ANN ARBOR—As the University of Michigan continues to expand its digital learning portfolio, the Office of Academic Innovation announces a new gateway for one-stop access to online courses and learning experiences created by Michigan faculty and instructional teams.
Called Michigan Online, the portal brings together more than 120 massive open online courses (MOOCs), teach-outs, specializations, MasterTrack certificates, XSeries, MicroMasters and professional certificate programs currently hosted on online platforms Coursera and edX. These learning experiences already have generated nearly 7 million enrollments, reaching learners in more than 190 countries around the world.
“Michigan continues to play a leadership role in shaping how the world learns from and with a great public research university,” said Martin Philbert, U-M provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Michigan Online provides new and important opportunities to broaden access to U-M and enhance participation in our flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning.”
U-M was a founding partner with Coursera in 2012 and since then that affiliation has produced some 68 MOOCs. Some of these are organized into specializations of multiple courses for those who want a deep dive into a topic.
The partnership expanded five years later to add teach-outs, free and open online learning events designed to bring together people from around the world to learn about and address the biggest topics in society.
More recently, U-M and Coursera announced online master’s degree programs in applied data science from the School of Information and in public health from the School of Public Health, as well as a MasterTrack Certificate in construction engineering and management from the College of Engineering.
In 2015, U-M joined edX as a charter member to offer a portfolio of more than 40 MOOCs and teach-outs, including several series of courses called XSeries, and MicroMasters, a collection of courses that give students a head start on a residential degree.
U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation was established in 2014 to create a culture of innovation in learning. Among its goals is to create opportunities for personal and engaged learning by positively impacting pre-college, residential, and global and lifelong learners, as well as support public engagement at U-M.
“When the first MOOCs were launched, no one knew how they would evolve. And then the amazing U-M faculty embraced the opportunity to experiment with online courses that were aimed at learners from across the lifespan and across the globe. And those experiments continue to be successful,” said James Hilton, U-M vice provost for academic innovation. “The launch of Michigan Online will make it easier for people on and off campus to navigate the rich and growing content that is Michigan.”
In 2016, U-M President Mark Schlissel announced the Academic Innovation Initiative to “leverage networked access to information, new modes of learning and the power of data analytics to strengthen the quality of a Michigan education and enhance our impact on society.”
A short time later, the president announced the Teach-out Series, modeled after the teach-ins U-M pioneered in the 1960s. The just-in-time learning experiences focused on important issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War. The success of the U-M teach-ins sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. In 1970, a U-M teach-in attracted thousands of participants in the first U.S. Earth Day, and the events continue today.
The relationships with all platform partners remain but the intent is to make the content more available and easier to navigate for a global community of Michigan learners.
“Michigan Online further extends U-M’s ability to provide high quality learning opportunities for learners at all levels,” said James DeVaney, U-M associate vice provost for academic innovation. “Michigan students will have even greater access to university expertise and resources, and learners around the world will discover new opportunities to acquire new skills, access global learning communities and explore new topics, at their own pace.”
Michigan Online offers users a chance to browse an extensive library of online experiences developed by faculty and instructional teams at U-M. Users can look for courses by subject, duration of the course and type (e.g., course or teach-out).
Course and teach-out subjects include biology and life sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences, business and finance, education and teacher training, physical science and engineering, data science, computer science, health and safety, and design. Among the offerings are applied data science, leadership, Python programming, sleep deprivation, and computer user experience and design.
Creators of the learning portal welcome audience feedback on the tool which may be submitted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation
Last week we welcomed Will Potter to the Office of Academic Innovation. Will joins our team as a Senior Academic Innovation Fellow at a time when we are increasing experimentation and investment at the intersection of academic innovation and public engagement. He also holds a new academic appointment in the Department of English.
The Academic Innovation team has had the great pleasure of working with and learning from Will over the past year through our U-M Teach-Out Series where he co-created a Teach-Out and contributed to several others. He brings a rich set of experiences and critical expertise to an Academic Innovation team that seeks to reimagine public engagement and embrace storytelling to advance learning at all levels.
