Alumni Association University of Michigan Winter 2010 : Page 37
HOT Classes on Campus In this article, we open the doors to some currently popular University classes. From business to kinesiology to public health and beyond, step back onto campus and learn what topics are exciting students these days. When Michigan Alumnus informally surveyed University students and administrators about popular classes, we received dozens of responses. Although these classes represent different disciplines in different schools and colleges, striking similarities surfaced: Popular professors actively interact with students, whether teaching a hands-on studio or lecturing in an auditorium. This excitement is contagious—when professors love their subjects, students love their classes. The most popular professors are available, willing to explain a subject during office hours and often via email exchanges during the weekend. And many classes are interdisciplinary. A business class addresses the sort of social, political and moral issues you might find in a sociology, political science or philosophy class. In a chemistry class, undergraduates learn how to teach, and in an education class, they play video games. On the following pages, we describe a small sample of some of the most popular classes that we recently audited.
Hot Classes on Campus
In this article, we open the doors to some currently popular University classes. From business to kinesiology to public health and beyond, step back onto campus and learn what topics are exciting students these days.<br /> <br /> When Michigan Alumnus informally surveyed University students and administrators about popular classes, we received dozens of responses. Although these classes represent different disciplines in different schools and colleges, striking similarities surfaced: Popular professors actively interact with students, whether teaching a hands-on studio or lecturing in an auditorium.<br /> <br /> This excitement is contagious—when professors love their subjects, students love their classes. The most popular professors are available, willing to explain a subject during office hours and often via email exchanges during the weekend. And many classes are interdisciplinary. A business class addresses the sort of social, political and moral issues you might find in a sociology, political science or philosophy class. In a chemistry class, undergraduates learn how to teach, and in an education class, they play video games. On the following pages, we describe a small sample of some of the most popular classes that we recently audited.<br /> <br /> Helping Yourself, Helping Others <br /> <br /> School of Kinesiology: Exercise, Nutrition and Weight Control<br /> <br /> “Walk your dog every day—even if you don’t have a dog,” advises Victor Katch, professor of kinesiology and associate professor of pediatric cardiology, to a diverse group of students. From freshmen to graduate students, pharmacy to nursing majors, many take this kinesiology class because they want to learn how to stay healthy. They learn through the study of body mass regulation, which includes an understanding of food, digestion, metabolism and intervention strategies like diet and exercise. Over the course of the semester, students learn how to assess their own health and what to do to improve it.<br /> <br /> Today, Katch is daring students—all of whom are lean and trim—to live to be 100. Speaking with energy and enthusiasm, he never stands still as he addresses the large lecture. He explains that they should ignore people who tell them not to fidget because those who do lose about seven pounds a year without trying. He laments the demise of a physical education requirement in many public school systems. He suggests ways to begin habits now that will keep young adults fit as they age: “Develop an interest in winter as well as summer sports,” he advises. And he explains the dating game—that is, how to understand expiration labels on food. His talk is sprinkled with tidbits that surprise: “Five pounds of grapes have the same number of calories as a chocolate chip cookie,” he says.<br /> <br /> “We can actually use what he teaches,” says kinesiology freshman Andrew Powell, describing a current assignment that requires him to calculate how much he eats on a given day and how much energy he expends. “He leads his life off everything we do,” says kinesiology senior Caitlin Koehlinger. “You can tell he has a love of this subject.” <br /> <br /> The Responsibilities of Big Business <br /> <br /> Ross School of Business: The Corporation in Society <br /> <br /> Class begins with a question, typically one that a student poses from a written consideration of the day’s reading. And the debate is on. Students ask if American corporations are responsible to anyone beyond their investors. Do they see a need to help the world’s less fortunate? If so, should the firm make a charitable contribution or somehow create a business model to help them? The debate narrows. Some students believe US corporations should help only those in the United States, even though a poor American may suffer less than a starving citizen of a developing economy. Others wonder why nationality should make a difference if we live in a global economy. Shouldn’t we help those in need?<br /> <br /> The students in Professor James Walsh’s class jump right in, and Walsh plays devil’s advocate. Students and teacher joke, laugh and tease, all while discussing ideas and ideals. “This class is one of a kind,” says Reem Ayad Al-Katib, a senior in the business school. “It provides a really good contrast to accounting and finance and other technical classes and helps me see why we’re in business school.”