Rivalry Aside: U-M, Notre Dame Come Together to Tell Stories of Puerto Rico, Encourage Action

Michigan News

ANN ARBOR—After a four-year hiatus from play, fans can expect fierce competition when the University of Michigan and Notre Dame football teams hit the gridiron Sept. 1. But off the field the universities will put the rivalry aside in a collaboration to remind the world of those who battle daily to overcome the devastation wrought one year ago by a deadly hurricane.

Faculty and staff from U-M and Notre Dame have come together to present “Listening to Puerto Rico,” a free online global learning teach-out offered jointly by the two institutions.

“The University of Michigan’s public mission calls for us to advance human understanding and contribute to a better society,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “We are proud to partner with Notre Dame to examine a complex national tragedy, learn from the people of Puerto Rico, and discover new ways for our community to help with the ongoing recovery.”

The online learning opportunity features the voices of residents as well as a number of historians, educators, and civic and business leaders, who will focus on life on the island almost a year after Hurricane Maria made landfall Sept. 20, 2017.

The teach-out series is modeled after the first teach-in that began at U-M in the 1960s. Faculty that wanted to protest the Vietnam War decided an effective way to do so was through an intellectual pursuit, so they organized a marathon session featuring several speakers. The idea caught on and was replicated across the country at 35 other institutions.

The U-M Office of Academic Innovation created the teach-out series in 2017 as a way to engage a global audience in contemporary topics online. The series has featured a range of events that are free, short-form, self-paced learning opportunities on topics such as fake news, sleep deprivation, the opioid crisis, crisis at the border and extreme weather.

The current teach-out—the first to involve two universities—is focused on Puerto Rico’s resilience in the wake of Maria and the concern among residents that the U.S. territory, still in recovery, remains vulnerable as the current hurricane season is underway.

Along with this online event, each university is planning campus activities, including teach-ins, to encourage students, faculty and staff to engage in conversation around the social, political, economic, environmental and humanitarian issues represented by the crisis in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria caused more than 1,400 deaths, an estimated $90 billion in damage and left many of the island’s 3.3 million inhabitants without electricity, drinkable water and shelter for months after the storm.

Hurricane Maria’s devastation still evident one year later. Images courtesy U-M Office of Academic Innovation

Hurricane Maria’s devastation still evident one year later. Images courtesy U-M Office of Academic Innovation

In June, faculty, staff and students from U-M and Notre Dame traveled to the island to gather individual stories and learn how communities have banded together in response to environmental, economic and public health challenges.

U-M’s Will Potter talks with Puerto Rico resident Héctor Rodríguez.

U-M’s Will Potter talks with Puerto Rico resident Héctor Rodríguez.

More than 30 interviews with Puerto Rican community members throughout the island were conducted by Will Potter, U-M senior academic innovation fellow and a member of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts faculty; Marisel Moreno, associate professor of U.S. Latino/a Literature in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Notre Dame; and Thomas F. Anderson, the Dr. William M. Scholl Professor of Latin American Literature and chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Notre Dame.

These stories will be combined with expert videos from faculty who are involved in research, education and service with the island and its people.

“What I hope for the most is to help create awareness about Puerto Rico in terms of its past, present and future. At this point in history, when the island is facing a serious debt crisis and the devastating impact of a hurricane, Puerto Rico not only needs the help of its people, but also that of allies,” Moreno said. “What this process has demonstrated is the tremendous potential that we—our two great universities—have to promote awareness and justice. We can be a force for good together.”

University of Notre Dame faculty, Marisel Moreno and Thomas Anderson, speak with two Puerto Rican men about their experiences with Hurricane Maria.

University of Notre Dame faculty, Marisel Moreno and Thomas Anderson, speak with two Puerto Rican men about their experiences with Hurricane Maria.

Almost a year after Maria, emergency management leaders say power is restored, many houses have been rebuilt and essential services largely are intact in more populous areas, but the team found a different story in remote communities.

U-M School of Public Health doctoral student and Puerto Rico native Amilcar Matos-Moreno tells about an elderly couple living in the mountainous area of Orocovis, 40 miles outside of San Juan. The couple had just gotten power back two weeks before Matos-Moreno and his team traveled the two hours up the mountain in June to put up a roof and install a safe front door and appliances in the home. Following the hurricane, the elderly man had patched the house back together with scraps that had blown into the area.

“The owner had actually grabbed whatever was lying around. The doors they had were not safe at all,” Matos-Moreno said. “The couple did not receive government help with rebuilding because they were so far from any center. The government told them that.”

They did receive funding for the building materials and appliances, he said.

Among the interviews is one with a Federal Emergency Management Act official who explained what has taken place to restore essential services and facilities on the island. He acknowledged additional work could take another five to 10 years to fix an infrastructure that has been put back together with “Band-Aids.”

Amilcar Matos-Moreno, PhD candidate at the School of Public Health, gives directions to a group of students from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University as they work to rebuild a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Amilcar Matos-Moreno, PhD candidate at the School of Public Health, gives directions to a group of students from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University as they work to rebuild a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, associate professor of Spanish and American culture at U-M and a member of the team, called the situation there a “different normal.”

