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From Teach-In to Teach-Out – Recap of the Academic Innovation Forum on Broadening the University of Michigan Community

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

“No celebration of U-M’s historic leadership in higher education can be complete without also looking forward, to imagine what our leadership will look like in future decades.”
– President Mark S. Schlissel

President Mark S. Schlissel announced the new University of Michigan Teach-Out Series to more than 200 faculty, students, staff and members of the broader U-M community at the Academic Innovation Forum on Broadening the University of Michigan Community. The event on Monday, March 13, in the Michigan League ballroom, marked the next step in the University’s mission to serve the public and reaffirms Michigan’s commitment to furthering its societal impact throughout its third century.

Teach-Outs are just-in-time global community learning events focusing on current issues, that enable a wide variety of people to join the University of Michigan’s campus community in exploring a timely topic. Teach-Outs reflect the University’s deep commitment to engage the public in understanding the problems, events and phenomena most important to society. More information about the Teach-Out Series is available at

President Mark S. Schlissel speaking behind podium“Within each Teach-Out, faculty share their professional knowledge on the topic, with the goal of fostering greater understanding of a complex problem,” Schlissel said. “The Teach-Outs will explore historical transitions to authoritarian rule, fake news, creating conversations between experts and the public, and the Affordable Care Act.”

More information about the first four Teach-Outs in the new series, and options to enroll, is listed below:

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The Teach-Out Series is modeled after the historic U-M Teach-Ins, which which first took place in 1965 in response to President Johnson’s escalation of US involvement in Vietnam. Faculty who had considered taking a stance against this escalation of troops instead brought together experts for a marathon educational event, the Teach-In. This original event sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country that continued for about a year. The idea remains fresh however, and versions of Teach-Ins continue to occur on a wide array of topics.

“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.

President Schlissel charged the Office of Academic Innovation with the Academic Innovation Initiative last fall to foster deep conversations among all members of the University of Michigan community. This highly engaging and collaborative community discussion connects the University’s commitments to academic excellence, inclusion, and innovation in order to continue Michigan’s leadership role in defining how the world learns from and with a great public research university. The initiative has led to the rapid launch of 20 experimental projects and has stimulated excitement among U-M faculty innovators.

Woman writing on a sticky note in front of a large posterPrior to the President’s formal remarks, attendees were asked to participate in a community brainstorm sharing their ideas about problems, events and phenomena U-M should share expertise with the public in order to meet the diverse needs of alumni, engage pre-college learners and create new pathways to the University. Overall, members of the U-M share 80 new ideas. These ideas and the ideas generated by the Ideas 2017 Challenge will guide the development process for future innovations at U-M.

During his keynote address about the the digital transformation of higher education, Dr. Anant Agarwal, CEO of online learning platform edX, asked the U-M community to consider education in the next 20 to 30 years.

Citing a report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity estimating about 2 billion, or about 50 percent, of global jobs will disappear due to automation, technology and artificial intelligence by 2030, Agarwal said the global workforce will require extensive retraining and retooling.

“If new fields are burgeoning every day and if people have to be re-skilled and up-skilled, our education system simply cannot deal with this,” he said.

edx CEO Anant Agarwal speaking next to podiumAgarwal said educational systems will need to address this need while also building residential and digital learning environments conducive to both millennials and continuous, lifelong learners.

He said Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), MicroMasters, and now Teach-Outs, are examples of innovative new learning modalities to address these impending challenges. Agarwal added a digital transformation in education leads to more sharing between universities, more access for learners, more modular programs and better engagement for residential learners.

“Is the future of education going to be continuous, lifelong? Is it going to be hybrid?,” he asked. “A lot for all of us to think about and try to help garner, and foster, the future of education.”

The forum then turned to a U-M innovator panel discussion moderated by Dr. Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Education and Information, who reflected upon the theme of the evening’s event, “broadening the University of Michigan community.”

“How can we open up new channels for communication that not only flow outward from Ann Arbor, but provide a means by which the rest of the world feels they can be active participants and stakeholders in the research and teaching that goes on on this campus?,” Fishman asked.

University of Michigan innovator panel sitting behind a table facing audience

He then shared an introduction of each of the U-M innovator panelists, which included:

  • Dr. Arun Agrawal, Samuel Trask Dana Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Dr. Thomas Finholt, Dean & Professor of Information, School of Information
  • Dr. Kedra Ishop, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Office of the Provost
  • Dr. Joanna Millunchick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, College of Engineering

Topics of the panel discussion surrounded reaching diverse student populations, re-imaging the admissions process, engaging with pre-college learners, MicroMasters and the origins of the Teach-Out Series.

“[The university] should be a place where what we do connects to the broader society. It has a way both of resonating with what’s going on in society, and of informing what is going on,” Agrawal said. “And I think the kind of work we do is particularly well suited to this idea of making larger connections, and this mechanism of the Teach-Out makes it possible for us to do so.”

He said both the Michigan Teach-In and Teach-Out series stimulate an intermixing of different opinions, viewpoints and ideologies and the Teach-Out Series is revolutionary in two distinct ways.

“One, we can offer a medium through which people can learn about something in a very short amount of time,” Agrawal said. “Second, given the way we are structuring Teach-Outs, we can explode education into a million little bits and we can offer people who are taking these bits the flexibility, and the option, and the imagination to connect them themselves instead of us telling them how they must connect what they are learning.”

Dean Thomas Finholt said the User Experience (UX) Research and Design MicroMasters from the School of Information has provided a pathway to the university for a global audience of more than 50,000 learners. Upon earning the MicroMasters credential, learners who are admitted to the School of Information may apply credit toward a master’s degree.

“We thought that it would be a front door to our program for people who might otherwise have been intimidated or felt like they didn’t belong here and, therefore, diversify our master’s student population in the residential program,” Finholt said.

Dr. Joanna Millunchick described how M-STEM Academies is expanding interest in the STEM fields among a more diverse audience of pre-college learners. She said she is currently working with the Office of Academic Innovation to explore options to turn these academies into digital experiences enabling students and alumni to lead academies in their local communities. Millunchick called this model a “distributed campus.”

“It’s no longer about just the campus here in Ann Arbor, in Dearborn and in Flint,” Millunchick said. “It’s really a Michigan campus everywhere Michigan students are.”

Dr. Kedra Ishop shared how Wolverine Pathways is another mechanism to provide access to a more diverse student pool. She said her Office uses Wolverine Pathways to help prepare middle school and early high school students for success at the University.

“Really what we need to do is look across a K-12 platform, identify under-resourced areas and help find ways to supplement those students’ education,” she said.

Millunchick said digital innovations should be used to enable online learn opportunities, such as MOOCs, to do what they do best and residential courses to do what they do best.

Arun Agrawal speaking into microphone behind a table“I would argue that MOOCs are great for what they do and let’s not try to make them do everything and replace the residential experience,” Millunchick said. “And allow the MOOCs to free us to do what we want to do in the residential experience more deeply.”

Agrawal said the University should continue to strive to help students and global learners to better reflect and learn from one another.

“We need to free ourselves from teaching facts and become places where people connect, and reflect, and become different, better, more capable citizens,” he said. “It really is just incumbent on us to re-imagine what the University is.”

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