<br /> <br /> LSA senior Aaron Miller says the course made him question the role of business in society. “We have examined everything from how breast cancer fundraisers partnering with corporate sponsors may be killing our concept of philanthropy to the nuts and bolts of providing low-cost hearing aids to people in impoverished India. We constantly debate how we, as the future leaders of America, can push the firm to do more for society or if that is even the job of the firm.” <br /> <br /> The class is so popular that Walsh once opened it to a larger group of students. But it proved impossible to have the same open participation, so the school allowed him to cap enrollment at 45. That number doesn’t include the occasional executives who visit class. The final projects have included writing an essay for the long-running “This I Believe” series and submitting an op-ed piece to a newspaper. Sometimes, the class travels to China, where they visit factories and meet social activists, governance experts, journalists and executives to get a firsthand look at how business is conducted in another part of the world.<br /> <br /> “Professor Walsh is engaging and passionate, dedicated to educating a different type of business leader,” says Miller, “someone who can think critically about decisions and put their work in a global social perspective.”<br /> <br /> The Spaghetti Solution <br /> <br /> School of Music, Theatre & Dance: Introduction to Design <br /> <br /> On her first day of college, freshman Emily Lyon found herself gluing together spaghetti in Associate Professor Rob Murphy’s class, which exposes students to scenic and costume design for theater and opera.<br /> <br /> “Rob’s experience and personality add extra character to the already quirky class,” says Lyon, a psychology major. “The class eases you into learning the techniques, but instantly drops you into defending and critiquing your work as well as others'. Let me tell you, gluing spaghetti together in an interesting way is harder than you think. … No matter what your issue is, Rob can probably fix it or give you another angle to see things from.” <br /> <br /> Murphy says he tries to “get all the creative juices you had when you were a kindergartener back into gear.” Students take on a variety of projects—a dream or nightmare fantasy, a scene from a play or even drawing on a boot. “Working on a 3-D object is like working on an actor and useful for costume design,” Murphy explains.<br /> <br /> Today, each student is given a photo, randomly picked from an art book, and told to let it influence a project “A director might come with a piece of artwork that doesn’t make any sense to you and ask you to let it suggest a design,” Murphy says. He has fun with the class and allows students to go in their own directions, arriving at different solutions for the same problem.<br /> <br /> Students enjoy the class because they’re encouraged to take creative risks. Murphy believes, “They can only learn if they’re allowed to fail.” <br /> <br /> Re-imagining School<br /> <br /> School of Education: Video Games & Learning <br /> <br /> Students who feel guilty when they take time from studying to play the latest Xbox release are delighted with this class, where video games are part of the homework. “What the class is really about is trying to understand what makes a good video game so engaging,” explains Associate Professor Barry Fishman. “Why do we want to play it and keep playing it? How can we make education just as engaging?” <br /> <br /> Students select a Mac, PC or console game to play all semester and keep diaries tracking experiences and theorizing about what makes the game educational. They design an educational game, integrating what they have learned from readings on motivation and learning theory. Among the fundamentals they’ve discovered: Games are good at teaching you how to play them—all you need to know is built in. You can adjust the level so you aren’t bored or frustrated. And the game is available whenever you want to play it.<br /> <br /> “Can we use these principles to teach students more effectively?” Fishman asks. “Our goal in the class is not to make school into a game, but to take what we know about effective game design and then re-imagine school environments to make them more engaging.”<br /> <br /> The professor uses technology to turn a large class into a small seminar. Students craft reactions, often playful in tone, to assigned readings and post them on a class Wiki, where they read and critique each other’s comments. They text a polling site, www.Polleverywhere.com, to vote on favorite comments, and top vote-getters read their reactions, launching a discussion.<br /> <br /> Guest speakers, sometimes the authors of class readings or game designers, pay virtual visits to class, discussing approaches and answering questions. Through this participation, those who plan to pursue careers in education learn ways to use technology in their own classrooms. Students, mostly juniors and seniors, come from LSA, engineering, business and other parts of the University as well as education.<br /> <br /> “The class gave me a new perspective,” says LSA senior Garri Aronson. “Video games, which are usually perceived to have no educational value, could actually be educational.”<br /> <br /> Students Teach and Write the Text <br /> <br /> Chemistry, art and education might seem to occupy different points on the disciplinary spectrum.