Will was the first journalist to be selected as a TED Senior Fellow. He was awarded the prestigious Knight Wallace Fellowship in Law Reporting at the University of Michigan and later became a Marsh Professor of Journalism. He teaches courses on investigative journalism, social movements, and whistleblowing, and led a Teach-Out titled Fake News, Facts, and Alternative Facts.
Will and I connected as he settled into his first week at the Office of Academic Innovation and discussed citizenship in the modern era, the art of storytelling, and the University of Michigan’s powerful history of public engagement.
1. You’re joining the Academic Innovation team as a senior academic innovation fellow with a focus on digital storytelling. How does one become an expert digital storyteller?
Punk rock. Well, that was my path at least. I started writing for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers when I was 17, with every intention of following a conventional career path. But the rise of online publishing left the industry scrambling to adjust its revenue model, and hiring freezes, bureau closures, and layoffs became the norm. It felt like most journalists were waiting for their editors to come up with solutions, and that didn’t sit well with me. Growing up in the punk scene, with its heavy emphasis on do-it-yourself ethics, profoundly shaped my worldview. In that community, if you want to start a band and tour the world, you don’t wait for anyone’s permission—you teach yourself and make it happen.
So I decided to do the same thing with my journalism. I created my own online news service, and built my own distribution channels. When I published my first book with City Lights, I enlisted friends in L.A. to direct a movie-style trailer that we distributed online, and I relied on my social media networks to book international speaking tours. I was the first investigative journalist to be named a TED Senior Fellow, which created many more opportunities for experimentation with digital storytelling. In hindsight, I feel fortunate to have started my career in a non-digital era, because quality digital storytelling is, above all else, simply old-fashioned narrative techniques combined with a willingness to take chances.
2. Your contributions in this capacity will be grounded in your ongoing work as an investigative journalist. What are you working on now?
After my first book was published, an anonymous source leaked me some surveillance documents created by the Counter Terrorism Unit that mentioned my name. Out of curiosity, I filed an open records request, and with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights I obtained government surveillance documents about my articles, speeches, website, and book (which, if I may brag, is described in the Counter Terrorism Unit files as “compelling and well-written”). That experience is the foundation of my next book, which will combine narrative nonfiction, investigative reporting, and intertwined memoir. I’ve been working with students on a Freedom of Information Act campaign to investigate both the history and contemporary scope of governmental surveillance of journalists. I’m practicing what I’m preaching in this new role, so to speak, in that I’ll be publicly-engaged throughout this process, while working with Academic Innovation and teaching in the English department. I’ll also be pushing my own comfort zones by working with a team to film a documentary of the journey, and experimenting with media tie-ins for print publications like an interactive ebook and websites.
3. How does your life as a journalist influence the way you think about innovation in teaching and learning and about the way U-M approaches public engagement? What is the significance of building narrative in creating awesome learning experiences?
Human beings are storytellers. That is perhaps the only marker that truly separates us from other animals—not an ability to feel pain, love, joy, or grief, or even an ability to communicate our needs and desires, but the ability to tell complex stories that help us make sense of the world, and our aspirations within it. We most often use the term storytelling when talking about fiction or film. But it’s a mistake to think of story in such a narrow sense. As a journalist, I am of course conscious of the stories I tell my readers, but more importantly my life as a journalist is rooted in exposing the false narratives used by people in power to deceive. I am convinced that the best way to counter these narratives of hate, fear, anti-intellectualism, and control that have grown louder in our culture is by speaking up honestly and passionately in defense of our shared democratic values. That’s why I am so excited to be part of U-M’s public engagement initiatives. Being mindful of the stories we tell, and the false stories we are countering, not only helps create memorable learning experiences for our students, but it will also help us to share our expertise in dialogue with the general public.
4. You teach courses on investigative journalism, social movements, and whistleblowing. Do you have a favorite topic to cover with your students?
