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Students Discuss Educational Pathways at U-M

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Students want to build relationships, engage in hands-on experiences and gain real-world skills.

How do we know? We asked.

Earlier this year, the Office of Academic Innovation welcomed students to share their stories in order to help faculty learn about the range of educational pathways students have taken throughout their journeys at the University of Michigan.

This exchange was held during a recent “Innovation Hour,” a gathering hosted twice a month by Academic Innovation featuring a different theme each session. As a component of the Academic Innovation Initiative, members of the “Exploring Innovation in the Residential Experience” faculty-led design group asked two focus groups, each consisting of 3-4 students from a variety of schools and colleges, to reflect upon their learning experiences outside of the classroom. A major goal was to identify ways of scaling meaningful learning experiences at the University while making pathways to these experiences accessible to a wider range of students.

When asked about their single most meaningful learning experience at the University, students identified a variety of extracurricular activities including design clinics, academic research, performance groups, capstone programs, internships, club sports and serving as peer mentors. Reflecting on these experiences, students stressed the importance of engaging in communities of diverse students with differing backgrounds. Dr. Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Associate Professor of Political Science, said the building of networks, communities and relationships was an important theme shared by the students.

Another theme echoed by many of the students surrounded the importance of internships and other practical learning experiences outside of the classroom to help them competitively enter the workforce. Students expressed a desire to follow their passions and direct their own educational pathways toward obtaining these skills instead of following the steps required to achieve a certain letter grade.

Faculty members listening and listening to discussionDr. Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Education and Information, said students in the focus groups challenged the value of grading.

“The purpose of the grade was something that had to be checked off as pathways to move forward, instead of the actual goal,” he said.

Other students said they desired opportunities to explore what they want to achieve during their time at Michigan as well as the freedom to take risks.

“I want to be able to fail in an environment where failing is ok,” one student said. “If I fail, I realize it’s something that’s not for me. I learned something about myself by doing that.”

“What students prioritize is what they get the most out of,” another student said. “Students will gravitate toward what’s important to them.”

John Diehl, Business Systems Analyst at ITS Teaching and Learning, encouraged the faculty group to facilitate opportunities to help students identify their personal goals at the University by taking ownership of their educational experiences.

“We can find more ways to provide students more opportunities to work on projects like this, work on goals like this, toward their education,” he said.

When asked how they thought the University expressed its values, one student responded that the faculty who are hired and receive tenure as well as the research and professional projects conducted by faculty are significant reflections of the values of the institution.

“That connection between the students and professors is where I see the University’s values most,” the student said.

Join us during the next Innovation Hour! View our list of upcoming events to learn about future Innovation Hour discussions.

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