Two UND professors to lead innovative national pedagogic initiative

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News Article

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College of Arts & Sciences


The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has chosen two University of North Dakota professors and the UND College of Arts & Sciences to develop and pilot an innovative curriculum program.

The project is the second phase of the AAC&U’s Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills (STIRS) initiative. The first phase involved creating case studies for a single course; the second phase will scale up to a thematic, four-year curriculum. Students completing the program will be expected to complete a long-term project, referred to as a “signature work,” that will take at least a semester to complete.

In UND’s proposal to the AAC&U, Tami Carmichael, director and professor of humanities and integrated studies, and Ryan Zerr, professor of mathematics and director of essential studies, are identified as co-leaders.

"It's exciting to be chosen again by AAC&U to work on national initiatives for improving students' learning opportunities,” said Carmichael. “This second STIRS initiative is meant to encourage institutions to be innovative and intentional in designing complete academic experiences for students that encourage them to be more engaged in their learning and that help them to develop important learning and life skills."

The proposal was selected in a nationally competitive process where only four institutions were chosen. Both Carmichael and Zerr were also among the 13 scholars chosen nationwide for their STIRS case studies in the first STIRS initiative, and will now be the first to pilot the new STIRS curriculum.

“This project has the potential to bring together elements of our already innovative curriculum at UND in order to improve educational value for students,” said Zerr.

The new curricular ideas that Carmichael and Zerr develop will provide students at UND with more opportunities to gain experience in these areas through their studies in Arts & Sciences. “Arts & Sciences has always been at the forefront of this kind of innovative teaching and learning,” said Carmichael, “So our proposal was a natural fit for the initiative."

The STIRS framework outlines four pedagogic components designed to improve undergraduate students’ capacity to use evidence to solve problems and make decisions:

  • Scientific reasoning and evidence-based problem solving
  • Study design, execution and implications
  • Data-based and statistical reasoning
  • Analytical and logical reasoning and evidence-based decision making

The AAC&U launch of the STIRS initiative gets underway this summer with a national workshop at the University of Delaware. STIRS Fellows Carmichael and Zerr will continue their work with STIRS throughout the coming year and will provide the UND Arts & Sciences with recommendations based on their work.

A recent survey of 400 employers conducted by the AAC&U indicated 96 percent of employers felt students needed to have educational experiences that taught them to solve problems with people whose views differed from their own. In the same survey, more than 80 percent of employers identified communicating in writing, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings as very important.