Contemporary issues, problem solving, fun and the fantastic featured in U-M curriculum this year

Michigan News

From the issues that make news regularly such as our outdated unemployment system, human trafficking, national security and counterterrorism, to artists as activists, labor movements and cybersecurity, to vampires, monsters, aliens and “writing weird,” students will have opportunities to take a number of unique courses at the University of Michigan this year. 

The classes are offered across the university’s 19 schools and colleges and through Michigan Online, the gateway to U-M’s online courses. 

School of Education

Mathematics and Social Justice

Racism, sexism and white supremacy remain among the most deeply rooted patterns in American society but what do they have to do with mathematics? A great deal, and in many ways. Being “good at math” confers social and professional benefits—being considered “smart,” supporting access to gainful employment. But the attitudes and policies in schools that support such judgments often are inequitably biased. Of at least equal importance is the fact that economic and political systems have been deliberately and systematically constructed to oppress and disempower marginalized populations. And mathematical resources have contributed to these designs. This course will explore the roles of mathematics in public issues such as economics, politics and education.

School of Information

Exploring Computational Thinking Through Making 

This course uses making activities to introduce students to problem-solving skills associated with computational thinking. Students will utilize their foundational knowledge of computational thinking and making/tinkering to design solutions to information problems. The course structure will include lectures, hands-on making activities and small group presentations.  

Designing the Future of Undergraduate Education

In this one-credit seminar students will design core elements of the proposed Transforming Residential Undergraduate Education program. Assessment systems, a new transcript, curriculum and activitiesthe whole shebang. Students will design the future of learning, and in the process, learn all about learning. 

Law School

Since 2017, the U-M Law School has offered a unique set of courses under its Problem Solving Initiative. These multidisciplinary courses encourage graduate and professional students to address complex challenges they might encounter in the classroom and workplace. Previous courses have focused on robots in the workplace, fake news, firearm violence and concussion. 

Repairing the Unemployment Insurance Safety Net (Fall)

The U.S. unemployment insurance system faces challenges, including outdated eligibility requirements, fallout from the financial crisis and insufficient funding. Students will study state UI system vulnerabilities and explore novel federal public policy and financing strategies in order to improve and modernize the UI safety net, drawing on insights from law, public policy, business, social work, economics and other relevant fields.

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect (Fall)

In Michigan, many children are subject to formal child abuse and neglect investigations, and those children are at high risk of subsequent maltreatment, poor school performance, foster-care placement and other adverse life outcomes. Multidisciplinary teams of students will develop tools to identify at-risk children, mitigate risks of maltreatment and removal from the home, and engage with at-risk families. Students will incorporate evidence and ideas from education, law, health sciences, public policy, social work, information and other fields to develop innovative solutions.

LGBTQ+ Communities and Human Trafficking (Fall)

Narratives around combatting human trafficking are narrowly construed, with white cisgender girls typically portrayed as the victims of heteronormative sex trafficking. Such narratives, and interventions meant to aid trafficking victims, overlook LGBTQ+ communities and fail to address their needs. In this class, students will work with stakeholders and incorporate insights from law, social work, public policy, health sciences and other fields to identify interventions designed to help LGBTQ+ trafficking victims.

Reducing Toxic Airborne Emissions in Michigan (Fall)

Some states, including California and Minnesota, reduce toxic airborne emissions and promote better health outcomes for residents by measuring the cumulative impact of hazardous air pollutants. In this class, students will determine why Michigan has failed to adopt such a cumulative impact approach. Students will incorporate ideas from environmental studies, law, health sciences, design, social work and other fields to advance a solution that accounts for multiple, geographically concentrated pollution sources, and promotes environmental justice for all Michigan residents.

Campus Sexual Misconduct: Prevention and Response (Winter)

In the U.S., campus sexual misconduct has health, social, economic and academic consequences for students. At the same time, universities struggle to fashion effective responses in the face of external political, legal, and social pressure. Students will explore solutions to campus sexual misconduct, drawing on nursing, public policy, law, education and other disciplines to develop a novel solution to the problem.

Human Rights, Mineral Extraction, and the Global Supply Chain (Winter)

Extraction of minerals used to manufacture automobile components, including electric vehicle batteries, comes at a high cost. Students will study human rights implications of this supply chain and learn from auto industry, NGO and stakeholder perspectives. Student teams will incorporate insights from international law, business, engineering, environmental sciences and other fields to develop a solution for industry to implement. 

