Take a Look at the ART 2.0 Academic Spotlight

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


The Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0) serve the University of Michigan community by exposing historical academic data including information about courses, instructors, and majors. Faculty champion and founder of ART 2.0, August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and the ART 2.0 team in the Office of Academic Innovation ideate, in regular intervals, on what kinds of and in what ways to show relevant data to our community. Of course, we also respond to what our stakeholders ask for. Grade distributions, for example, are something University of Michigan students requested we show for quite some time. Fortunately, we were able to do so. Given the success of recent ART 2.0 improvements including the aforementioned grade distributions, the most common co-majors and minors for undergraduate degrees, and the terms to completion for undergraduate degrees, the ART 2.0 team is eager to show more and, importantly meaningful, data to aid University of Michigan students in making informed academic decisions.

Introducing, Academic Spotlight

In service of meeting this objective ART 2.0 has recently added a new feature called “Academic Spotlight”. The ART 2.0 Academic Spotlight takes unique and significant kinds of University of Michigan data, and puts them into relevant categories and lists for our community. Already, we have six spotlights we are eager for students, faculty, and staff to peruse. These include:  

  • The 10 largest undergraduate University of Michigan courses. Interestingly, but not surprisingly given its size, all are offered by the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts.
  • All Arthur F. Thurnau faculty. The Thurnau designation is awarded to University of Michigan faculty for outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching. ART 2.0 lists all Thurnau faculty in reverse chronological order, and link to their InstructorInfo pages from this list.
  • The 10 fastest growing degrees by percentage increase over the last three years. Some of these degrees include the Bachelor of Information Science and Bachelor of Physics.
  • Center for Entrepreneurship courses. We give students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to look at all of the Center for Entrepreneurship courses at a glance, and link each one to their CourseProfile page.
  • 100 courses where students reported their desire to take the course was low, but that their increased interest in the subject was high after taking the course. These courses are worth taking a look at, proving that a good course is not always one students had a high desire to take.
  • The Wild Card feature. Gain access to 10 courses at random. Given that ART 2.0 contains over 11,000 University of Michigan courses, the wildcard feature is sure to help expose students to courses they may not otherwise know.

The Academic Spotlight feature will continue to expand as the ART 2.0 team responds to the University of Michigan community’s wants and needs in how we smartly and pertinently visualize institutional data. In the meantime take a look at the Academic Spotlight, “roll the dice” in the Wild Card feature, and enjoy getting to know University of Michigan data in new and exciting ways.

Convening Communities of Practice in the Office of Academic Innovation

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


How does the Office of Academic Innovation bring together faculty and staff to participate in reciprocal learning experiences? While we offer faculty and staff a myriad of ways to learn from us and one another, one principal way we convene faculty and staff is in communities of practice. Communities of practice enable the Office of Academic Innovation the opportunity to bring together faculty and staff from across the University to engage in deep learning experiences on salient teaching and learning topics. But before we dig deeper into the advantages of partaking in a community of practice, let’s define one.

What is a Community of Practice?

The Office of Academic Innovation, like many, borrows inspiration for – and guidance from – convening and running its communities of practices based on the seminal work of Etienne Wenger. Wenger’s 1988 book, aptly titled Communities of Practice, outlines its essential features. These include:

  • Domain: The topic with which the community convenes around. For us in the Office of Academic Innovation, we pick topics in service of our goals, and of interest to our stakeholders. Recent communities of practice include gameful learning and simulation pedagogy.
  • Community: The learners themselves! In strong communities of practice, participants develop constructive relationships where they acquire knowledge from one another and strengthen ties. These relationships form the basis of a culture where they comfortably share ideas with one another.
  • Practice: The way in which the community decides the focus of the group. Although the domain may be of general interest to the members, the practice ensures that their specific needs are met. The practice is how the knowledge of the community is constructed and maintained.

What do Members Gain?

In a place as large as the University of Michigan, faculty and staff may sometimes struggle to find others who are invested in developing a teaching and learning pedagogy similar to their own. Places like the Office of Academic Innovation, the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (who sometimes co-sponsors communities of practice with us) and a handful of others use communities of practice as a way to help faculty and staff with similar interests find and learn from each other. Members gain an opportunity to examine their approach to teaching and learning in a low-stakes environment with others who are equally invested. Communities of practice enable us to tackle tough, but common issues such as using autonomy as a way to foster motivation for learning, or using role-based learning to gain empathy about an actor other than yourself. Members in our communities of practice gain access to people, resources, and an approach to innovative ways of teaching, and meaningful ways of learning.

How do I Join?

Each academic term and year, the Office of Academic Innovation hosts communities of practice any faculty or staff may join. Our current offerings are listed below.

  • Gameful Learning Community of Practice: Gameful teaching is a pedagogical approach that takes inspiration from how good games function and applies that to the design of learning environments. Gameful seeks to support students’ intrinsic motivation by building structures for student autonomy, opportunities to demonstrate competency and by facilitating interpersonal connections. This community of practice is designed to engage in meaningful and productive discussion about their use of gameful principles in teaching, including sharing successes and challenges, to help create a more motivational environment for all learners.
  • Simulations Community of Practice: The Simulations Community of Practice is an interdisciplinary group of U-M staff and faculty who meet regularly to discuss the development and implementation of simulation-based teaching tools. Participants explore the benefits and challenges of simulation activities, as well as share experiences and resources. All instructors and staff who create and/or facilitate simulation activities for the classroom, or who are interested in doing so, are welcome to attend.
  • Public Engagement: A future community of practice focused on public engagement is in the works. Stay tuned for more details. 

Stay updated on all communities of practice and other faculty and staff groups by visiting our events calendar.

We are eager to continue to expand our communities of practice in service of our faculty and staff while bringing both our expertise and curiosity to bear in facilitating a positive learning community for those responsible for stewarding students learning experiences.  

The Making of a Community Engagement MOOC

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


What happens when a multidisciplinary team of University of Michigan staff, faculty, and graduate students come together to create a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on community engagement featuring at least a dozen voices? A deep and wide learning experience that traverses all major aspects of how to do effective community engagement in higher education is born. Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change recently launched on EdX. This unique learning experience commenced when a group of staff from the Center for Socially Engaged Design- College of Engineering, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Edward Ginsberg Center- Student Life, Global Engagement Team- Office of the Provost, School of Information, and the School of Social Work decided to use the MOOC structure to create and deliver a robust curriculum on how to enter, navigate, and exit communities in engaged learning experiences. As Jen Vetter, Office of Academic Innovation Design Manager said of the project, “At any time during development, we had more than a dozen voices contributing to what this course would look and feel like.”


Working with a Large and Multidisciplinary Team

How does the Office of Academic Innovation work with a team this size? As you can imagine, it could present challenges when many stakeholders are involved in making content and design decisions. Jen says To take advantage of all our expertise and voices, and also to help streamline what needed to be done, we planned and implemented a full-day design retreat – a first for the Office of Academic Innovation – early in the partnership that helped to set the tone and feel of the course.” Rather than look at the size of the team as a barrier to the design and implementation process everyone embraced the benefits that come from employing a larger group, including the diversity of voices aiding design decisions. As Carrie Luke, Program Manager in the Provost’s Office, indicates when talking about the consensus based decision-making approach the team employed “Community engagement work requires a collaborative leadership approach in order to be successful — one that focuses on relationship-building, robust discussion and the ability to talk through conflicting ideas, and strong consensus-building skills. To live into this principle ourselves, we leveraged that collaborative, horizontal model for our work on the course, with no one having more authority over anyone else on the team. Speaking honestly, there were moments when having a “chair” might have made decision-making faster and easier, but we were convinced that rigorous discussion and consensus-building would lead to a better product in the end. All of us on the course development team happen to be women, and horizontal leadership models are deeply rooted in feminist practice and social justice work — so it’s a point of pride for us that we were able to leverage these approaches in our own work and promote them for other teams to try, too.”


