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March 24, 2004

U-M teaching program brings research to life to improve education

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The University of Michigan's interactive theater troupe that breaks down barriers by bringing research to life has taken its show on the road.

U-M's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) is helping area educators as well as a growing number of faculty audiences across the country open up and get more involved with sensitive topics that include dealing with people with disabilities, gender differences, race relations and internal politics present in some classrooms.

The troupe puts on many programs at U-M for faculty and graduate student instructors and has been asked to visit other campuses including North Carolina State University, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University. The troupe also uses video technology to beam shows to other parts of the country. The goal is to get educators more involved in the thought process, showing rather than telling.

The results of real U-M research findings form the basis of scripts. The theater troupe then puts on skits for groups of educators on how to deal with specific work issues instructors encounter in classrooms. Then the actors remain in character and take questions and interact with members of the audience to fully flesh out ideas on any topic the academic unit wants its faculty to learn more about.

"It makes ideas real and in the present," said Jeffrey Steiger, the troupe's director. "You can talk about ideas and it makes research come alive. It's safe. Since actors are portraying characters, bringing a classroom or situation to life and the audience feels more comfortable asking questions they might  not otherwise ask.''

For example, some sketches test an educator's conflict management skills when one student can bring up something that sets off a classroom debate over racial stereotypes or gender differences or ways other students and the teacher reacts to a student with a disability. The CRLT Theatre Program also offers traditional theatrical productions, workshops and consultations. Other sketches examine gender and power in a faculty meeting or the difficulties that can exist in the graduate student and faculty mentoring process.

Constance Cook, director of CRLT, notes the center is now more than 40 years old. It provides a comprehensive array of curricular and instructional development activities and is dedicated to the support and advancement of learning and teaching.

"We are here to improve teaching,'' Cook said.

For more about the center, visit: http://www.crlt.umich.edu/

For more about the troupe, visit: http://www.crlt.umich.edu/theatre/theatre.html

Contact: Joe Serwach
Phone:(734) 647-1844
E-mail: jserwach@umich.edu