Information Privacy, Surveillance, and Exposure (Winter)

Information and communication technologies create opportunities for surveillance, tracking, and privacy infringements. Students will learn about privacy risks that a variety of exposure-sensitive populations, including marginalized groups, journalists, and abuse survivors, face. Student teams will leverage insights from design thinking, law, information and other disciplines to develop privacy solutions for susceptible groups.

Challenges to Delivering Social Services in Michigan (Winter)

The federal government funds key social services for the poor. However, individual states—which are rarely the focus of policy debates about social services—are often responsible for overseeing the provision of those services. Students will focus on challenges to the delivery of social services in Michigan, including Medicaid and TANF. Student teams will work with MDHHS and draw on insights from health sciences, public policy, law, and other fields to develop solutions to delivering such services to vulnerable populations.

Connected and Automated Vehicles: Standardization, Differentiation, Competition (Winter)

For connected and automated vehicles, there are trade-offs between standardization, which enhances compatibility and interoperability, and differentiation. Students will consider which CAV features to standardize or differentiate, how quickly to pursue standardization, and what role regulation should play in standardization. Student teams will incorporate ideas from engineering, information, law, business, and other fields to develop an innovative tool.

Ford School of Public Policy

Cybersecurity for Future Leaders

Future leaders will need to understand the science, technology and human considerations behind cybersecurity well enough to make informed decisions when provided advice and options for action.The course will introduce fundamental concepts of computing and cyber security, including information theory, computability, cryptography, networking fundamentals, how vulnerabilities arise and how attacks work.  

National Security Council and Counterterrorism

This class will explore U.S. policy on counterterrorism before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through the lens of NSC decision-making and some of the key personalities involved. It will first look at the NSC from a historical context and identify its key roles and functions, before transitioning into an examination of terrorist threats, and then the more specific aspects of NSC decisions and policy choices on counterterrorism.  

Policy Design, Strategy & Practice 

The course will focus on two important policy arenas: U.S. Unemployment Insurance (70+ years of failure to reform) and U.S.-China trade relations (evolving challenges). The course will be co-taught by an applied economist and a legislator centrally involved in the dynamics of policy making, enabling students to gain insights about the realities of policymaking, and the role of leadership in complex policy arenas.

U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Hip-hop Theatre  (Special projects course, Theatre and Drama)

Taught by assistant professor of theatre and drama at SMTD, this course will cover production and performance, and will have a community engagement component.  

Immersive Media (Performing Arts Technology)

Students learn about modern VR systems and create projects that utilize these systems as performing arts technology. They work with game engines and 360º media to design virtual instruments that defy physics and audiovisual reality, creating interactive and immersive game and concert experiences. They explore the ways in which immersion can be used as a tool of artistic expression.

Acting Outside the Box/Multicultural Acting (Theatre and Drama)

This course covers acting for the multi-cultural stage, and includes the study of scenes, monologues, and improvisations from the diverse cultural canon. Embodied studio practice emphasizes the aesthetics of diverse cultural communities. Students perform “outside of the box” and learn how to embody culturally specific aesthetics and practices, as they train in vocal, physical and theatrical expression skills. 

Adult Piano (open to anyone) (Piano Literature and Pedagogy)

The Piano Pedagogy Laboratory Program has offered Adult Piano Courses since last fall, and it has been incredibly popular (with more than 100 people on the waitlist within a day of opening the registration!). These courses are offered as part of PPLP, however, so they are not for credit.

This Might Get Loud: The Amplified Guitar, Its Players, Their Music, and What All This Means (Musicology)

Music undergraduates and non-music majors are welcome to elect this course on the most important musical instrument of the 20th century, the amplified guitar. The first half of the term will focus on historical and technical matters, and consider such topics as guitar design, manufacture, marketing, and sales; analog and digital sound processing, including myriad ways electric guitar signals can be reshaped and enhanced; key styles, recordings, recordists and playing approaches. The second will focus on the cultural impact of the electric guitar, its players and their music, including (for instance) how players present themselves and their music in film, on television and the internet; the amplified guitar in global contexts. 

Introduction to Electronic Music (Performing Arts Technology)

This course is for students not majoring in Performing Arts Technology who are interested in developing a contextually informed artistic practice in the area of electronic music composition, production, and performance. Through a series of composition exercises, students build skills in sequencing, audio and MIDI recording and editing, mixing, sound synthesis, sampling, effects processing, and live electronic music performance with real-time controllers. 

