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Teach-Outs: Reimagining Public Engagement in Online Learning

Benjamin Morse, Design Manager

Rachel Niemer, Director, Strategic Initiatives

We need new modes of teaching, learning, and connecting in an increasingly digital society. We must challenge how we define expertise by connecting scholars with engaged citizens and by bridging the gap between digital and physical communities. At the Office of Academic Innovation, we believe that we must come together with other institutions of higher education to collectively reimagine how we engage with the global public and how we can create engaged learning experiences with diverse learners.

We are thrilled to announce the second annual Teach-Out Academy at the University of Michigan, which will be held on June 11-12. We will once again convene a group of like-minded institutions to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: Teach-Outs, which bring together people from around the world to learn about, discuss, and address important topics in society. Inspired by the collective discourse embodied in the original Teach-Ins, which started at the University of Michigan during the Vietnam War era, Teach-Outs echo the sentiment that we can and must bring people together to collectively address our world’s most complex social issues. They are free and open online learning events where learners engage with diverse experts, discuss and connect with other participants, and consider actions to take in their own lives and communities.

A group of three women having a discussion
One of many collaborative discussions from the 2018 Teach-Out Academy.

Since March 2017, the University of Michigan has produced 23 Teach-Outs and engaged with over 76,000 learners from across the world. In developing these Teach-Outs, we have worked with over 200 experts, both from inside higher education and beyond, to foster conversations about a range of salient social issues such as self-driving cars, immigration and family separation at the border, free speech and the aftermath of Hurricane María.

In May 2018, we hosted the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants from Brown University, Davidson College, Emory University, MIT, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, University of Colorado, University of Illinois, University of Notre Dame, and University of Pennsylvania. As a community, we discussed what kinds of institutional support are needed to engage our publics through digital platforms, how important storytelling is to bring participants into the conversation, and how to design calls to action that give participants the opportunity to impact an issue in a way that is aligned with their values. Since then, we have seen several Teach-Outs designed and developed by our colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, Emory University, University of Leiden, and Davidson College.

We partnered with the University of Notre Dame to create the Listening to Puerto Rico Teach-Out, which captured the stories and perspectives from Puerto Ricans one year after Hurricane María devastated the island on September 20, 2017. In June 2018, teams from both institutions traveled to Puerto Rico to film testimonies from Puerto Ricans from all walks of life. By listening, we hoped to take notice of, and act on, what Puerto Ricans said. Learn more about this Teach-Out and the continued work that the University of Notre Dame is leading, visit the Listening to Puerto Rico website. The Teach-Out and all of the videos, are also available on Michigan Online.

Another one of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy participants, Emory University, launched the “Making” Progress Teach-Out on April 15. This Teach-Out is “an invitation to think about what progress means, and how you can look for it wherever you are—in your city, community, or neighborhood—and reflect upon your own ideas about the place you live in.” The focus of the Teach-Out is on Atlanta, Georgia and how communities change and evolve over time and how physical spaces are defined. Many of these questions are “comparable to many of other places in the world on what it means to progress.” In this Teach-Out learners gain insights into the process of finding “the history of public spaces in any community and how to reflect upon the idea of progress.” You can join the Teach-Out by signing up on Coursera.

In October 2018, the University of Leiden hosted the Global Human Rights Teach-Out. It was designed to coincide with the opening of the “Young One World” Summit in The Hague where more than 1500 young people from across the world came together to discuss the issue of human rights. The Teach-Out consisted of an “online discussion on various human rights with scholarly input in the form of podcasts from over 20 academic instructors, including some contributions from advocacy groups addressing the urgency of issues.” The Global Human Rights Teach-Out is still available on the Coursera platform.

Another Teach-Out Academy participant, Davidson College, continues to produce online learning experiences as part of their Davidson Now initiative. Davidson College has produced four courses as part of this initiative, the most recent being the Community, Race, and Space in the U.S. and France course. This course explored questions such as: “When we think of where we live, who do we imagine as our neighbors? What actions invite some people in and keep others out?” This course was designed to foster dialogue about what forces determine the makeup of our cities and communities. Learn more on the Davidson Now website.

Building on this momentum, our goal for the 2019 Teach-Out Academy is to provide in-depth, hands-on consultation for institutions interested in producing a Teach-Out of their own within the next 12 months. We will explore the various dimensions of instructional design, project management, media production, and product management through a range of workshop activities and collective conversations. We will also feature a panel of representatives from other institutions who have developed Teach-Outs of their own, so we can all learn from insights generated beyond the context of the University of Michigan. We are also beginning to engage with non higher-ed organizations, who are looking at ways that the Teach-Out model helps their missions of engaging diverse publics.

Two women engaging in a hands on experience within the Academic Innovation filming studios
The 2018 Teach-Out Academy attendees explored all areas of a Teach-Out, including the studio filming experience.

We are proud to see this new mode of public engagement expand and are excited to welcome another cohort of institutions to Ann Arbor this summer as we seek to foster global problem solving communities comprised of diverse teachers and learners who aspire to solve the world’s most complex problems.

The application is live at and will remain open until May 10, 2019.

Thank you and we look forward to exploring this growing movement of institutions who seek to redefine public engagement in online learning.

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