Ben Bradlee, who served as executive editor of the Washington Post for 23 years, was infamous for what he expected to see in a Post story. He called it a “holy shit moment”: that point in which the reader learns something new/surprising/fascinating/helpful or just plain memorable. It’s not enough if the story matters to the writer, if it’s lyrically written, or even if it’s newsworthy. If the reader doesn’t want to tell a friend about the story the moment they finish reading it, you’ve lost an opportunity. It’s an elusive moment, both in journalism and in the classroom, but I’m constantly searching for opportunities to connect my courses to students’ lived experiences.
In my whistleblowing course, for instance, I invited Bastian Obermayer, the journalist who broke the Panama Papers, to discuss the ethical dilemmas he faced when an anonymous source leaked 2.6 TB of financial data to him, and how that Pulitzer Prize-winning story was only possible through innovation and international collaboration. Dayo Aiyetan, a Knight-Wallace Fellow, discussed whistleblowing in his home of Nigeria, which contextualized the attacks on journalism and whistleblowing we are witnessing right now in the United States. In my journalism courses, one of my favorite exercises is to visit the Joseph A. Labadie Collection on campus and explore minority and underground newspapers from the 1950s and 60s. As one student said last semester, it was shocking to see articles on police shootings from the 60s that looked like they could have been published in 2017, but inspiring to see this legacy of truth-telling for social justice.
As both a working journalist and an educator, that’s the type of Bradlee moment I hope to facilitate.
5. What questions and activities do you hope to explore through your new role? How do you hope to work with faculty and student innovators?
The University of Michigan has a powerful history of public engagement, and in my new role I am excited to be part of what I believe is the next chapter of that legacy. There are two areas of focus, in particular. As folks reading this most likely already know, the first Teach-In took place here on campus in 1965, starting a movement that spread to 40 other universities. Today’s Teach-Outs update this model for a digital era, and I’m thrilled to be part of this team both in terms of hosting interviews and also envisioning the next iteration of the form.
The University of Michigan also has a powerful history when it comes to storytelling and journalism. Our campus was home to what is generally believed to be the first newspaper writing course in the United States—then called “Rapid Writing”— in 1890-91. Journalist alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winners Eugene Robinson, Ann Marie Lipinski, Lisa Pollak, and many, many more. Today, the prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellowship brings journalists from around the world for a year of study and collaboration with faculty on campus, and Wallace House also honors the next generation of new journalists with the Livingston Awards. Comparable programs at Harvard and Stanford connect their fellows with journalism initiatives at those universities. Unfortunately, though, the journalism program at the University of Michigan was shuttered in the 1990s. In this new role, I’ll be thinking through what an updated model might look like, and how we might honor our legacy and also be at the forefront of innovation. I hope to help both faculty and students became better storytellers, regardless of their area of expertise or professional goals.
More broadly speaking, I am looking forward to conversations around campus about what, in my opinion, might be the defining issue of our time: the meaning, and responsibilities, of citizenship in the modern era. Core democratic institutions—the public university and the free press—are being decried by elected officials as the enemy of the people. I might be biased, in that my new hybrid role involves a foot in both of those worlds, but I’m proud of how both journalists and educators have responded to those attacks—a reexamination and reaffirmation of the civic responsibility that drives us.
6. What else should Academic Innovation affiliated faculty, staff, and students ask you about?
Anything. Really! I’m happy to chat about digital storytelling, literary journalism, or how I approach tailoring narratives for diverse mediums ranging from TED to the evening news. Also: restoring vintage motorcycles. If it happens to be outside of my wheelhouse, we can learn about it together.
This article was originally posted on 3/6/2018 on Inside Higher Ed
James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation
Six years ago, inspired by a big idea to democratize higher education, the University of Michigan (U-M) became a founding partner of Coursera. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were born. While the issuance of MOOC death certificates by skeptics is only rivaled in frequency by those filed by South Park writers for Kenny, MOOCs consistently find ways to survive and indeed thrive in nurturing environments.