Centering Community Partners Voices

While the sheer size of the team working to produce this MOOC was unusual, the way in which the team incorporated voices is also of note. Kelly Kowatch, Director of Engaged Learning Programs in the School of Information said in a recent University of Michigan Record article written by Nitya Gupta  We also intentionally sought out significant input from student users and community members who are experts on these topics.” It’s true that not only does this MOOC showcase the scholarship of faculty who partner with communities in their teaching and learning, it also amply incorporates students who have had community engagement experiences and could share their lessons learned with future learners. Importantly, it also features community partners themselves presenting their necessary views on topics such as understanding the necessity of and value in community context and expertise, working within a collaborative team communicating effectively, resolving conflicts and managing community engagement projects. Carrie Luke expresses, “It was very important to us to include a wide range of voices and perspectives in the course. We felt that doing so would help the course content speak to a wider and more diverse audience, and it would be more representative of community engagement work itself, where working with and learning from people who are different from you is par for the course.” It is the care and attention the team played to issues of representation that really matters. As the project’s Learning Experience Designer, Rebecca Quintana, PhD said, “The design team was totally committed to their work and it was clear that they cared deeply about the project. The final design reflects their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


Creating Something for University of Michigan Students and Global Learners

Danyelle Reynolds, Assistant Director for Student Learning and Leadership in the Edward Ginsberg Center expressed in the Record article about the creation of this learning experience, “We know that properly preparing the thousands of students who have community engagement experiences each year maximizes learning outcomes and community benefit.” Indeed what is compelling about this learning experience is that is designed for both residential and global learners. As Carrie Luke says, “…we realized that the content we were developing had universal qualities that could benefit anyone trying to work with communities beyond their own. We were also deeply committed to the idea that the learning experience should be flexible and personalizable, since learners come to community engagement work from so many contexts and with such varying levels of preparation. The MOOC enabled the broadest accessibility and most flexibility of any format we considered — as well as the additional benefit of global reach thanks to our partnership with the Office of Academic Innovation, EdX, and Michigan Online.” In fact, in the first week of launch, over 1,000 learners from across the world enrolled in the course, while faculty at the University of Michigan reported using it in their classes. As Rebecca Quintana posits, “The Office of Academic Innovation is proud to have this course as part of our portfolio, and we are confident that this course will be a valuable resource for U-M students and others who are engaged in work within various communities, both locally and globally.”

The Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change MOOC proves a large team of professionals with different roles, responsibilities, and situated in different parts of the University of Michigan, can come together to create unique learning experiences on issues and topics that supercede any one department to the benefit of both residential and global learners. This project demonstrates strong cooperation, smart design process, and aspirational goals can be met to deliver a rich learning experience.

Using Data to Inform Course Development and Assess Impact in a Hybrid Course

Cathy Hearn, Fall & Winter Course Advocate

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

This is the fifth blog post in a series on the School of Education’s 2018 Winter Cohort initiative. In the first post in this series, Professor Donald Peurach introduced the 2018 Winter Cohort: a learning experience in which University of Michigan graduate students collaborated with online learners from across the globe to complete content from the School of Education’s MicroMasters program in Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement.

In this post, Cathy Hearn and Rebecca Quintana discuss research efforts connected to the 2018 Winter Cohort Experience. Faculty and students from the School of Education and staff from the Office of Academic Innovation formed a community of inquiry around the Winter Cohort. The core course team collected weekly reflections from learners in order to improve the course experience week-by-week, to inform longer-term and larger-scope course development. The larger research team collected additional data including learner demographics, interviews, and activity logs with the goal of answering several questions about teaching and learning articulated by the team. A secondary goal was to develop conference papers and presentations in order to share their learning with others. The research team hopes this work serves as a use case for thoughtful and effective data collection and use from innovative educational programs.

Data collection to inform minor weekly changes

During the class sessions, we strove to create a culture of openness to course feedback.

We frequently held informal focus groups with students, soliciting opinions on topics such as the pace of work, study materials, enrichment opportunities, and office hours. Our learners also completed weekly surveys where they were asked to provide both ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ feedback. Reviewing these surveys weekly allowed us to introduce changes or additions on a week-by-week basis. For instance, learners expressed they were interested in receiving feedback from other teams. In response, we designed a lesson where students were able to do precisely that. We invited campus-based and online learners to take part in a live session in which teams exchanged work artefacts and worked through a feedback protocol. After the session, learners expressed an appreciation that we listened to—and acted upon—their input in real time.

