas, not least of which is teaching and learning,” Fishman said. “The entire Third Century program is a testament to how central educational innovation is at Michigan. The GAME project and GradeCraft are just one example of how we continually work to reinvent the classroom experience. Gameful teaching is just one of many different classroom innovations that will make an impact in the coming years.”

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