Arts Entrepreneurship Essentials (Arts Administration)

Students will have the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship through the prism of their own arts or life focus and specialization. Required texts, coupled with class lectures, collaborative projects and engaged discussions are designed to help develop the core skill sets necessary to awaken and develop young creative entrepreneurs. As a practicing arts and social entrepreneur having founded several successful, ongoing creative initiatives and organizations, Professor Aaron Dworkin will introduce a unique and practical course informed by his own life experiences, including building a thriving nonprofit with a $5 million annual budget and a 20-year track record.  

Stamps School of Art & Design

Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project

As part of an interdisciplinary project assisting neighborhood-based small businesses in Detroit, students work with entrepreneurs to solve problems and address barriers to growth. They learn skills for working in collaborative teams, interacting with clients, and thinking critically to define design opportunities, propose and implement solutions. Studio work spans experience, service, and visual communication design. There will also be opportunities to connect with Law and Ross students working with the same entrepreneurs.


The main way that humans metamorphosize is via clothing. The strategy of this course is to divert students from thinking about standard clothing–Pants. Skirt. Dress. Shirt.–by challenging them, instead, to focus on the job or action that the adorned body will be doing. Costuming or clothing a body for a particular, and possibly unusual, action frees students up to be less fashionable and more inventive. In this course, students create innovative new possibilities for human metamorphosis via wearables. The first half of this course provides a series of instructor-initiated prompts. In the second half, students prompt themselves. All course assignments contain enough flexibility for students to introduce and explore their personal interests.

Florilegium: A Plant Compendium

This class incorporates art, science, nature and design. Students create a collection of drawings and paintings of plants, flowers and trees found in Michigan and beyond. Students use study and research, sketches and photographs to develop and inspire their own subject matter for a ‘florilegium’ (from Latin: to gather). The final format is an original, handmade book of work from field observations, study, and studio work. This studio class is supplemented with opportunities to see rare books and artists’ books and field trips to local natural areas, botanical gardens and the UM Herbarium and more.

History of Art (LSA)

History of Art: Gender and Popular Culture 

Gender and popular culture are interrelated social constructs that have a profound impact on our everyday lives. Movies, TV, magazines, and the internet not only reflect what it means to be a man or woman today, they also inform those identities. This course will focus on the visual aspects of these phenomena and survey key methods for interpreting them, including the gaze, queer theory, radical feminist theory, Foucauldean theory, and issues of socioeconomic status. These theories will be applied to examples of contemporary American culture from Facebook and Judd Apatow films to the suburban home and Sons of Anarchy. Questions will be debated: Does gender have to be binary? How does gender affect the experience of space? Is the availability of pornography affecting our ideas of gender? Why is child rearing such a contested domain? How does racial identity influence gender norms? And perhaps most importantly, who is missing from popular representations of gender?

History of Art: The art of Yoga

As the ancient Indian discipline of yoga becomes increasingly popular worldwide, it is important to query its early development, transformation over the centuries, and the possibilities that it holds forth to its practitioners. Graphing milestones in the history of yoga, this course is also an introduction to the visual, literary, and religious cultures of South Asia. On occasion, participants will attempt to perform basic yoga postures in the classroom, and visit art museums and yoga studios in the Ann Arbor area.

Residential College (LSA)

Farce World: A Survey of Low Comedy from the Ancient World (West and East) to the Trump Administration

This course will focus on short comic plays, what might be labelled folk—or popular theatre—from the earliest times up to the present. The semester will be organized into three sections: 1) The Ancient World, East and West, including Greek mimes, Sanskrit farces, and Kyogen plays, the comic end of Japanese Noh Drama; 2) Medieval and Renaissance, which will include famous medieval French farces such as Pierre Pathelin, some of Hans Sachs’ Carnival plays from Nuremberg, with “jigs” and “drolls” from Shakespeare’s England; and 3) Modern, which takes students from the 18th century to the present with politically tinged low-comedy from Henry Fielding, Alfred Jarry, Bertolt Brecht, and Tom Stoppard. 

Art & Resistance: Global Responses to Oppression

How can art be a means of resistance? Is the sheer production of art under systems of oppression an act of resistance in and of itself? How does art manage to thrive under systems of oppression? How do we judge the aesthetic and activist aspects of a work of art? This course looks at how art has been used as a form of resistance against oppression and subjugation in the broadest sense: including governmental, societal, and domestic oppression. Students will examine contemporary artists and works on a global scale including artist responses to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., May ’68 in France, Palestinian resistance since 1948, Mexican muralism, international responses to recent wars in the Middle East and other global neo-colonial interventions, global feminist and queer rights movements, and socially engaged art practices around the world.  

Detroit Artist as Activist

This course will explore the role the arts have played in resisting systemic inequalities, fighting injustice, and giving voice to those on the margins. Students will consider both the strengths and limitations of art, particularly creative writing, as a force for social change as well as art’s effectiveness in engaging communities. Further, the course will involve the study and practice of creative writing as a means to deepen understanding of and relationship to the city of Detroit. 

Prison Vocal Workshop 

Vocal music in prisons began to arise in the 1990s in the United States, and has since become a vital part of artistic expression of the incarcerated. Research shows that prison choirs help inmates reconnect with their self-worth and build a sense of community—both inside and outside prison walls. Sounds from Within vocal music workshop will be an exploration of all forms of vocal sounds from singing to hip-hop spoken word and rhythm. Through studying other models that exist in Iowa, Ohio and Massachusetts prisons, students will learn various techniques and strategies they will use to facilitate six to eight workshops in the Saginaw Correctional Center. 

Labor Movements, Inequality and Democracy

This course is a unique opportunity to learn about the past, present and future of the U.S. labor movement—and how changes in labor movement power impact economic inequality and the quality of democracy—from Bob King, a U.S. labor union leader. King hired into the River Rouge plant (UAW Local 600) in 1970 and was elected to ever higher positions until he became International President (2010-2014). He was vice-president for Ford when the 2008 global financial crisis hit, pushing GM and Chrysler to the brink of bankruptcy. The class will focus on what the UAW and the Obama administration did to save the industry. It will include a discussion about why the labor movement needs to return to its position as a force for social justice in capitalist societies, and what can be done to move in that direction. 

Inside-Out Prison Exchange Course

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program® is a national educational program that brings together incarcerated (“inside”) students and university (“outside”) students for dialogic, bi-directional learning opportunities. Students will explore the explicit and implicit functions of mass incarceration in the United States from varied theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. Through weekly, discussion-based class sessions, they will contemplate the motives and catalysts driving the expansion of the incarcerated population from under 300,000 in the early 1970s to more than 2 million today. 

University Musical Society (UMS)

Engaging Performance

This course connects undergraduate students directly to the touring, world-class artists who perform music, theater, and dance on the U-M campus. In place of required reading, students will attend live performances, talk with the artists and the arts administrators who help get them here, and explore how the performing arts are an integral part of our lives and the world at large. The class includes lectures (including some by guests and visiting artists), required attendance at evening performances and interactive classroom activities.

American Culture (LSA)

Vampires and Monsters

This class analyzes the history of the United States through the emergence of monsters, supernatural creatures, the uncanny, and phantasmagoric tales. In particular, it will study traditional witches, zombies, vampires, as well as other creatures such as Freddy Krueger, the Chupacabras, and cyber monsters like the slenderman. It will focus on their historical context, evolution, political, economical and gender elements in order to understand how America uses the imaginary to deal with socio-historical anxieties, fears, and demographic changes. Questions to be explored: What is the relationship between witches and capitalism? Why vampires are so popular today? What is the connection between zombies and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11? This class will analyze stories tales, films, TV shows, fiction novels, and academic papers. 

Anthropology (LSA)

Frauds and Fantastic Claims in Archaeology

Have sensationalized stories about archaeology, such as claims about Atlantis and Ancient Aliens, intrigued you? In this course we explore extraordinary interpretations of archaeological remains that are popular subjects of news stories but considered fringe ideas by professional archaeologists. By investigating these fantastic claims, including ones that have proven to be correct, you will learn to be critical consumers of information about the past and to distinguish science from pseudoscience. You will also learn how archaeologists examine the lives of ancient people, as you hone your ability to identify fake news and frauds.

Astronomy (LSA)


Does ET exist? Has he/she/it visited Earth? Do we want to try to communicate and should we? This course will focus on the search for extraterrestrial life, placing a strong focus on the scientific hurdles that lie in our understanding the development of life and for its potential evolution towards interstellar travel and communication. The framework of the course will be based upon the Drake Equation, first posed to estimate the total number of intelligent civilizations that might exist in the Galaxy at a given time. A census of the potential for life beyond Earth will be taken through an exploration of the solar system. We will then survey beyond our own star system to the exciting search for “extra-solar” planets and their biological potential. The class will end with a group activity where students and professors will try to estimate how many ET civilizations might exist and then move on to discuss our future potential to travel to the stars.

Communication and Media (LSA)

Podcasting the Twentieth Century

Through a podcast format, students will explore major themes of 20th-century world history including globalization, the experience of war, the origins of fascism and genocide, the rise of anticolonial movements and the breakup of European empires, the effects of the Cold War in the developing world, and the social and cultural changes brought on by postindustrial transition, among many others. Along the way they will grapple with the difficult ethical and political questions inherent in the act of telling stories about the past, as students create a series of audio story segments of increasing length and complexity. 

English Language and Literature (LSA)

Writing Weird

As writers, we want to cultivate an eye for the weird in the world around us and a flair for the weird in our own style. You know what real audiences don’t want to read? Five paragraph essays. You know what they do want to read? Work that’s surprising, intriguing, disturbing. As writers, we will take ‘the Weird’ as our model and motto this semester. We’ll discover the weird in the banal, turn inward to write about our own obsessions, and in between use interactions with real people and real events to raise the stakes of our work. In other words, this is a class about how to conduct investigations. We want to be writers who reveal the innards of what’s weird about our world and ourselves.

Science Fiction & Social Justice 

How does science fiction serve as a metaphor for the present moment? Can stories about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world or aliens living in an ambisexual society give us any insight into social inequalities and systems of oppression? Through texts ranging from Ursula Le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness to Octavia Butler’s renderings of the future, students will analyze the ways artists and scholars have re-envisioned our lives and the implications of these imaginative leaps as tools for individual and collective resistance.

Sociology (LSA)

Project Community

This is an experiential course designed to help students participate in and reflect on community-engaged learning experiences through a sociological lens. Students are able to gain new perspectives on social inequalities through their experiences at a variety of sites, including elementary schools, afterschool programs, health clinics, correctional facilities, social services agencies, advocacy centers, and other community organizations in Southeast Michigan. 

Sociology Opportunities for Undergraduate Leaders (SOUL) 

SOUL is the first department-level leadership program for first-generation college students at the University of Michigan, in recognition that these students face unusual social, academic and financial challenges. The Department of Sociology has created a program designed to cultivate and support first-generation students who also possess the leadership skills of curiosity, conscientiousness, persistence and risk-taking.The program includes a 2-credit class to discuss issues class stratification and social mobility, and to hone professionalization skills. 

Academic Innovation

Michigan Online  (courses are posted in the weeks leading up to their start date)

Hearing Loss in Children (September 2019)  

Approximately 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in at least one ear. Early identification is crucial for prevention of language delays or disorders in children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Appropriate intervention or rehabilitation may begin during critical time periods for brain development and missed intervention may lead to a broad range of developmental delays. This course gives learners the foundational knowledge that can be applied immediately in a broad range of health, educational, and home settings.

Concussions MOOC and Teach-Out (September 2)

This course will provide information for coaches, parents, athletes on the basics of concussion.  It will show you how to recognize concussion, recommend when to remove players from activity and how best to seek medical treatment. You will also learn about recommended recovery strategies and how to reduce the risk of concussion over all.  After a brief quiz, you will be provided with a certificate of completion.

Good with Words (December 2019)

Perhaps the most important thing students and professionals of all kinds can do to improve their effectiveness is embrace the following directive: become good with words. This course will teach how to do that through a collection of exercises, concepts, and examples designed to focus specifically on improving their writing skills.

Piano Literature (January 2020)

An overview of the piano sonata genre, from Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) to today. Landmark piano sonatas of all eras will be explored, in terms of formal construction and the changing stylistic conventions inherited by the composers. Style will be considered from both an analytical and a historical point of view. The impact on style from developments in keyboard instruments will also be considered.

Sports Performance Analytics Specialization (January 2020)

This series will introduce the learner to the use of data in the analysis of team performance in sports. The course will explain how data applications have developed and introduce basic methods that the student can apply. It will show students where to find data resources and introduce methods that can be used to analyze it in Python. This will involve both the use of graphical methods to represent data and the regression method for modeling cause and effect. By the end of the course, students will be able to take a sports dataset, manipulate it, and run basic inferential statistical analyses.

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