Data collection to respond to driving research questions

In addition to these data sources, our research team intentionally recorded other aspects of the cohort experience. This took the form of learner and course staff interviews, pre- and post- course surveys, video and audio recordings, work artefacts, edX analytics, and more. Based on themes that emerged in our early analysis, we are now using these data sources to investigate social interaction, learner diversity, the effects of curating an online course, and ecologies of resources, drawing on Luckin’s (2010) framework. We have now assembled small groups of researchers around each topic and have submitted a proposal to present our findings at the 2019 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference. Through the preparation of this conference proposal, our fundamental aim is to share what we have learned with others setting out to do similar work.

Recommendations that stem from findings

Our attention to collecting and analyzing a rich body of data has been important to help us evaluate our course design and content. We feel many of the recommendations that stem from our findings will be useful for others designing and facilitating similar online and blended courses. Our recommendations include:

  • Developing a “Week Zero” or tutorial week aimed at acquainting learners with the platform and with course norms;
  • Highlighting the presence of course leaders and active course peers, which can be vital to learner persistence in an online learning setting;
  • Creating a simple course structure, and emphasizing important information in order to ensure that guidance is clear; and
  • Ensuring all learners feel represented and included in the course by providing additional examples and case studies from outside of U.S. or mainstream contexts.

Our community of inquiry centered around understanding what it means to support online and on-campus learners who are interacting together in an online environment. We also learned a lot about what it means to form and support a diverse group of researchers who are focused on a shared phenomenon of interest – a practice we hope to adopt in future investigations.

Read these other blog posts from the 2018 Winter Cohort of the University of Michigan’s Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters program:



Connect with the School of Education MicroMasters team @UMLeadEdHub


Luckin, R. (2010). Re-designing learning contexts: Technology-rich, learner-centred ecologies. New York: Routledge.

Advisory Committee Named to Inform Academic Innovation Strategy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

I’m very pleased to announce that the Office of Academic Innovation has appointed a new faculty advisory committee and will convene this group for the first time on Tuesday, September 18, 2018. We’re thrilled to benefit from the experience and expertise of this talented group of faculty leaders as we seek to broaden the impact of U-M’s mission by making our learning experiences accessible at scale and ultimately to create a peaceful, equitable and empowered society.

The Academic Innovation Advisory Committee is responsible for advising the the Office of Academic Innovation on policies, activities, and investments that enable the Office of Academic Innovation to fulfill its mission. This new faculty advisory committee will play a critical role in informing our thinking and strategy as we continue to foster a culture of innovation in learning at Michigan and maximize our positive impact on campus and beyond.


The Academic Innovation Advisory Committee members include:

Welcome Academic Innovation Advisory Committee!

  • Arun Agrawal, School for Environment and Sustainability, Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability
  • Barry Fishman, School of Information and School of Education, Professor of Information and Education.
  • Brenda Gunderson, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Senior Lecturer in Statistics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Caren Stalburg, Michigan Medicine, Associate Professor, Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Learning Health Sciences
  • Don Peurach, School of Education, Associate Professor, Educational Policy, Leadership, and Innovation
  • Gautam Kaul, Ross School of Business, Professor of Finance & Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration
  • Harley Etienne, Taubman College, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Liz Gerber, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Health, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy, Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement
  • Meg Duffy, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Mika LaVaque-Manty, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of the LSA Honors Program
  • Tabbye Chavous, College of Literature, Science and the Arts and School of Education, Professor of Education and Psychology, Director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID)
  • Tawanna Dillahunt, School of Information and College of Engineering, Assistant Professor, School of Information (courtesy appointment in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)
  • Vineet Kamat, College of Engineering, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Faculty innovators are contributing to U-M’s academic innovation network in many ways as we grow rapidly to serve our expanding global U-M community, enabling people to connect, engage and take control of their life-long learning journeys.

In addition to forming the new committee, the Office of Academic Innovation appointed two faculty innovators in residence in the Spring. Professor Barry Fishman and Professor Meghan Duffy are spending their sabbaticals at the Office of Academic Innovation. Both Fishman and Duffy will also serve on the Advisory Committee during their residence.

The Office of Academic Innovation also appointed two senior academic innovation fellows. Chris Brooks, Research Assistant Professor at the School of Information, continues to work closely with the Office of Academic Innovation, where he has been a key contributor and faculty innovator for several years, with a focus on learning analytics and the design of online learning experiences. Will Potter, a lecturer in the Department of English, was appointed senior academic innovation fellow in May and focuses on the intersections between academic innovation, digital storytelling, and public engagement including U-M’s Teach-Out series.

