A Conversation with Sarah Dysart, New Director for Online and Hybrid Programs

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Sarah Dysart standing in front of a painted wall with the Academic Innovation logo

In March 2018, U-M announced the intent to design three new innovative online and hybrid programs – one in the growing field of applied data science, a first of its kind in public health, and the first MasterTrack Certificate program, an advanced program in construction engineering and management. The Office of Academic Innovation also recently launched three MicroMasters programs, with the School of Information, School of Education, and School of Social Work, respectively.

As many of U-M’s colleges and schools seek to develop new online and hybrid credentials, we are adding to our capabilities and experience in this arena. I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah Dysart home to Ann Arbor as the new Director for Online and Hybrid Programs at the Office of Academic Innovation. Sarah is a graduate of the College of Engineering and the School of Education at the University of Michigan and spent the last 11 years at Loyola University Chicago, most recently as the Director of Online Learning.

Sarah brings a wealth of experience to our team as we accelerate our design of leading online and hybrid programs and create a flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning that embraces the evolution of a more permeable university. Sarah shares our team’s passion and commitment to broadening access to high quality learning at U-M.

Sarah and I connected as she heads into her first week at the Office of Academic Innovation and discussed faculty development, student learning, and the joy of solving educational problems.

1. You are stepping into a new role with the Academic Innovation team as Director for Online and Hybrid Programs. What excites you about this next step in your career and what motivates you to solve problems at the intersection of teaching, learning, and technology?

I earned both my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from U-M, and I started my career working as a web programmer in the School of Dentistry, so this is somewhat of a homecoming for me. It’s exciting to be able to do work that I love and am really passionate about at the institution where I started my academic and professional career. I know how transformative my education at the University was for me personally; I’m excited to work with AI and academic units to provide broader access to the outstanding learning experiences created by U-M faculty.

Regarding what motivates me, my Bachelor’s degree is in engineering, and I’ve always loved problem-solving. Transitioning to the field of education as a graduate student was challenging because problems in education don’t have laws and formulas to help find precise solutions; educational problems are more messy, unpredictable, and complex than any engineering problem I’ve worked on. Berliner (2002) talks about educational research being “the hardest science of all,” and I couldn’t agree more. Contextual and individual student differences create constantly moving targets that make it hard to generalize results and determine what “works” for individual student learning. My job is awesome in that I get to attempt to solve these incredibly complex and complicated problems every day. No two situations are exactly the same, and every challenge is a fresh opportunity to figure out what works with a different set of variables.

2. How does your experience with faculty development inform the way you approach the design of new online programs?

Faculty are perhaps the most critical stakeholders when it comes to designing and developing new online programs. Their self-efficacy for teaching with technology and the factors that motivate them to engage in teaching online can be critical factors for the success of an online program. With that in mind, I like to emphasize building instructors’ self-efficacy for teaching online and reducing motivational barriers as high priorities when designing new online programs. Building self-efficacy can be achieved by creating opportunities to instructors to have their own successful experiences teaching with technology, or by observing what colleagues are doing successfully when teaching in online or blended environments (or vicarious experiences). To reduce motivational barriers, you first have to listen to and empathize with instructors’ concerns regarding teaching online. I often find that instructors’ motivation is tied to self-efficacy, but there are also frequently concerns regarding the time commitment required and how that will compete with other priorities.

3. As more universities engage in online education, which topics and questions aren’t getting enough attention?

Proponents of online education often talk as if it’s a panacea in terms of creating access to educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education, but research suggests that underrepresented populations such as low-income and minority students are actually less likely to engage with online learning opportunities (Jaggars, 2012; Ortagus, 2017). We need to better understand why this is the case and how we can meaningfully support these students so they engage and persist with opportunities to learn online.

There’s also the really messy question of how we’re defining success in online education. Much of the literature focuses on student satisfaction as the key metric for success, and I think we’re somewhat missing the mark by not centering our definition of success around student learning.

4. What questions and activities do you hope to explore through your new role? How do you hope to work with faculty, staff, and student innovators?

In my work with faculty, I’ve seen evidence that teaching online can help facilitate the transformation of pedagogical approaches, but it’s not something that happens consistently. My research looks at how and why affordances and constraints created by the online environment can help instructors think differently about the way they teach; I’m interested in exploring how that impacts not only their online teaching, but also how it can improve the practices they use in the face-to-face environment.

I’m also really excited to work with faculty, staff, and students to create robust frameworks for providing online student support. The learning experience isn’t just about the curricular opportunities and coursework that’s offered online; participation in co-curricular learning experiences such as research opportunities or departmental programming (e.g. seminars and brown bags) and access to student services (e.g. mental health services and career counseling) can be critical factors for student success and learning. I’m excited to see how we can reimagine the total Michigan learning experience—beyond just the curriculum—for our online and hybrid students.