He talks about going down a few days after Maria to take his 88-year-old mother away from her badly damaged home, and his surprise upon returning three months later to find little change.

“There are still people who have no electricity, who are homeless, who have lost their jobs. The hurricane came to intensify a crisis that had already been going on for at least 12 years and possibly for more time,” La Fountain-Stokes said in reference to the ongoing economic struggle in Puerto Rico.

Among the stories, the team heard from a physician who chose to stay when many health care professionals left, a journalist who kept questioning official accounts of the death toll, a faculty member from the University of Puerto Rico who explained the compounding economic toll caused by the hurricane, an entrepreneur whose online business was disrupted by the power outage, and several other residents who organized grassroots efforts to help others.

The teach-out team says what comes through the interviews is a story of great resilience.

“This, for the most part, is not a place where people base their happiness on economic stability or well-being,” Anderson said. “Instead, Puerto Ricans have managed to weather many storms, so to speak—Spanish colonization, U.S. imperialism, several major economic crisis, devastating hurricanes—by maintaining a positive outlook, placing great importance on family and friends, loving and embracing their island and its culture, and sticking together when times are tough.”

Participants can register for the free teach-out online beginning Aug. 27. “Listening to Puerto Rico” will be available until Sept. 24.

Other events include:

  • Notre Dame teach-in (4:30 p.m. Aug. 31, Eck Visitors Center)
    This will be a panel discussion featuring Moreno, Anderson and other Notre Dame faculty from Puerto Rico, discussing the current state of affairs on the island and offer commentary on next steps and future solutions.
  • Student event, live-streamed webshow (5 p.m. Sept. 12)
    Notre Dame students from Puerto Rico will join Anderson and Moreno for a discussion on how Hurricane Maria impacted them, their families and their communities.
  • University of Michigan teach-in (6 p.m. Sept. 20, Pierpont Commons East Room, 2101 Bonisteel Blvd.)
    On the anniversary of Hurricane Maria there will be a mini-documentary screening followed by a panel discussion about the current situation in Puerto Rico, moderated by Will Potter and featuring La Fountain-Stokes, as well as other U-M faculty and partners from Puerto Rico.

Teach-In. Teach-Out. Teach Each Other.

An Open Welcome Letter to the Participants of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Dear Teach-Out Academy Participants:

This is an invitation to change the future. You are invited to create positive social impact through teaching and learning. You are invited to discover new ways to foster dialogue by combining scholarly expertise with communities of engaged citizens and thought leaders outside the academy. You are invited to democratize discussions around timely topics of widespread interest. You are invited challenge our collective thinking about where expertise resides and how problems could and should be solved.

We’re thrilled to welcome you to springtime in Ann Arbor for the first ever University of Michigan Teach-Out Academy. We couldn’t be more excited about the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants who will join us 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. What a terrific group!

On May 14, this group of ten like-minded institutions will convene to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: teach-outs are free and open online learning events intended to activate public concern around timely social issues. Participants from all corners of the world come together to learn, engage, and create change around some of the most pressing issues today. We were inspired by your proposals to create new teach-outs and trust that you will help us build upon this new model and share ideas for reimagining public engagement.

Elyse Aurbach, public engagement lead at the Office of Academic Innovation (AI), provides a great summary of the opportunity ahead of us, “Teach-Outs are uniquely able to harness the intellectual depth and scholarship at the university and to mobilize experts to address a timely topic. But they’re also an opportunity for us to break down the walls of the University and elevate other voices, adding rich breadth and scope of perspectives and ideas to the scholarly conversation.”

U-M created it’s first Teach-Out in March 2017. Yet the story goes much deeper as U-M has a long history of innovation in public engagement and just-in-time learning. It was on my own campus tour as a prospective Michigan student that I first heard the story of the polio vaccine being announced by Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk in 1955. I’ve heard the story a hundred times since. The U-M community is understandably proud of this moment and also sees it as a critical illustration of the important role that research universities play. But it was only recently that I learned how the announcement was shared.

I knew that Francis Jr., Salk, and 500 others gathered in the Rackham building on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus to share an incredible public announcement, which followed Salk’s field trials involving more than 1.8 million children. The breakthrough was of course remarkable. But so was our institution’s commitment to knowledge dissemination and public engagement. As many gathered on campus, the announcement was simultaneously broadcasted on closed-circuit to 54,000 physicians watching in movie theaters across the country. In 1955. The world was listening in as Francis Jr. declared the vaccine “safe, effective, and potent”.

Almost exactly 10 years later, on March 24th, 1965, the Teach-In was born in Ann Arbor. In response to President Johnson’s escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, faculty were set to strike. The world was messy. They wanted answers.

Rather than strike, they saw power in their collective knowledge. Faculty and students staged a Teach-In, the first of its kind, that started at 8pm on the 24th and lasted until 8am the next morning. More than 3,000 faculty, students, and community members participated. They sought to activate public concern, and elevate public discourse.