The Office of Academic Innovation is also facilitating several communities of practice which engage faculty from across academic units, with the aim of increasing adoption of innovative pedagogies and tools championed by faculty innovators. Current communities of practice focus on simulations, gameful learning, and public engagement, respectively.

Faculty continue to work closely with the Office of Academic Innovation across a number of initiatives. Currently, more than 90 faculty are working with Academic Innovation across more than 100 projects.

Michigan Online encourages learning lifestyle for U-M community through #HereToLearn

This article was originally posted on 9/4/2018 on Michigan News

Laurel Thomas, Michigan News

Why are you “here to learn?” This question posed to alumni and other University of Michigan learners by the Office of Academic Innovation is followed with a commitment: We’ll help you get there.

U-M’s 583,000 alumni worldwide now enjoy the lifetime benefit of Michigan Online learning opportunities at no cost. They will receive free certification to a growing list of more than 90 faculty-led online learning experiences.

This new alumni benefit expands the program rolled out in May, which also granted free certification options to faculty, staff and current students.

“I am proud that the University of Michigan is the first university to offer these certifications at no cost to alumni from all three of our campuses,” U-M President Mark Schlissel said. “Michigan Online extends our commitment as a public university to lead the way in increasing access to knowledge through academic innovation.”

The Office of Academic Innovation partners with schools and colleges across the university to create learning opportunities led by U-M’s faculty and bring them to the masses via Michigan Online. A portfolio of courses in a wide range of disciplines has led to nearly 6.9 million enrollments worldwide.

“We created Michigan Online to broaden the impact of U-M’s mission to develop leaders and citizens who challenge the present and enrich the future,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation. “By inviting alumni to take advantage of this new benefit and expanding open access to learners on campus and around the world, we are deepening our commitment to quality learning at scale. Through Michigan Online, we aim to better understand and meet the lifelong and lifewide learning needs of our growing U-M community.”

While access to Michigan Online courses via U-M’s partner platforms generally are free to all learners, the certificates carry price tags. These could run approximately $500 for a six-month series of courses. These fees are now waived for all current students, staff, faculty and alumni from the three campuses.

A certificate confirms successful completion of a course, or collection of courses, and can be included in a resume, mentioned in a job application or shared via social media, such as LinkedIn. Certificates are not official professional or academic credits.

In today’s complex world learning beyond the traditional degree has never been more important, leaders say. Through a newly released video, Michigan Online is engaging alumni and all learners to reflect on their unique reasons for learning by asking that question, “Why are you ‘here to learn?’” The learners are being encouraged to share answers on social media using #HereToLearn and #MichiganOnline.

Silhouette of a young woman walking into a building with the text #HereToLearn on top.Michelle Li, a participant in School of Education Michigan Online courses, has an answer: “Because there is so much to learn and the more I learn, the more I am well positioned to productively address the persistent problems in K-12 education. Because we expect young people to learn in school every day, and as adults, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard.”

Li served as a public high school English teacher in the Boston area for a decade and a half before earning a master’s degree in program evaluation and improvement research at U-M. She now is a facilitator and continuous improvement coach at the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity in Rhode Island, an organization that provides leaders with professional learning and support to create equitable outcomes for students in schools.

U-M Information and Technology Services employee Ken Caldwell has taken several Michigan Online courses, partly for enrichment but also to enhance skills for his job as a marketing and communications professional, and to prepare to be a master’s student in the School of Information.

Among several massive open online courses (MOOCs), he took a five-course Python for Everybody series prior to enrolling in the Master of Science in Information program.

“I took that as a way to sample the type of curriculum UMSI offers,” said Caldwell, a marketing communication specialist.

As for why he is here to learn: “I’m really interested in helping people solve problems with technology. Ensuring information flows smoothly is key.”

Another Michigan Online student taking courses in education is both an alumna and U-M staff member. Evelyn Ventola, field manager for the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Center for Political Studies, said the ability to study at a pace that fit around work already made MOOC learning a plus.