5. You have roots in Ann Arbor. What is the first thing you plan to do upon your return?

I always loved running the trails in the metroparks and state parks near Ann Arbor. I’m looking forward to exploring them again (especially the Potawatomi Trail) with my family. And of course, we already had sandwiches at Zingerman’s.

6. What else should academic innovation affiliated faculty, staff, and students ask you about?

I love finding ways to frame contemporary educational problems, such as those we find in online learning, with the theories that have been established and the research that’s been done in the fields of ed psych and ed tech. So feel free to pitch practical problems to me and I’ll think about ways it might be framed by literature I’ve read. Finding ways to bridge the research-to-practice gap is something I’m really passionate about, and I think it’s important to draw upon what we already know about learning; it can easily be applied to the new problems we’re encountering.

I also have a six-month old who makes the best facial expressions. If you ask for photos I will be happy to oblige.


Berliner, D. C. (2002). Educational Research: The Hardest Science of All. Educational Researcher, 31(8), 18.

Jaggars, S. (2012). Online learning in community colleges. In M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of  distance education (3rd ed ). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ortagus, J. C. (2017). From the periphery to prominence: An examination of the changing profile of online students in American higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 32, 47–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2016.09.002

Teach-In. Teach-Out. Teach Each Other.

An Open Welcome Letter to the Participants of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Dear Teach-Out Academy Participants:

This is an invitation to change the future. You are invited to create positive social impact through teaching and learning. You are invited to discover new ways to foster dialogue by combining scholarly expertise with communities of engaged citizens and thought leaders outside the academy. You are invited to democratize discussions around timely topics of widespread interest. You are invited challenge our collective thinking about where expertise resides and how problems could and should be solved.

We’re thrilled to welcome you to springtime in Ann Arbor for the first ever University of Michigan Teach-Out Academy. We couldn’t be more excited about the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants who will join us from Brown University, Davidson College, Emory University, MIT, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, University of Colorado, University of Illinois, University of Notre Dame, and University of Pennsylvania. What a terrific group!

On May 14, this group of ten like-minded institutions will convene to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: teach-outs are free and open online learning events intended to activate public concern around timely social issues. Participants from all corners of the world come together to learn, engage, and create change around some of the most pressing issues today. We were inspired by your proposals to create new teach-outs and trust that you will help us build upon this new model and share ideas for reimagining public engagement.

Elyse Aurbach, public engagement lead at the Office of Academic Innovation (AI), provides a great summary of the opportunity ahead of us, “Teach-Outs are uniquely able to harness the intellectual depth and scholarship at the university and to mobilize experts to address a timely topic. But they’re also an opportunity for us to break down the walls of the University and elevate other voices, adding rich breadth and scope of perspectives and ideas to the scholarly conversation.”

U-M created it’s first Teach-Out in March 2017. Yet the story goes much deeper as U-M has a long history of innovation in public engagement and just-in-time learning. It was on my own campus tour as a prospective Michigan student that I first heard the story of the polio vaccine being announced by Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk in 1955. I’ve heard the story a hundred times since. The U-M community is understandably proud of this moment and also sees it as a critical illustration of the important role that research universities play. But it was only recently that I learned how the announcement was shared.

I knew that Francis Jr., Salk, and 500 others gathered in the Rackham building on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus to share an incredible public announcement, which followed Salk’s field trials involving more than 1.8 million children. The breakthrough was of course remarkable. But so was our institution’s commitment to knowledge dissemination and public engagement. As many gathered on campus, the announcement was simultaneously broadcasted on closed-circuit to 54,000 physicians watching in movie theaters across the country. In 1955. The world was listening in as Francis Jr. declared the vaccine “safe, effective, and potent”.

Almost exactly 10 years later, on March 24th, 1965, the Teach-In was born in Ann Arbor. In response to President Johnson’s escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, faculty were set to strike. The world was messy. They wanted answers.

Rather than strike, they saw power in their collective knowledge. Faculty and students staged a Teach-In, the first of its kind, that started at 8pm on the 24th and lasted until 8am the next morning. More than 3,000 faculty, students, and community members participated. They sought to activate public concern, and elevate public discourse.

A couple days before the first Teach-In, the Michigan Daily, our student newspaper, ran an article titled “New Faculty Strategy More Constructive, Effective”. It prepared our campus community for a new kind of event. The piece opined, “If the faculty group gets representatives to present both sides of the fence, in debate form in addition to individual speeches, the “teach-in” would attract many people who want to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in Southeast Asia.”