MOOCs are far from dead. Rather, they appear to hatch derivatives. Sean Gallagher of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy refers to this as “the new ecology of credentials”, a landscape transforming rapidly as we move from the early knowledge economy to the digital, AI, Gig economy. Which leads those of us close to the action to reflect often upon the original big idea for MOOCs. Typically stating a goal to “democratize” is followed by “access to” something. In hindsight, it’s clear we hadn’t fully considered the potential of what we might be democratizing. What, in fact, are we scaling? Is it content and courses? Curriculum and credentials? Communities and college towns?
With today’s announcement, we are now much closer to saying “all of the above”. MOOCs may have initially provided learners an opportunity to simply peer into the university. Now MOOCs and MOOC derivatives (e.g. Teach-Outs, specializations, MicroMasters, MasterTrack, etc.) are helping universities to expand how they think about engaging with the world. For U-M, this is entirely consistent with top institutional priorities around academic innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and public engagement. We are the global, inclusive, public research university.
The real innovation of the MOOC era is not the unbundling of academic degrees that first captured massive attention, but rather the re-bundling that results from serious academic R&D – the creation of new communities and credentials for all levels. In announcing Michigan’s new degrees this morning at the Coursera Partners Conference, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda contextualized these latest innovations as evidence that, “the future of work and the future of learning are converging.”
Today U-M announced the intent to design two new fully online master’s degree programs and a new online cohort-based pathway to advanced degrees and career advancement called the MasterTrack Certificate. Let’s consider this latest re-bundling effort within the broader context.
U-M seeks to address global problems in pursuit of a more equitable world. If we can agree that global problems do not fall neatly into the academic disciplines, it should follow that the increasingly diverse needs of learners would be difficult to address through a set of unmalleable academic offerings. If we are serious about diversity, we need to be equally serious about inclusivity as we design new programs, and laying a foundation for learners with vastly different starting points, learning styles, and learning objectives.
So in 2012 we began to adopt ‘unbundling’ as part of our language. Many chose the fear narrative and heard unraveling. We chose the opportunity narrative and have been re-bundling ever since with an evolving mix of learner-centric offerings. Because experiments regularly fork into new experiments, it is easy to lose focus. As we move at a rapid speed, we find it is critical to anchor in our vision for a preferred future – one that points U-M in the direction of expanding access, designing for inclusivity, personalizing at scale, and reimagining two-way public engagement. We took a major stride toward this future today by announcing two new degrees and pioneering the MasterTrack offering. Along with our MOOC portfolio, our expanding Teach-Out Series, and our MicroMasters programs, learners have more opportunities than ever to be a part of a Michigan learning community.
We’re just getting started. And the world future of work and future of learning show no signs of slowing down. Given what is known and all that is uncertain, our goal is to build a global, inclusive, public research university that is future proof!
As we move toward this future, it’s clear that there is a time for acceleration and a time to struggle through experimentation – advancing learning and recording failure along the way as only Universities do.
And now, an adorable tangent on barriers to entry, speed and pace.
My six-year-old daughter is beginning to love soccer. Before each practice, I ask her how she will train today. She pauses predictably, smirks and tilts her head to the right, and with one eye visible responds, “like a cheetah-rocket!” Never heard of one? Well, for those who haven’t spent time with a six-year-old lately, these are two things that are, like, really fast. So when you put those two things together, it would stand, that you get something even faster.
When my daughter first showed signs of doubt that she could compete with the “big kids” (seven and eight-year olds are Goliath to a six year old David), we focused on getting in the game. She needed to belong. We talked about the way she would enter the pitch. After some epic brainstorming, she refused to choose between ‘like a cheetah’, and ‘like a rocket’. “A cheetah-rocket would be faster, Dada,” she stated decisively. She’s now in the game. She wants to try and she know she can. She’s ready to learn.
I think about our learning curve on the soccer pitch often as the higher education industry evolves with competing narratives of opportunity and fear.
At the moment, I’m helping my daughter to gain confidence. Soon I’ll need to help her understand that learning is hard and that part of the human experience is to struggle through new lessons. We’ll need to slow the game down to understand each component. Speed and learning don’t often go well together.