“It’s wonderful to see that U-M is taking such an interest in the continued education of its faculty, staff, students and alumni,” she said. “Having free access to these courses has definitely encouraged me to explore the offerings, as I normally find the cost of these programs to be a barrier to participation. I am ‘here to learn’ because I know that education is the surest way to better oneself.”

Personalized Electronic Coaching: The Origin of ECoach

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Personalization is a popular concept in and outside of higher education, yet definitions vary, sometimes widely, about what it means to “personalize” educational experiences for students. ECoach, a tailored communication system, is using personalization backed by well-researched behavioral science, smart user experience design, and ongoing software development, to help students succeed in large courses. Professor Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education and founder of ECoach, explains what it was like for him to grapple with meaningfully and successfully reaching hundreds of students in his large introductory physics course. Listen as Professor McKay talks about the “a-ha” moments that motivated him to create a digital edutech solution to provide the right information, at the right time, and in the right way to his students. Hear Professor McKay examine how ECoach has evolved over time, and what the future may look like for ECoach and thoughtful, student-centered, and technology driven personalization as part of the future of higher education.


Take a listen by clicking below.



Listening to Puerto Rico

Steve Welsh, Learning Experience Designer

Earlier this May, the University of Michigan hosted the first Teach-Out Academy,  where ten universities came together to explore how online Teach-Out events might be utilized to engage communities in discussion around important topics of our time. Among the Academy participants was Notre Dame’s Office of Digital Learning. Over the course of the Academy, an exciting collaboration emerged between University of Michigan and Notre Dame around the topic of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. We decided to co-develop a Teach-Out entitled “Listening to Puerto Rico,” which would prominently feature the voices of Puerto Ricans from diverse backgrounds telling their own stories.

Both institutions organized teams comprised of faculty and media producers to travel to Puerto Rico to listen and learn from people on the island. Days before leaving in late-June, we convened a two-day design jam in South Bend to coordinate our design approach and interview strategies, and then our teams were off.

The Michigan team was led by Will Potter, U-M faculty and investigative journalist, who conducted interviews with Puerto Ricans from all walks of life. We heard powerful stories of loss and recovery, abandonment and resilience, disappointment and hope. What follows is a sneak peak of what we heard from Puerto Rican residents who lived through the hurricane and its aftermath.

Will Potter interviewing on a bench

Before dawn on a rainy morning, our team left San Juan to drive high into the lush, remote mountain landscape of Orocovis, where we joined a group of volunteers (led by Michigan School of Public Health student and Puerto Rican native Amilcar Matos-Moreno, along with several fellow SPH students) who were pitching in to rebuild a mountainside house that had been devastated in the hurricane. Our team came hoping to assist in the rebuilding, but the rain threw a wrench in our intentions. This gave us an opportunity to talk to the residents and get a sense of the extent to which the hurricane impacted them. What our team heard from them, and so many of those we spoke to, was that the solidarity within their communities was what really rescued Puerto Ricans in the weeks and months following Maria. There was such willful, undeniable resilience evident in many of the people we talked to, alongside a heavy-hearted acknowledgment of the shortcomings of the local and federal government’s response. We left Orocovis inspired by the work that Amilcar and so many community members are contributing to get their neighbors’ households back to a livable state.

Orocovis Mountains with Amilcar and SPH students

Orocovis Mountains with Amilcar and SPH students

Near San Juan, in the Central medical district, we visited the office of Dr. Ivan Figueroa Diaz, a family practitioner. In the weeks and months following Maria, when his entire area was without power and most with the means to do so fled the country, Dr. Figueroa stayed and dedicated himself to helping his community through the very dire crisis. He took us for a ride-along tour of the neighborhood, during which he pointed out areas of the town that were hit particularly hard, and he described the scope of the public health disaster as it affected his community. The gravity of what you will see in the interview hit us in a way none of us could have anticipated.

Will Potter and Dr. Figueroa talking in a car

Will Potter and Dr. Figueroa

The next day, our team secured an on-the-record interview with a Deputy Field Coordinator from FEMA. We were granted a 15 minute window with their spokesperson Justo Hernandez, a native Puerto Rican with over 20 years of FEMA service. Having researched some of his previous interviews, we knew to expect a success story of swift recovery and efficient bureaucracy. We asked the spokesman some hard questions about the disconnect between the official narrative and what we were seeing on the ground, and the resulting interview was quite compelling.