A couple days before the first Teach-In, the Michigan Daily, our student newspaper, ran an article titled “New Faculty Strategy More Constructive, Effective”. It prepared our campus community for a new kind of event. The piece opined, “If the faculty group gets representatives to present both sides of the fence, in debate form in addition to individual speeches, the “teach-in” would attract many people who want to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in Southeast Asia.”

Learners wanted to understand complex problems and knew that true understanding would require diverse perspectives.

As is the case today, there was no shortage of similarly important topics to explore in the later half of the 1960s. Michigan launched more Teach-Ins. Becoming more informed and participating in positive problem solving events turned out to be contagious. Within the same year, 1965, the original Teach-In event sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. Campuses well beyond Ann Arbor saw power in collective knowledge and sought perspectives and solutions to the problems of the day.

In 1970, we filled our basketball arena for a new Teach-In that became the first Earth Day. Eight-thousand people gathered to elevate public discourse and problem solve around societal issues that matter most. Eight-thousand! There were MOOCs before there were MOOCs!

I talked to several members of the Academic Innovation team about the upcoming Teach-Out Academy. Their collective wisdom is worth sharing as we gear up for the working sessions ahead.

Steve Welsh, the lead learning experience designer for the U-M Teach-Out Series, connects our present efforts to our history of innovation, ”Following the model and spirit of the Teach-Ins, we have an obligation to use the knowledge and expertise we’re fortunate to have on our campus to further the discussion and engage with a broader public. And in 2018, we have the ability to hold that discussion with a global community.”

How then do we engage diverse audience at all levels and provide new gateways to lifelong learning? Sean Patrick, design media lead at the Office of Academic Innovation, calls this the “Milton-Bradley Model: For Ages 8 to 88”. Teach-Outs are an open invitation to all. How do we create meaningful opportunities for learning for communities that reflect the diversity of our society? This as a considerable design challenge but one worth our highest attention.

Like the Teach-In before, we hope institutions around the country (and the globe) will strengthen dialogue around timely topics and facilitate compassionate interactions between participants inside and well beyond academy.

We will gather in Ann Arbor to take a deep dive into the pedagogy and design of Teach-Outs, discuss production processes for just-in-time content, develop calls to action, and explore promotion and engagement strategies. We have designed a workshop for a small, focused cohort of like-minded institutions who seek to construct and disseminate new knowledge through public dialogue.

There is so much we can learn together. Cait Holman, Associate Director for R&D at AI sees opportunity to better understand how people learn and wants, “to understand what critical conversations look like – how people present their arguments, how the ‘other side’ responds, and how people represent processing new information in real time in text.”

The U-M team has thought long and hard about the awesome potential and numerous challenges related to developing high quality short-form learning experiences. Will Potter, a senior academic innovation fellow for digital storytelling puts it this way, “Teach-Outs have built-in restrictions on the amount of material that’s presented, and how quickly it will be produced. You have to think very deliberately about what material makes the cut, how it can be accomplished in a tight timeframe, and why a diverse audience will care. That process really forces you to think differently about your areas of expertise, and in my experience it has also prompted me to reflect upon my research in new ways.”

Lauren Atkins Budde, associate director of design management, sees a creative challenge in designing each new teach-out, “there is a lot of joy in meeting the challenge of creating a comprehensive learning opportunity with very scaled down parameters. I think of it like producing a short film – you have to be much more efficient and thoughtful with the limited time and resources that you have and as a result, you’re often much more creative because you have to be.”

Benjamin Morse, a lead design manager for the Teach-Out Series, reminds us that constructing Teach-Outs is inherently different from other teaching and learning innovations, “This “just-in-time” model lends itself to short timelines and agile design principles. We recognize that each project and each Teach-Out team will be uniquely different and our model has to be flexible enough to bend without breaking, and if it does break, we have to learn how to expand the model to fit that situation.”

We can’t wait to have you with us on campus. The U-M Teach-Out Series is part of our institution’s deep commitment to engage the public in exploring and understanding the problems, events, and phenomena most important to society.

Will Potter, speaks for many of us when he highlights our obligations to innovate in this space, “I teach my journalism students that reporting and research means little if we are unable to communicate what we have learned; we have a responsibility to explain our work in a way that is accessible, and meaningful, to our audiences. I view the Teach-Outs as fulfilling a parallel responsibility for educators.”

Morse paints a picture of what may result from our collaborations together, “I hope the Teach-Out philosophy becomes a ubiquitous model for public engagement in the online learning space. I hope that we create something that others replicate in their own context and iterate on to meet their organizational teaching and learning aspirations. I hope we can help redefine the scope of public engagement within institutions of higher education by providing recognized, viable channels of distribution with opportunities for dialogical interaction.”

We are proud to contribute to U-M’s long history of leadership at the intersection of public engagement and academic innovation. We know that through collaboration with all of you, we are far more likely to create a world where everyone can participate – a compassionate public square for the information age.

This is an official invitation to change the future. Let’s teach-in, teach-out, and teach each other.

James DeVaney
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan