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Carmichael named UGA’s first director of active learning

The University of Georgia is ramping up its commitment to active learning with its first appointment focused specifically on the instructional method. Leah Carmichael, a lecturer in the School of Public and International Affairs, will take the helm as director of active learning on August 1. 

As director of active learning, Carmichael will lead the implementation of a five-year, $6 million campus-wide initiative to promote and enhance the use of active learning strategies in the undergraduate classroom. Active learning moves beyond the standard lecture to engage students in the classroom, encouraging them to be active participants as they work to build knowledge and reflect on the learning process. It includes activities that provide real-time feedback, such as problem solving, in-class group work and reflective writing.  

The active learning initiative is the university’s newest quality enhancement plan, which is a plan to enhance student learning developed as part of UGA’s reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of College and Schools (SACSCOC). The plan builds on existing programs, such as the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Active Learning Summer Institute, a three-week intensive program that helps faculty re-design courses using active learning methods, and several rounds of classroom enhancement initiatives aimed at making UGA classrooms more flexible. A SACSCOC committee visited campus in late March to provide feedback on the plan, which is focused on three areas: instructor development, student initiatives and classroom renovations. 

“Dr. Leah Carmichael’s appointment as director is the next step in broadening the implementation of active learning at the University of Georgia,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “She has a passion for teaching and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in active learning as an instructor and campus collaborator. We are delighted to have her expertise and enthusiasm in this essential position.” 

Carmichael has been a lecturer at UGA since 2016, teaching courses on international relations, international law, global issues and the international politics of food, among other topics. In 2017, she started shifting her teaching style to active learning by redesigning one of her introductory-level courses on international affairs. Instead of relying primarily on lectures, she put students at the center of the class as they worked through a semester-long global political crisis simulation. In 2018, when UGA offered its inaugural Active Learning Summer Institute, Carmichael was there, digging into the evidence-based research that explains why active learning leads to deeper student learning, practicing key techniques and methods to deploy in her classroom, and working with other instructors and the experts at the Center for Teaching and Learning to redesign her courses in order to utilize these data and methods. 

“Active learning has fundamentally transformed my approach to teaching,” Carmichael said. “Witnessing students as they grow into future leaders within the active learning classroom has affirmed my belief that this approach to teaching and learning is the future of quality undergraduate education. I am very proud that the University of Georgia is a leader among its peers with the launch of this initiative. As the director of active learning, I will ensure that it is a roaring success.” 

Carmichael has been responsible for teaching four courses each fall and spring semester and two in the summer for a total of 10 each year. During her tenure, she has taught more than 60 courses to thousands of undergraduates.  

She has served as undergraduate coordinator and internship director in the Department of International Affairs and as a member of the department’s curriculum committee and faculty executive committee. She is the faculty sponsor for UGA’s Model United Nations team and the SPIA representative on the university’s curriculum committee. She has served on the Task Force for Teaching and Learning; as member of the Teaching Academy’s executive committee; and on various award panels for the Morehead Honors College, including scholarships such as the Boren, Fulbright and Rhodes.  

Her awards include the Department of International Affairs Award for Teaching Excellence, 2016; the Disability Resource Center’s Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award, 2019; the Honors College’s J. Hatten Howard III Award, 2021; and the university’s Creative Teaching Award, 2021. 

Also in 2021, Carmichael’s undergraduate course in international law was published by Lexington Books as the active-learning style textbook, “Is International Law Even Law?” Her current research projects focus on the growing geostrategic competition in the Arctic region and the use of starvation as a tool of war. She plans to publish both projects as books in 2023. 

Carmichael holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Guilford College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in international affairs from the University of Georgia. 

An eight-member search advisory committee chaired by Allan Aycock, senior director for accreditation and institutional effectiveness, helped identify finalists for the director position. To implement the active learning initiative, Carmichael will lead a management team that includes Katie Burr, associate director of assessment in the Office of Instruction; Krista Coleman-Silvers, director of space planning and management; Meg Mittelstadt, director of the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning; Naomi Norman, interim director of the Division of Academic Enhancement; Maggie Parker, associate director in the Office of Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness; and Annie Carlson Welch, assistant to the vice president for student affairs. 

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