Will Potter interviews FEMA Deputy Field Coordinator

Will Potter interviews FEMA Deputy Field Coordinator

Puerto Rico is a famously Catholic island, and it celebrates many of the faith’s holidays with its own particular flair. La Noche de San Juan, for instance, is a celebration of St. John the Baptist celebrated by Catholic communities throughout the world. In Puerto Rico, it’s a festive night where faithful and secular alike recognize the occasion with a midnight baptism as a cleansing ritual to wash the previous year away. This year, there’s a lot to wash away for the residents of the island. We trekked to a San Juan beach known to be the gathering place for locals, and talked to whomever we could persuade to speak on camera about what this year’s ritual meant to them. We heard stories about hardship and resilience, about young people weighing their options in a tough job economy, often choosing to stay to support their family. Shortly after midnight, we joined them in washing away the previous year by diving backwards into the ocean. It was a joyous, but bittersweet night.

Noche de San Juan

Noche de San Juan

Much progress has been made to restore life in Puerto Rico back to what it was before September 20th, 2017, but there is still much to be done. We left indelibly inspired by the resilience of the island’s residents, and now we want to share their stories with you. We encourage you to join us in listening to Puerto Rico.

A building aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico

Join the University of Michigan and University of Notre Dame as we listen to Puerto Ricans discuss, in their own words, how communities have banded together in the wake of the storm to overcome enormous challenges, how the realities of the long-term recovery on the ground contrast from official reports and what everyday people like you, can do to help.

Join the discussion HERE when the Listening to Puerto Rico Teach-Out launches on Monday, August 27.

Benjamin Morse, Will Potter, and Sean Patrick packing up a car

A Look Back at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer

About a month ago, I shared  some thoughts previewing the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute (GLSI) . One of the key things I took away from this year’s keynote, Erin Baumann, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Pedagogy for the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, was the importance of debriefing and reflection in simulations. Active engagement can be absorptive, overloading all of our immediate resources. Without a debrief, we risk reinforcing the wrong information, highlighting experiences that may have been taken for granted or chalking something up to “fun” without meaning. So now that the lunch boxes have been cleared away and all the quarters have been spent at the arcade, it is time to time to reflect.

For me, part of that reflection has been taking in the photos and reading the comments from participants. Viewing these highlights through the lens of my colleagues surfaced some of the truly amazing things that took place that I might have missed otherwise. Below you will see some of the captured moments from the Institute. One thing that struck me – most of the attendees were strangers when this event started. Yet, the sense of community, collegiality and smiles on the faces of our attendees comes through in these pictures (even if one is participating remotely). We believe that learning is hard work, but can also be enjoyable!

Erin Baumann speaking from podium


“Failure is no longer viewed as failure.  It is still progress towards a goal”


“The practical applications of gamifying [courses] – the “this is how we did it and it worked” was powerful.  Not just theory – actual ways they accomplished it.”



Attendees engaged in discussion


“The last two days have encouraged me that a lot of higher education professionals are creatively and critically thinking of new ways to engage students and inspire learning.  I also met a lot of colleagues that are doing a lot of unique things to get students thinking about new ways to learn”




Virtual and in-person attendees interacting



“It was a delightful experience to meet folks who have a passion for learning, sharing and helping us all succeed.  I will miss everyone!”




Attendees gathered outside conference room



“I appreciated the variety of activities throughout the conference.  Starting with the improv and storytelling really helped activate creativity and openness to all other discussions”




Attendees working on Gradecraft


“Once upon a time I used a fixed syllabus that told students what to do and when.  Then I went to the Gameful Learning conference which reinforced my belief that students need to own their education and make their own learning choices to make the most of their education”



Student panelists laughing


“My favorite was the Student’s view of gameful – I enjoyed soliciting feedback from students!”




Attendees playing pinball together


“I had a huge fear of going to a conference by myself – then I did it!  And made friends and colleagues! I learned that pinball can be multiplayer, there are so many ways to encourage play in our classes and life”




The 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute continues to grow and serve as an opportunity for educators to expand their network while gaining knowledge around all things gameful. We look forward to continuing this event in the Summer of 2019 and hope to see you there. Stay tuned!