Learners wanted to understand complex problems and knew that true understanding would require diverse perspectives.

As is the case today, there was no shortage of similarly important topics to explore in the later half of the 1960s. Michigan launched more Teach-Ins. Becoming more informed and participating in positive problem solving events turned out to be contagious. Within the same year, 1965, the original Teach-In event sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. Campuses well beyond Ann Arbor saw power in collective knowledge and sought perspectives and solutions to the problems of the day.

In 1970, we filled our basketball arena for a new Teach-In that became the first Earth Day. Eight-thousand people gathered to elevate public discourse and problem solve around societal issues that matter most. Eight-thousand! There were MOOCs before there were MOOCs!

I talked to several members of the Academic Innovation team about the upcoming Teach-Out Academy. Their collective wisdom is worth sharing as we gear up for the working sessions ahead.

Steve Welsh, the lead learning experience designer for the U-M Teach-Out Series, connects our present efforts to our history of innovation, ”Following the model and spirit of the Teach-Ins, we have an obligation to use the knowledge and expertise we’re fortunate to have on our campus to further the discussion and engage with a broader public. And in 2018, we have the ability to hold that discussion with a global community.”

How then do we engage diverse audience at all levels and provide new gateways to lifelong learning? Sean Patrick, design media lead at the Office of Academic Innovation, calls this the “Milton-Bradley Model: For Ages 8 to 88”. Teach-Outs are an open invitation to all. How do we create meaningful opportunities for learning for communities that reflect the diversity of our society? This as a considerable design challenge but one worth our highest attention.

Like the Teach-In before, we hope institutions around the country (and the globe) will strengthen dialogue around timely topics and facilitate compassionate interactions between participants inside and well beyond academy.

We will gather in Ann Arbor to take a deep dive into the pedagogy and design of Teach-Outs, discuss production processes for just-in-time content, develop calls to action, and explore promotion and engagement strategies. We have designed a workshop for a small, focused cohort of like-minded institutions who seek to construct and disseminate new knowledge through public dialogue.

There is so much we can learn together. Cait Holman, Associate Director for R&D at AI sees opportunity to better understand how people learn and wants, “to understand what critical conversations look like – how people present their arguments, how the ‘other side’ responds, and how people represent processing new information in real time in text.”

The U-M team has thought long and hard about the awesome potential and numerous challenges related to developing high quality short-form learning experiences. Will Potter, a senior academic innovation fellow for digital storytelling puts it this way, “Teach-Outs have built-in restrictions on the amount of material that’s presented, and how quickly it will be produced. You have to think very deliberately about what material makes the cut, how it can be accomplished in a tight timeframe, and why a diverse audience will care. That process really forces you to think differently about your areas of expertise, and in my experience it has also prompted me to reflect upon my research in new ways.”

Lauren Atkins Budde, associate director of design management, sees a creative challenge in designing each new teach-out, “there is a lot of joy in meeting the challenge of creating a comprehensive learning opportunity with very scaled down parameters. I think of it like producing a short film – you have to be much more efficient and thoughtful with the limited time and resources that you have and as a result, you’re often much more creative because you have to be.”

Benjamin Morse, a lead design manager for the Teach-Out Series, reminds us that constructing Teach-Outs is inherently different from other teaching and learning innovations, “This “just-in-time” model lends itself to short timelines and agile design principles. We recognize that each project and each Teach-Out team will be uniquely different and our model has to be flexible enough to bend without breaking, and if it does break, we have to learn how to expand the model to fit that situation.”

We can’t wait to have you with us on campus. The U-M Teach-Out Series is part of our institution’s deep commitment to engage the public in exploring and understanding the problems, events, and phenomena most important to society.

Will Potter, speaks for many of us when he highlights our obligations to innovate in this space, “I teach my journalism students that reporting and research means little if we are unable to communicate what we have learned; we have a responsibility to explain our work in a way that is accessible, and meaningful, to our audiences. I view the Teach-Outs as fulfilling a parallel responsibility for educators.”

Morse paints a picture of what may result from our collaborations together, “I hope the Teach-Out philosophy becomes a ubiquitous model for public engagement in the online learning space. I hope that we create something that others replicate in their own context and iterate on to meet their organizational teaching and learning aspirations. I hope we can help redefine the scope of public engagement within institutions of higher education by providing recognized, viable channels of distribution with opportunities for dialogical interaction.”

We are proud to contribute to U-M’s long history of leadership at the intersection of public engagement and academic innovation. We know that through collaboration with all of you, we are far more likely to create a world where everyone can participate – a compassionate public square for the information age.