We are steadily lowering the barriers to entry in higher education. We unbundle to grant cheetah-rocket speed to all. Access, belonging, opportunity, personalization. As we re-bundle, we need to create new opportunities that advance learning rather than enable the tyranny of convenience. This will take serious experimentation in order to establish the best mix of learning opportunities and credentials for the economy ahead.
With my daughter, I need to help her slow down and understand the fundamentals at her own pace in order to lay a sound foundation for learning. Similarly, MOOCs provide a foundation for self-paced learning. As we continue to experiment, we need to make sure this foundation is flexible.
Importantly, for universities in this moment, it turns out that speed as a lever goes in multiple directions. Universities need to continue to gain comfort with good risk taking. A burst of cheetah-rocket speed now and then can help us to accelerate experimentation in pursuit of our ultimate goals. Yet we also need to apply good methods and R&D principles to make sure we pace ourselves when appropriate and ultimately reach our desired destinations. Do we have the confidence to set the right pace and embed good pedagogy as we continue extend our reach? We have made significant progress in expanding our reach, but we haven’t yet cracked the code on embedding good pedagogy at scale. This will be a primary focus in the next wave of experiments.
For U-M, we’ve envisioned a preferred future that allows us to be more global, more inclusive, more public. Many ways in. Several ways through. Clear outcomes and value.
Today we took another step forward in the great re-bundling and it is clear that there is a long road ahead. Good things take time. As we continue to experiment and design learner-centric programs and learning communities, we intend to make design choices that support informed decision-making for learners, increase affordability, increase acceleration, increase frequency and quality of feedback, and replace a capstone mindset with project-rich learning experiences throughout.
Experimentation is far from over. As we launch this latest set of programs, several questions are on my mind:
- Given what we expect in the future of work, can we create pathways to continuous competency?
- How will our evolving product mix fit together for different kinds learners?
- Is there tension between access/on-ramps and deep learning?
- How should we incorporate real-world projects into rich, rigorous, and agile curricula?
- How will employers evaluate sub-degree credentials?
- What are the best ways to engage learners and employers in the design of learning experiences?
- Are we addressing the audiences that need us most?
So what are we democratizing? It turns out for U-M, our efforts are focused on scaling the great public research university in pursuit of a more equitable world. Neither MOOCs nor degrees are dead. Instead, we have entered an era of experimentation that will result in a new collection of credentials needed in a future where, as Mark Searle, Arizona State University Provost said so memorably in his keynote this morning, “universities are known for who we include not who we exclude”.
Online learners may soon have three new University of Michigan master’s degree options through a partnership with Coursera—one in the growing field of applied data science, a first of its kind in public health and an advanced program in construction engineering and management.
In a joint announcement today with the online platform, the School of Information said its Master of Applied Data Science under development will build upon the school’s leadership in offering programing courses online, including several on Coursera.
Online learners on six continents have enrolled more than one million times in the UMSI MOOCs, taking courses in programming, user experience research and design, web design and applications, public library management, and applied data science.
U-M’s Master of Public Health from the School of Public Health is among the first degrees in this area of study to be delivered on a massive open online course (MOOC) platform. This degree program emphasizes application of research methods and public health principles to improve population health.
The announcement at the Coursera Partners Conference also includes the debut of a new Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate that allows users to take courses for certification or toward an advanced degree to be completed on campus for those who meet admission criteria.
“We are expanding our efforts to scale the great public research university through further investment in our flexible, personalized and networked model for global and lifelong learning,” said Martin Philbert, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
“We intend to design two new fully online programs and augment our hybrid offerings. This will increase opportunities for learners around the world, enabling them to join our community in understanding and addressing global problems in pursuit of a more equitable world.”
To date, U-M has seen 6.5 million enrollments in its portfolio of more than 120 courses. Many MOOCs are for enrichment, some lead to certification, and others are part of micromaster programs, which allow students to take advanced-level courses online first, possibly leading to enrollment on campus for completion of a master’s program.
