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University of Michigan Library Unbound: Learning Beyond and Across Courses

Laurie Alexander, Associate University Librarian for Learning and Teaching

Barry Fishman, Faculty Innovator-In-Residence


Anne Cong-Huyen, Digital Scholarship Strategist @anitaconchita

Breanna Hamm, Instructional Technologist

Jamie Niehof, Engineering Librarian

Amanda Peters, Student Engagement Librarian

Rob Pettigrew, Senior Academic Technologist

Justin Schell, Director Shapiro Design Lab @612to651

Meghan Sitar, Director Connected Scholarship @meghansitar


The Academic Innovation at Michigan: Transforming Residential Undergraduate Education (AIM:TRUE) series is designed to provoke our thinking as we explore new possibilities for how we prepare students at Michigan for their future lives and careers. AIM:TRUE sessions are part of a larger project called “The Big Idea,” which poses the question: Given the resources and opportunities provided by a major public research university, how would you design undergraduate education, if you could start with a blank page? There are many possible answers to this question, but we believe few would resemble the current structure of undergrad education. You can learn more about the proposed Big Idea program in this post, and the learning goals we propose for the program in this one. You can also revisit our first two AIM:TRUE sessions, which focused on a completely re-thought academic transcript and the challenging landscape for current higher education.

In the third AIM:TRUE session, we turned our attention to campus experimentation and collaborations focused on student learning. The U-M Library, in partnership with faculty and students, is actively reimagining the way undergraduates interact with the university research enterprise and engage in real world problem solving. Through a series of lightning talks, we connected recent projects with the the core learning outcomes of the Big Idea: ways of knowing, personal good, public good and team good. Through a series of lightning talks (described below), trends emerged around innovative scholarly practices and new possibilities for students to connect scholarship to real-world challenges. Central to the discussion was the need for connection, partnership and creative application. We invite you to explore with us through the examples below.

Anne Cong-Huyen: Collaborative Digital Pedagogy and Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons

Anne Cong-Huyen, Digital Scholarship Strategist, discussed two projects. First was her work with collaborators and partners from across the library and LSA to help Professor Jason Young transform a 200-level U.S. history lecture course. A second project involved the use of Wikipedia editing assignments to engage students in rigorous peer-reviewed public scholarship. In Professor Young’s course, library experts helped design three digital assignments that asked students to 1) participate in annotating primary texts in an online database, 2) curate and author an online exhibit of 19th century texts from Special Collections, and 3) make arguments with maps using census data. These assignments actively engaged students in alternate modes of scholarly production that were open and contributed to the public good, and which also pushed them to engage in unfamiliar activities that helped them grow as individuals, as collaborators, and as scholars.

Jamie Niehof: Information Literacy Through Canvas Modules in Engineering

Engineering librarian Jamie Niehof created two Canvas modules for students in the Multidisciplinary Design Program. These modules introduced students to information literacy concepts like citation management in a lab setting, and finding engineering literature in the Scopus database. By Fall of 2019, the modules will undergo further adaptations and reach more than 700 first-year engineering students.

You can find the Canvas Modules here:

Amanda Peters: Engagement Fellows, Mini Grants  
As an academic hub for all disciplines, the U-M Library is committed to actively engaging with the campus community to extend learning beyond the classroom. The Student Engagement Program provides and supports transformative student experiences, enabling practical opportunities for students to explore, experiment, create, lead, and reflect — capacities and skills that are critical to addressing 21st century problems in any field. The Student Mini Grants opportunity is one way we support student-driven work. Students can receive up to $1000 to support innovative and collaborative projects that make a real-life impact. Projects must strengthen community partnerships, enhance global scholarship and/or advocate for diversity and inclusion. Students who are awarded grants are then paired with librarian specialists for mentorship.

How can libraries contribute to engaged learning and student-driven work? As one mini-grant recipient stated “The library enhanced my scope of the university and broadened the depth of my project.” Not only are librarians able to connect students with research sources for their projects, and support for things like data visualization, 3D printing, video and podcast creation and more, we are able to offer them the right kind of collaborative spaces for their work, and exhibit spaces to showcase their projects. Librarians are also the connective tissue for many students to finding other stakeholders on campus and in the community who are integral to taking their projects to the next level.  

Justin Schell: Citizen + Community Science

Building on his background with community and citizen science, Justin Schell and the Shapiro Design Lab have helped develop a number of different projects that facilitate public use of and engagement with science. These include two projects built on the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform; collaborations with communities in Dearborn and Detroit on environmental justice issues; and partnering with the U-M Museum of Natural History on a Project Incubator program that helped graduate students, faculty, and staff develop a variety of projects. All of these projects take a real-world problem as its focus, and bring together a variety of expertises. For instance, the Zooniverse project Unearthing Michigan Ecological Data involves collaboration between students, faculty and staff with expertise in project design, community engagement (in this instance on Zooniverse’s message boards), historical and cultural understanding of scientific processes, and multiple dimensions of data science to analyze volunteer classifications and explore algorithmic identification of information.

Rob Pettigrew & Breanna Hamm: Faculty Collaboration and Project Design

In the past year, we worked with a number of English 125 sections on projects to move a writing assignment from earlier in the semester into an oral and visual presentation. While we do some instruction on lesser-known, yet useful, features of presentation software, the majority of our instruction now focuses on incorporating visual design principles to create well-designed, clear, and engaging visuals to enhance the student’s own oral presentation.  Working with a Writing 120 course, we have collaborated with LSA-IT to provide support for students who were creating comics. Again, the focus of our collaboration has centered on themes of digital literacy and communication as students were transforming a written paper into a digital format. In a History 224 course, we aided a project where students were to create zines. We provided the guidelines for creation; had students visit the Labadie Collection for inspiration; talked about composition, mood, design, and storytelling; and provided consultations and office hours for students to drop in for assistance and support. There were few zines that were created using digital tools, so learning the process was more important in this course than learning the tools. The zines were not graded, rather, students created a written reflection on their process as we wanted the focus to be on their planning, creation, decision making, and topic selection.

Meghan Sitar: ScholarSprints and Library as Research Lab

Inspired by similar programs at the University of Kansas and the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan’s ScholarSprints program aligns resources to help faculty and graduate students overcome challenges in their research and teaching through an intensive immersion with expertise from across the library and across campus. The intent is for the sprint team to work intensely for a short period of time, and to produce a tangible product or outcome. Sprints, which typically last four days and are hosted in ScholarSpace, differ from standard consultations in their timing and depth of interaction, in their orientation to public scholarship, and in their aim to build sustainable campus community connections. Sprints illustrate a strong commitment to the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We believe that the expertise of scholars and librarians can enrich the goals and outcomes of a collaborative project. We remain attentive to the issue of equitable labor in scholarly collaborations. In evaluating applications, support is prioritized for research, teaching, and creative projects that contribute to the public good. We are offering another version of the program in a one-day format as ScholarDash to focus on narrower projects this spring. This model of focus and project management could easily be translated into an undergraduate-level challenge. Students might work on an independent or collaborative project, where students use new ways of knowing while engaging with the resources and expertise that have been customized for their challenge.

The University of Michigan School of Information and U-M Library received a 3-year IMLS grant to embed three research labs in the Library, composed of UMSI graduate students, librarians, and UMSI faculty, with the goal of providing real problem-solving experiences to future library professionals. The three labs focus on the assessment of student learning, the assessment of research and scholarship, and design thinking for library services. This model of intergenerational learning and applying theory to real challenges faced by organizations provides students with the opportunity to explore problems and their solutions in creative ways that aren’t typically presented by the curriculum, where projects are often already scoped and scaffolded to reach an outcome. In the Design Thinking for Library Services lab, students picked up a project that had already been started by another group of librarians and had to make sense of what came before and what needed to happen to continue. They created multiple prototypes of an exercise that translated user research into an alternative strategy for creating stories about our users, with these stories fostering empathy and shaping more nuanced research questions about our community when developing library services. Students worked within the complexity of an organization and had to employ systems thinking to understand how their work connected or challenged those complexities and power structures, gaining mentorship and networking opportunities along the way.

Conclusion and Coming Attractions

These examples illustrate not only interesting approaches to ambitious learning aligned with the Big Idea, they also show new forms of collaborative partnerships for instructional innovation. One aim of the Big Idea project is to break down barriers between disciplines and programs at the University of Michigan. The University Library, which lives—almost literally—at the center of our university campuses, is a natural hub for building connections  that enhance teaching and learning.

Our next AIM:TRUE talk is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14 at 11am. Sean Gallagher, Executive Professor of Educational Policy and Executive Director, Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy at Northeastern University will address the question, “What Does College Prepare Students For?” and explore how employer demands on online credentials are reshaping college education. The next Big Idea post will focus on assessment, so stay tuned for that as well.

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