This is an official invitation to change the future. Let’s teach-in, teach-out, and teach each other.

James DeVaney
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan

Hear from our Team about Accessibility, Gameful Course Design, Flipped Classrooms and Teach-Outs during Enriching Scholarship 2018

Jen Vetter, Design Manager

Several members from the Office of Academic Innovation team will present sessions showcasing our work in accessibility, gameful course design, flipped classrooms and Teach-Outs at the 21st annual Enriching Scholarship conference, held at the University of Michigan from May 7-10, 2018. The multi-day event, which hosts sessions across U-M’s campus, focuses on effectively integrating teaching and technology through lightning talks, panels, workshops, and more.

We invite you to join us for these sessions to explore how our office is enriching scholarship through education, collaboration – and innovation!

The Alt Text Writing Jam: Learning Accessible Design by Doing It!

Tuesday, May 8, 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

University Library Instructional Center (ULIC) – 4059 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Rebecca Quintana, Stephanie Rosen, Yuanru Tan

What is the art and science of writing visual descriptions for course content? Instructors who use images within presentation slides do so to make content more engaging and understandable to students. However, students with visual impairments may not fully comprehend these images without a well-written visual description.

In this two-hour, hands-on workshop, you’ll learn effective methods for writing high-quality alternative text descriptions for visual elements such as photographs, tables, and charts. Reference materials and images will be provided by the facilitators. Participants are encouraged to contact Yuanru Tan (yuanru@umich.edu) with any questions.

Register for this session


Building Motivation into Course Design: Gameful and GradeCraft

Wednesday, May 9, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Shapiro Instructional Lab – 4041 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Evan Straub

Have you heard about GradeCraft? GradeCraft is a tool built at the University of Michigan based on the principles that make games motivating. By offering students greater choice in the paths by which they pursue their assessments, creating transparent assessment systems and building up from zero, we have seen greater student engagement and satisfaction with courses here at University of Michigan. In addition, GradeCraft allows students to plan for the grade they want by using the Grade Predictor, which tracks assignments completed as well as assignments a student would like to do.

In this session, we’ll discuss the principles of gameful course design, go through some planning on how to redesign some (or all) of your class, and get started using GradeCraft.

Register for this session


Flipping Your Classroom: The Nuts and Bolts

Wednesday, May 9, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

CRLT Seminar Room – 1013 – Palmer Commons

Hosted by Evan Straub, Nicole Tuttle

The “flipped classroom” has garnered considerable attention in the academy in recent years. This approach to teaching involves the use of podcasting, videos, and other strategies to shift students’ initial exposure to content from the lecture hall to outside of the classroom. In the process, significant portions of class time are freed up for active learning and student engagement.

In this workshop, participants will explore teaching in a flipped classroom and consider how to use this approach in their own teaching. The session will highlight general principles for designing a flipped lesson, including how to hold students accountable for completing pre-class work. The workshop will provide an introduction to relevant instructional technologies and campus resources around them. Finally, participants will explore strategies for designing instruction to engage students during class time.

Register for this session


From MOOCs to Teach-Outs: An Emerging Format

Thursday, May 10, 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

University Library Instructional Center (ULIC) – 4059 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Jeff Bennett, Jen Vetter, Steve Welsh

In the years since their inception, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have matured into a medium with a wide range of variable objectives and design models. Last year, the U-M Office of Academic Innovation piloted a series of nine Teach-Outs using MOOC platforms to engage a global audience around topics of pressing social urgency. Inspired by the Teach-Ins of 1965, the Teach-Out model was conceived as a two-day participatory learning opportunity providing 1-4 hours of content, with a constructivist emphasis on active community discussion. In contrast to a conventional assessment design, Teach-Outs culminate in a call to action intended to effect change at the individual, community, or broader societal level.

In this session, Michigan’s Teach-Out project team will present several case studies of innovative course design, focusing on moving from MOOCs as we have known them to a more agile, event-oriented model with narrower learning objectives and learner-centered outcomes. We will conclude with some generalizable findings with relevance for constructivist online course environments.

Register for this session


All Enriching Scholarship sessions are FREE and open to all members of the U-M community, but require registration. Click HERE to view a list of all sessions.

Sponsors include CRLT, U-M Academic Innovation, U-M Library, LSA Instructional Support Services, LSA Language Resource Center, and HITS (Health Information & Technology Services).

Join us May 7-10 for Enriching Scholarship 2018!

On the Eve of Sabbatical at the Office Academic Innovation: Q&A with Dr. Meghan Duffy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

A little over four years ago the University of Michigan established the Office of Academic Innovation to foster a culture of innovation in learning at U-M. In creating a new model for academic R&D, we set out to explore bold, mission-aligned, and learner-centric opportunities situated in the context you might expect for a great public research university operating in a world where our understanding of “learner” is happily expanding every day.

