Written by Laurel Thomas Gnagey, Michigan News
ANN ARBOR—Authoritarian rule and fake news are among the topics for the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series, a new open online opportunity for global learners.
U-M President Mark Schlissel kicked off an Academic Innovation forum March 13 with the announcement of the first four global community learning events on the edX platform, intended to encourage public discourse about relevant issues.
“The University of Michigan Teach-Out Series is precisely the type of idea we hoped would emerge from the creativity of our faculty and staff through our Academic Innovation initiative,” Schlissel said.
The four offerings that will begin on a Friday and run through Sunday night include:
- Democratic to Authoritarian Rule (March 31)
- Fake News, Facts and Alternative Facts (April 21)
- Reach Out and RELATE: Communicating and Understanding Scientific Research (May 5)
- The Future of Obamacare – Repeal, Repair or Replace? (May 12)
Teach-outs are modeled after the historic U-M teach-ins, which started in 1965 in response to military action in Vietnam. Faculty who had considered taking a stance against President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of troops into the country instead brought together experts for a marathon educational event.
As a result, similar teach-ins were held at 35 other campuses, and years later the model inspired the first Earth Day event, which had its origins at U-M.
Those who have orchestrated the Michigan Teach-Out Series hope to leverage technology to bring a global audience of learners to U-M.
“The University of Michigan Teach-Out Series can be a model for a new era of engagement between institutions of higher education and the global communities they serve,” said James Hilton, U-M vice provost for academic innovation. “Part of our public mission is to create opportunities for citizens to be informed, because the more informed people are, the more informed debate can be.”
Academic Innovation leaders refer to the teach-outs as digital just-in-time community learning events, designed to take place over a short, fixed period of time.
“These are intended to be relatively small scale experiences which enable a wide variety of global learners to join our campus community in exploring a topic which is timely for all of us,” said Timothy McKay, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse within the Office of Academic Innovation. “We hope learners across the world will see them as an opportunity for a healthy conversation—a give and take of ideas and information.”
In the fall, Schlissel announced an Academic Innovation Initiative, encouraging faculty to further embrace digital technology, learning analytics and innovation in their work at Michigan and across the world.
This year, the Office of Academic Innovation announced a partnership with Microsoft to deliver online content and three MicroMasters programs on edX in the schools of Information, Education and Social Work. In addition, several faculty innovations have been scaled for campuswide use, and learning analytics—the use of data to inform educational choices—has been employed by students and faculty alike.
Schlissel’s announcement of the Teach-Out Series came at a two-day forum “Academic Innovation Forum on Broadening the University of Michigan Community.” The CEO of edX presented a keynote at the forum that also included a panel discussion and student design jam.
“We are honored to work with University of Michigan to empower our community of global learners to engage with the critical issues and challenges of our time,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and MIT professor. “This online series connects learners with experts, academic theory and current events in real-time, which is made possible by the power of technology.”
James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation said the goal of this program and the ongoing work of his office is to “activate public engagement by bringing U-M to the world while bringing the world to U-M.”
“We’re building on U-M’s longstanding commitment to public engagement and our leadership role as a pioneer in online education to create new opportunities for learners to explore the problems, events and phenomena most important to society,” he said.
“We’re starting to see the benefits of an experimental and collaborative mindset that guided us first to prototype rapidly in a nascent MOOC space, next to open access to U-M through new models like the MicroMasters programs, and now to transform public engagement through the Teach-Out Series.
“We expect the teach-outs to provide new social learning experiences that combine the reach of MOOCs with the focus of well-timed community events to accelerate the creation of opportunities for public engagement in ways that fit naturally with the strengths of a great public research university.”
Arun Agrawal’s teach-out on authoritarian rule will debut the series roughly 52 years after the first teach-in.
“Contemporary political landscapes around the world are in extraordinary flux—from BREXIT, to the upending of conventional politics in the U.S., Philippines and Brazil, to the slower moving shifts in other countries. How are we to make sense of these seemingly overwhelming changes?” said Agrawal, a political scientist at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
“We look forward to engaging online learners in this teach-out. Our historical and comparative lens will inform how societies and citizens have responded to the back and forth of more democratic versus more authoritarian political structures. The almost-daily churn of the current political climate makes our just-in-time approach to the learning experience ever more relevant.”