The School of Information leads in U-M’s MOOC space with nearly 40 courses online, including a micromaster’s in user experience research and design; a Coursera Specialization in Applied Data Science with Python; and course series on Python for Everybody, Web Applications for Everybody, Web Design for Everybody, and Public Library Management. UMSI has historically been known as a graduate school but four years ago developed a curriculum for undergraduate students.
“The development of this new degree represents progression toward our goal of extending access to professional education outside the conventional residential environment,” said UMSI Dean Thomas Finholt. “The demand for data scientists has grown dramatically in the past decade and it will continue to grow far beyond our capacity to accommodate students in a traditional classroom setting. UMSI continues to explore innovative ways to deliver the information-based knowledge and skills needed to meet the challenges of our increasingly data-intense world.”
The U-M School of Public Health has a 76-year history of offering master’s and doctoral level degrees and just this year launched a bachelor’s degree program. The school currently educates and trains more than 1,000 students a year.
The online program is expected to offer students and working professionals exposure to a variety of public health disciplines through a broad foundational curriculum that will equip them to tackle complex health challenges such as chronic and infectious diseases, obesity and food insecurity, health care quality and costs, climate change and environmental determinants of health, and socioeconomic inequalities and their impact on health.
Learners will have the opportunity to select from a wide range of specializations for focused expertise, including population health, program planning and evaluation, health analytics, genomics and precision health.
“Opening access to a global learning platform will increase public health knowledge and skills that are critical to our pursuit of a healthier, more equitable world for all,” said Cathleen Connell, interim dean of the U-M School of Public Health. “Through information sharing and capacity building, we can create a continuum of learning that reaches beyond the traditional degree program, leading to greater public impact.”
Meeting the demands of another growing profession has led to the development of a hybrid degree offering.
The Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate is a new program co-created by U-M and Coursera. It allows learners to earn certification or take additional advanced courses, potentially leading to on-campus enrollment for completion of the Construction Engineering and Management Master of Engineering (MEng) degree.
The construction business is booming in the United States and is expected to continue great growth in the future, yet the industry suffers from a shortage of workers and managers.
Someone taking the Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate can expect to learn from faculty at one of the top engineering programs in the world the skills of accounting, decision making and project management through an engineering lens. Participants will be prepared to take on a role as construction manager in as little as 6-7 months.
“We are deeply committed to leading the evolution of 21st-century engineering education for the benefit of the common good,” said Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “Our new construction engineering and management master track certificate program is the first of its kind and is consistent with our strategic vision at Michigan Engineering to pioneer innovative educational models designed for global impact.”
MasterTrack is distinct from other programs of its kind in the way learning is structured. Learners have an opportunity to preview programs through open courses before engaging in smaller cohorts designed around high immersive projects and high quality feedback. They can join program-level learning communities and networks to pursue standalone digital credentials and pathways into top graduate degree programs.
“MasterTrack learners will enjoy rich applied projects, vibrant social learning environments, and the many benefits of frequent high quality feedback,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation. “The advanced courses will provide immersive experiences built around applied projects that will benefit learners seeking advanced degrees as well as learners seeking to advance their careers.”
Coursera currently has four online master’s programs in computer science, business administration, accounting, and innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to the Michigan programs, today’s announcement included two master’s programs in computer science from Arizona State University and University of Illinois, a master’s in global public health from Imperial College London, and a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of London.
“The University of Michigan took a bold step six years ago as one of Coursera’s four founding university partners. We are thrilled to continue working with this university to push the status quo by pioneering a new way to offer degrees that fits the evolving needs of students who demand degrees that are more affordable and are available when and wherever they are ready to learn,” said Nikhil Sinha, chief content officer at Coursera.
“The University of Michigan Master of Public Health and Master of Applied Data Science offered entirely online through Coursera will enable students to achieve top-caliber University of Michigan degrees with the flexibility and high quality online learning experience of Coursera.”
The Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate will enroll its first learners in 2018, pending final approval.
The Master of Applied Data Science and Master of Public Health degrees are expected to launch in fall 2019, subject to approval.