To effectively foster a culture of innovation in learning we hoped to equip and empower faculty innovators, reimagine instructional teams for the twenty-first century, and present ourselves to our campus community as thought-partners earned through exemplary service. This model for supporting innovation has evolved quickly, embracing aspects of an internal consultancy, innovation fund, and incubator which, when combined, seems to provide a rather unique approach to academic R&D.

An important part of this evolution is the flexible model we’ve constructed for faculty, staff, and students who seek to engage in academic innovation for different reasons and at different levels of intensity. Focusing on faculty partners specifically, we’ve provided an environment where faculty can collaborate with our team on projects, join or lead communities of practice, and mentor aspiring faculty innovators. We’ve found that some faculty want to engage around a specific project or more broadly around a thematic area such as learning analytics or college preparedness. Increasingly though, faculty look to academic innovation for an open canvas to explore a wider set of ideas and questions. An example of the latter is our first faculty sabbatical at the Office of Academic Innovation supported by our Academic Innovation Fund.

I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. Meghan Duffy to our growing community of positive problem solvers as she gets ready to spend her sabbatical year at the Office of Academic Innovation starting next week. This is a new opportunity for our team to support a faculty innovator with her goals and to engage her in solving for some of our most exciting educational challenges. I had a chance to ask Meg a few questions about the year ahead. Her ideas and goals run cut across our top institutional strategic areas of focus (diversity, equity and inclusion, public engagement, and academic innovation). In our conversation we touched on student mental health, encouraging data literacy in historically underserved communities, supporting faculty interested in public engagement, and, of course, Daphnia!

We are excited to welcome Meg to our team and to explore other opportunities to support faculty who seek to advance their research and teaching and learning through academic innovation. Here’s my exchange with Meg:

1. Can you tell us about your current research interests and any current questions you’re asking about teaching and learning?

I’m an ecologist and evolutionary biologist by training, and my research interests in that area focus on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. My lab studies little shrimp-like creatures that live in lakes known as Daphnia. We use them to understand why disease outbreaks begin, why they end, and what determines their severity. We use Daphnia for this work both because they’re ecologically important and because they’ve emerged as a model system for understanding infectious diseases. We’ve focused on how the food web influences disease in a particular host species, how global change is influencing disease, and how multiple hosts and multiple parasites interact to drive patterns of disease. I think Daphnia are amazing little creatures that have a lot to teach us and am somewhat of a Daphnia evangelist.

I’ve increasingly begun to do research related to teaching and learning as well. Some of what I’m interested in relates to the main course I teach: introductory biology. I’m interested in understanding students views on ecology, evolution, and climate change when they enter the course and how those views change over time. I’m also very interested in understanding student mental health. Right now, we’re characterizing student mental health and knowledge and use of mental health resources. My goal is to eventually try to understand what we can change — in introductory courses and elsewhere — to improve student mental health. Finally, I’m also working on projects related to pre-college learning and data literacy. I’m interested in understanding how to improve data literacy, especially in historically underserved communities.

2. Why are you choosing to spend your upcoming sabbatical at the Office of Academic Innovation? What questions and activities are you hoping to explore?

I wanted to think of something I could do for my sabbatical that would allow me to do things that I wouldn’t get to do otherwise and stretch me in new directions. As I thought about different options, I realized that the Office of Academic Innovation would be the perfect sabbatical home for me, as it will let me work on projects that I’ve been really interested in but unable to fully dive into before. One of my biggest goals for my sabbatical is to spend more time thinking about how to better support public engagement by faculty. Right now, public engagement by faculty is something they need to do on top of all their other job responsibilities. I would like to think of models that make it so that faculty can choose to make public engagement an official part of their job responsibilities. Second, I’m interested in working on projects related to undergraduate education, including student mental health and learning in introductory biology. Third, I’m interested in working on some projects related to a data literacy activity I developed (with my postdoc Mary Rogalski) and teach to high school students in the Wolverine Pathways Program here at Michigan. I want to think more about how to assess the impact of Prove It, about how to expand it, and about how to effectively encourage data literacy more broadly. Fourth, I am currently working on some initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in ecology and evolutionary biology. I suspect that AI folks will have great ideas about how to improve and scale them. Finally, I am sure that there are things going on in AI that would really interest me but that I don’t know about yet. I’m looking forward to talking with people about other opportunities at AI!

3. The Academic Innovation team is focused on efforts that help U-M to create an open model for pre-college learning and preparation that broadens access and enhances participation. Can you tell us about the Prove-It program and how you are currently thinking about opportunities for pre-college learning?

Student in a computer lab facing a desktop computer with her left arm raised clenched in a fist

Student in the Prove It project “fist pumps” after successfully plotting data for her analysis.

Prove It is a project that I developed in collaboration with a postdoctoral researcher in my lab, Dr. Mary Rogalski. The idea that motivated this activity is that we are all presented with a firehose of information on a daily basis and need skills for processing and understanding that information, but very few people receive formal training in how to do so. To try to address this, we developed an inquiry based activity for high school students centered on using data to address questions they care about. We wanted to help the students develop the skills and confidence needed to critically evaluate information and work with data in the future. We think pretty much all high schoolers could use this training! We decided to work with the Wolverine Pathways program, which works with students from Detroit, Southfield, and Ypsilanti.

Our goal with this activity was to take students through the inquiry process. They had to identify questions, refine them into something that could be addressed with publicly available data, assess whether information was reliable, draw conclusions from their data and present findings in an accessible way. The students asked a wide range of questions — ranging from what effect LeBron James has on his teammates to whether police shootings of unarmed individuals varies by race or ethnicity.

We’re currently revising this activity to teach to Wolverine Pathways students this June and are thinking about how to refine it and improve the assessment we do of its effectiveness. I’d also like to think about how to make the materials we develop more broadly available and how to modify it for different audiences.

4. We are also focused on creating a participatory and inclusive model for public engagement that accelerates the construction and sharing of new knowledge through public dialogue. You recently received the first President’s Award for Public Impact. How would you describe your preferred future of public engagement at U-M?

I definitely share this goal! I’ve thought about this especially in terms of how to better support faculty who are interested in public engagement. I don’t think all faculty should be required to do public engagement, but I think that people who are interested in it should be better supported. One thing I am particularly interested in exploring is whether we can learn from the extension model of land grant universities. While there are differences between states in how extension works, the general approach is finding out what problems are of interest to stakeholders (e.g., farmers, fishermen, etc.) and bringing them information that is relevant to their lives and experiences. This is public engagement! Faculty who have extension appointments have that as part of their formal job expectations and evaluations. I’m interested in exploring whether this model can be applied to public engagement more broadly.

I’m interested in thinking more about how to support others who are interested in public engagement, as well. As just one example: many graduate students are already doing public engagement, but this is often unrecognized. I’m interested in thinking about how we can better support and reward this sort of work.

5. What should Academic Innovation affiliated faculty, staff, and students ask you about while you’re on sabbatical?

Anything they’re curious about! And, if they’re curious about Daphnia, I promise to do my best not to go on about them forever.

Scaling Homegrown Educational Technology

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

“Let’s take a leadership role in edtech since it’s part of our core business,” said Candace Thille, former Assistant Professor of Education at Stanford and current Director of Learning Science and Engineering at Amazon, in a recent webinar on the evolving role of faculty in an era of increasing digital education technology. This is what we are doing in the Office of Academic Innovation, where we launched a “homegrown” edtech accelerator that’s building and scaling digital pedagogy within and beyond the University of Michigan.

What happens to faculty technological innovation?

In many instances its usefulness does not extend beyond the academic departments in which it was born. Why? Because the infrastructure does not exist to scale it. The Office of Academic Innovation solves this problem by providing a team of software developers, user experience designers, and behavioral scientists, who work with faculty champions, to iterate quality educational technology. The Office of Academic Innovation, then, can do what faculty and departments cannot do on their own-grow educational technology tools from innovation to infrastructure, personalizing education at scale.

What’s the Office of Academic Innovation Building?

We started building software in 2015, and currently have seven tools in our portfolio. Although diverse, these tools all center on the intersection of teaching and learning and technology. Some, like ViewPoint, make it easier for faculty to implement simulation pedagogy. ViewPoint takes what was a paper and pencil process and is now a web-based application for instructors to plan, and students to execute, a deep learning experience. Hear more about the origins of ViewPoint in my recent podcast with ViewPoint creator, Dr. Elisabeth Gerber.

Screenshot of the ViewPoint interface including left-hand navigation and windows for "my role," "groups and roles," "my schedule" and "news."


Others, like ECoach, are tailored communication systems providing individualized messages to students in large courses, increasing engagement with, and ultimately the academic success of, learners. ECoach uses complementary data streams including institutional, course, and data students submit themselves to provide timely and personalized messages on how to navigate big classes, where faculty cannot provide ample individualized attention to every student (our Statistics 250 class, for example has upwards of 2,000 students enrolled in it every fall and winter term).

Screenshot of the ECoach interface with a personalized message for a user named "Kathleen" including a course grade scale showing a a current grade of 83 percent and a goal of 96 percent, a "to do" list for the week of October 17, quick links, and a message center.


ART 2.0 visualizes course and instructor data in meaningful ways to help guide class discovery and selection. ART 2.0 helps bust myths on the University of Michigan campus about things like “the workload in this class is overwhelming” or “no one ever gets an A in this course.”

A screenshot of the ART 2.0 interface for a Physics 140 class including a description of the course, a grade distribution bar graph, advisory prerequisites, enforced prerequisites, credits, and course evaluations.


M-Write, founded on writing-to-learn pedagogy, uses smart software to more easily implement writing exercises in large STEM courses. The M-Write team has developed and implemented a dashboard and process for peer reviews so students can evaluate one another’s work on concepts in courses like chemistry and economics. M-Write integrates seamlessly with the Canvas Learning Management System for a positive user experience for students.

A screenshot of the M-Write interface showing a peer review page for a student including a due date, word count, and topics covered as well as boxes detailing the reviews given and reviews received.


These examples showcase the breadth of technological innovation happening in the Office of Academic Innovation, while not minimizing its focus on improving teaching and learning through digital intervention.

How does the Office of Academic Innovation increase the number of faculty and courses employing its tools while ensuring the pedagogy on which our tools rely scales in parallel with the technology?

In the Office of Academic Innovation we grapple with this question as we try and learn from diverse strategies that increase faculty engagement with our digital tools. When we talk about our work and our team we say we blend thought partnership with exemplary service. This approach embodies how we work with faculty in adopting our tools. Some teams, like ECoach, invite faculty to work with them frequently throughout an academic term on the content and cadence of how messages are delivered to students. Other teams, like Gradecraft, host communities of practice to ensure that pedagogy and technology are not divorced from one another as our user bases expand. We know, for example, that embracing gameful pedagogy including concepts like giving students many choices in course assignments and helping them try (and sometimes fail) assignments without jeopardizing their grade are core tenets of gameful course design. Not only do we offer faculty who collaborate with us opportunities to help inform new iterations of our tools, but we also use our software to conduct teaching and learning research. For example, we have used data collected in tools like Problem Roulette and ECoach to study gender performance differences in STEM courses.

Our approaches to partnering with faculty to scale our digital educational technology will continue to expand as our user base does too, positively changing the teaching and learning landscape at the University of Michigan in its third century.

Amy Homkes-Hayes will present on “Growing Digital Pedagogy in the Office of Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan” this week at the 2018 OLC Innovate Conference in Nashville, TN where her talk has been awarded “Best in Track” in Effective Tools, Toys, and Technologies.

Get to Know ViewPoint: Next Up in the Origin Stories Podcast Series

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

ViewPoint. Origin stories podcast series.What happens when a U-M faculty member comes to the Office of Academic Innovation with a good idea for software that doesn’t exist? We build it. In our next episode of the Origin Stories podcast series we talk to Dr. Elisabeth Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy and Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, who came to the Office of Academic Innovation with an idea to build software to support simulation pedagogy. For those new to Origin Stories, we tell the tales of why and how the our digital edtech tools were created. We focus on learning from our faculty partners about how their ideas for improving teaching and learning with educational technology software came to be.

Dr. Gerber talks to us about the “a-ha” moment she had when planning one of her largest role-playing simulations, the Integrated Policy Exercise, and how that moment spurred her to reach out to us where ViewPoint was taken from concept to reality. Listen to Dr. Gerber talk about ViewPoint’s features, and how it makes planning and running simulations far easier to produce better learning experiences for students. Dr. Gerber shares what it is like working with the Office of Academic Innovation team, and her ideas for the future of ViewPoint. Take a listen by clicking below.

A New Team is Discovering its Identity – Reflections from HAILstorm Three

This article was originally posted on 4/2/2018 on Inside Higher Ed

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Two weeks have passed since I had the privilege of attending my third HAILStorm, this time hosted by CSU Channel Islands, a young institution with a big story to tell about the prize that lies at the intersection of academic innovation and upward mobility. The first HAILStorm was hosted in January 2017 by my home institution, the University of Michigan and the second in Fall 2017 by Stanford University. HAILstorms one and two revealed an emergent network hungry for new connections. HAILStorm three, lightly structured by design, and featuring representatives from a range of institutions that reflect the diversity of the US higher education system, yielded shared interests worthy of pursuit. We pursue these shared interests while carefully establishing a new network that resists unnecessary structure.

As a community of academic innovation leaders grows, the informal nature of these occasional huddles continues to be a feature, not a bug. Yet convergence around several emerging themes suggests an opportunity to turn from new connections to collaborative action.