<br /> <br /> Chemistry, art and education might seem to occupy different points on the disciplinary spectrum. But Professor Brian Coppola sees the connections and draws from each discipline as he helps his students understand scientific content and concepts. As an undergraduate, Coppola took art classes and has been experimenting with art-based teaching techniques in organic chemistry since 1994.<br /> <br /> Assignments in an art class diverge. Each student assigned to draw, say, a tree approaches the task in a unique way. Similarly, Coppola says students can and should take many different approaches to investigating the structure and properties of molecules. In honors sections, he creates tasks that “are so challenging and difficult, there is no converging on a definitive answer.” Assignments in a firstyear organic chemistry class can diverge, and this encourages students to come up with explanations that they can discuss and defend with each other.<br /> <br /> “I want students to interact with the world of science, and with each other, and to ask, ‘Do I believe there is evidence that warrants this claim?’” <br /> <br /> Coppola is known for his teaching innovations. He was named a 2009 US Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and some former students who now teach college chemistry have adapted his techniques into their teaching.<br /> <br /> In some honors sections, juniors and seniors teach freshmen, who also attend regular sections with graduate students to clarify material and do practice problems. In the extra, junior/senior-led sections, “we get beyond the material,” says instructor Sasha Pradhan, an LSA senior. In addition to looking at more complex chemistry questions, students deal with philosophical questions. “We ask what knowledge is within science,” says Alex Turin, a senior in the College of Pharmacy. “We talk about ethics—it’s less teaching, more discussion.” Both have learned from their students, who transform journal articles into teaching materials for others in the section, creating a text that becomes the basis for their final exam. In weekly dinner meetings with Coppola, members of his teaching team discuss the material and how to teach and grade it.<br /> <br /> “Our assignments every week are the equivalent of ‘draw a tree,’” Coppola explains. “You pick a chemistry journal and you have to find a molecule that meets certain criteria [that have been discussed in the section] and have it undergo unique reactions. You have to do something creative with your molecule, and what you do with it is unique to your own creative sensibility. It’s not teaching how to find the right answer but coming to the most defensible answer.” <br /> <br /> Since these molecules are still under discussion and evaluation in scientific journals, professional chemists don’t understand all of their complex properties and haven’t determined their relative importance. “Barely a couple of weeks in college, and students are generating a set of six complex molecules and ranking them according to predicted properties,” Coppola says. “And they have to justify the rankings.” Students exchange papers; using evaluation rubrics, they engage in raucous debate, something Coppola compares to putting drawings on a wall for public critique by an instructor and students. And the responsibility for making sense of these divergent, creative solutions sits squarely with the students.<br /> <br /> Looking at the Way We Live <br /> <br /> School of Public Health: Health and Society: Introduction to Public Health <br /> <br /> “What is the leading cause of death for people in your age group?” Kenneth Warner, dean of the School of Public Health, grabs his students’ attention with that question in this intro class, which focuses on what determines health and how society influences it.<br /> <br /> “What kills us changes with time,” Warner explains, speaking both of the era and the age of victims. Motor vehicle injuries kill far more people between age 15 and 25 than any other cause. Students listen attentively as he talks about laws that help—mandating seat belts, helmets and low speeds. He notes behaviors that increase risks—texting, phoning and drinking. Although this talk is sprinkled with statistical detail, the anecdotes Warner shares about his first car, his aging mother’s driving problems and his sister’s early death from disease engage students in a personal way.<br /> <br /> The issues he raises involve them, too: Goods cost less when we can transport them quickly, but higher speed limits correlate with more fatal accidents. People who wear seatbelts survive more crashes than those who don’t, but some take more risks on the road because seatbelts give them a false sense of safety.<br /> <br /> “Everything we learn is relevant in so many respects to the way we carry on our lives and can be applied to even the most minute aspects of our daily routines,” says LSA sophomore Zainab Farhat. This class is the first introduction to public health ever offered to U-M undergraduates, and it filled to capacity as soon as it was announced.<br /> <br /> “I am never bored in class, and for the first time in college I actually sit in the front row in a big lecture hall,” says Ana Progovac, an LSA senior. She adds that many different fields intersect that affect public health— statistics, technical science, policy and law. “Beyond that, sociology, public opinion and even morality come into play.” <br /> <br /> —Davi Napoleon, ’66, MA’68, is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. <br /> <br /> You can read her theater column thefastertimes.com/theatertalk.<br />