A new team is discovering its identity.

This blogpost goes live roughly twenty minutes before tipoff as the University of Michigan men’s basketball team plays for the NCAA national championship. I’m not a casual college basketball fan so it’s not lost on me that there is something special about this particular Michigan team. As I went through my various pre-game March Madness superfan rituals this weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between this team and an emerging group of HAILstormers.

Michigan’s men’s basketball coach John Beilein may have said it best in his pre-game press conference when asked about having success with lightly recruited players, “We aren’t amassing talent. We’re building a team… it’s about development”. Nearly all of the HAILStorm participants I spoke with in Camarillo talked of teams and new models for professional development that would enable academic innovation at a scale we know to be necessary. Building effective teams in the new era of academic innovation is a continuous effort for leaders of a growing number of units established to create catalysts for reimagining higher education.

Or perhaps it was the warm-up t-shirts Michigan players wore for much of the season which distill commitment to a simple mantra, “do more say less.” New academic innovation units around the country are turning ideas into action. They are talking less and enabling more. Thought partnership through exemplary service. Faculty innovators and student creators come to our units to partner, to do, to learn, to iterate. But ‘say less’ doesn’t mean ‘say nothing’. We have to tell stories along the way and do so with data wherever possible. Importantly though, we occasionally need to take smart risks before the data exists.

Those following this Michigan basketball team also notice something different about the style of play as compared with prior seasons. Coach Beilein has long been hailed as an offensive genius. But this year’s team plays defense too – really good lock-down defense. This balance gives options in a game filled with uncertainty – more rotations, greater adaptability, built to set pace or react to it.

HAILstormers also live with great uncertainty. In fact, we’re charged by our institutions to help our constituents to become more comfortable living in a world where unpredictability is the norm. With uncertainty and change stipulated as persistent conditions, HAILstorm three discussions surfaced at least four areas of shared interest that suggest a pivot from new connections to collaborative action.

Equity and Innovation: First, HAILstormers are deeply committed to pursuing opportunities at the intersection of equity and academic innovation. Many of our institutions have made public commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A consistent theme across our conversations was a desire to further entangle our academic R&D initiatives with goals for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. Though many think we can and should set the bar even higher and establish targets for upward social and economic mobility.

A few days before HAILstorm three, University of Maryland, Baltimore County captured national attention (harder and harder to do in an attention economy) with the rarest of rare March Madness upsets. The sixteenth seed triumphed over a number one seed. College basketball fans frantically googled ‘UMBC’. But for those of us paying attention to trailblazers in innovation and equality, UMBC, like Georgia State and Arizona State, raises banners regularly when it comes to serving students who are most in need of access to higher education. We should contribute to a movement that values outcomes such as mobility when designating elite status in higher education.

Sustainable Models for Academic Innovation: Second, HAILstormers are exploring different scenarios that provide pathways to sustainability for our relatively new organizational models. The funding models, cost structures, and revenue streams for our organizational units vary dramatically. So too does the risk tolerance of our respective institutions. There is benefit to this group when we actively explore different approaches to sustainability and to share openly the relative success of different strategies and tactics. Our increasing comfort with sharing failures will benefit our institutions, our constituents, and a broader mix of higher education actors seeking to reimagine higher education.

Home-grown Innovation and Commercialization: Third, HAILstormers are designing new models for edtech commercialization. Many of our institutions are developing new technology to advance learning. We all know the extent of investment in edtech companies over the last decade. I hope this investment will continue. I also hope that institutions like those represented at the HAILstorm will continue to pursue different models of edtech development that puts great emphasis on developing tools with faculty and student users and thinking critically about privacy and learning analytics. Multiple approaches give us the best chance of dramatically improving access and mobility and of realizing true personalization at scale.

Building for the Future with Human Capital Development: Fourth, HAILstormers seek to close the human capital supply/demand mismatch in our emergent field. By higher education standards, many of our organizations have grown very quickly. Our collective demand for talented and positive problem solvers is currently outpacing supply. Ultimately, we will see the market correct itself but the HAILstormers agree that there is an opportunity to accelerate this shift. Most of my new colleagues at the HAILstorm have successfully recruited or developed talent to take on roles without precedent. We are learning quickly about the traits of academic innovation professionals and need to think creatively and collaboratively about how to expand the pool. Without solving for this particular problem, our work will remain boutique in the grand bazaar of higher education

There are many other shared interests that inspire action among this group. But this should give us plenty to pursue as we grow a community bound together by a shared commitment to advancing learning and inspiring positive impact through sustainable approaches to academic innovation.

A new team is discovering its identity. Back to doing more and saying less.