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.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan
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”.
From football players taking a knee during the national anthem to debates over allowing controversial speakers on campuses to the question about rights of immigrant activists, interpretations of the First Amendment right to free speech are front-and-center in many of our conversations today.
Issues being discussed across the United States seek to answer if a concern for safety trumps free speech, or if universities should penalize students that shout over and disrupt speakers whose views are different from their own.
The proliferation of so-called “fake news” has led many to wonder what information sources can be trusted.
For the next several months, as the University of Michigan explores through various events issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, the Office of Academic Innovation will present a teach-out series that focuses on free speech on college campuses, in journalism and in sports.
Leaders of the three-part series include U-M President Mark Schlissel; faculty from the Law School, School of Education, School of Information, School of Kinesiology and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at U-M; faculty from American University and Michigan State University; the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation; U-M students; and members of the media, including a journalist participating in the Knight-Wallace Fellowship program at U-M.
“Our society’s greatest challenges tend to play themselves out in very intense ways on university campuses. And as a public institution, I think we have to be open to these challenges to make sure discourse on campus represents a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives, and that we make our challenges visible to the public,” Schlissel said in an interview that will be part of the first teach-out on “Free Speech on Campus.”
“Free speech is a particularly important value at a university, not just a public university, but all universities. It’s the way we learn and grow and improve our understanding.”
Teach-outs are free, short learning opportunities that allow people across the world to engage with experts on various topics of national and international interest. They are modeled after the teach-ins of the 1960s, started at U-M, which physically brought people to campus for a short-term, intensive educational experience on a timely topic.
Delivered on the Coursera online platform, teach-outs take advantage of current technology to engage learners. Participants can enroll and move through the learning opportunities at their own pace for the few weeks they are posted online.
The free speech teach-outs are part of a larger “2018 Speech and Inclusion: Recognizing Conflict and Building Tools for Engagement” series sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and several other campus units.
Events throughout the winter semester invite students, faculty and staff to “openly discuss, listen, and engage with differing views on free speech and to advocate for voices that have historically been silenced—important issues that continue to challenge both our campus and the nation,” according to the DEI website.
The idea that opinions, however unpopular, should be heard is what student Jesse Arm said prompted student groups to bring controversial author Charles Murray to campus in the fall.
In the late 1990s, Murray wrote a book called the “Bell Curve” that claimed that the normal distribution of IQ showed differences in intelligence based on race and class. Murray’s appearance on campus in October to share his latest book “Coming Apart: The State of White America,” was met with protests. Students attempted to shut down the event by shouting down the speaker.
“We hoped to bring in people who may not agree with Dr. Murray, may not see eye-to-eye with him,” for an exchange of ideas, said Arm, chairperson of the American Enterprise Institute’s Michigan Executive Council. “We believe that forwards intellectual diversity. We believe that forwards the competition of ideas on our campus.”
The news recently reported that a Princeton University professor canceled a free speech course following intense criticism over his use of a racial slur in class as an illustration of words that incite negative feelings and reaction.
Some of U-M’s free-speech-on-campus discussion will center around what are called trigger warnings—advance notices to students that subject matter in classes could get uncomfortable and cause unpleasant responses.
“They emerged to really help people not trigger anxiety, loss of concentration or other more severe reactions,” said Vasti Torres, professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the School of Education. “The way they are taken today is to assume that trigger warnings are about restricting when someone doesn’t believe what you believe.”
Knowing what to believe with the barrage of information coming at us through traditional and nontraditional news sources is behind a second teach-out that will focus on “Free Speech in Journalism.”
As public trust in news organizations reaches historic lows, in part due to accusations of “fake news” by top leaders, and an increase in false or misleading information masquerading as news, many are asking what is the role of journalism in a free society?
In her video segment, HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen said the discussion often focuses on journalism and journalists but free speech is bigger than one institution.
“The First Amendment is first because it applies to all of us and it’s really the bedrock of our democracy and our identity as Americans,” Polgreen said.
“The true menace of restrictions of speech is less and less the government and more and more big and powerful companies,” she said, explaining that most people today do not seek information from newspapers but from Facebook, Twitter and various websites backed by companies that limit, control and sometimes distort the available information.
As top officials accuse even mainstream press of proliferating fake news, Chuck Lewis, professor at the School of Communication at American University, said such assaults on journalism and a free press are not new. In the past, he said, the subjects of news stories have faced prosecution, broadcast operations have been threatened with license revocation and journalists have even been murdered for their reporting.
“There have been a number of incidences where the press has reported about uses and abuses of power that has enraged and offended and angered the powers that be, whichever party is in control,” Lewis said, citing the Pentagon Papers and Watergate as chief examples. “Even though we have this amendment, that’s always been subject to interpretation and the subjectivity of individual political actors. That’s why this amendment is so crucial.”
The third teach-out on “Free Speech in Sports” will ask if athletic events are appropriate venues for social and political activism, and the role of players and various stakeholders with respect to free speech during those activities.
U-M has an ongoing series of teach-outs on topics such as sleep, opioid use, fake news, and privacy and reputation in a digital age.
Monica Miklosovic, Iteration Manager
Megan Taylor, Research Associate
Steve Welsh, Learning Experience Designer
The Office of Academic Innovation aims to broaden access to higher education by building new models for pre-college learning that are open, both in terms of easily accessible content for college preparation, and make pathways to higher education transparent to all populations. We value opportunities that challenge us to explore how we can continue to broaden the use of our digital tools and engagement in pursuit of this aim. This winter an opportunity arose for our office to partner with the Wolverine Pathways program to provide scholars in the program with a unique opportunity to engagement with the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series. This partnership with Wolverine Pathways was a great way for us to collaborate with curriculum designers in Michigan public schools to custom-tailor our Teach-Out curricula for younger learners.
Following the model of the Teach-In, which originated at the University of Michigan, Teach-Outs are brief but highly participatory online learning experiences designed to bring the public together to learn about, and discuss, current issues in society, such as health care, the opioid crisis, media literacy, and understanding extreme weather. As the Teach-Out Series approaches the culmination of its first year, Academic Innovation has launched our 10th Teach-Out with many more currently in design and production. Along the way, several groups, including public libraries and senior centers, have contacted our office seeking to adapt the Teach-Outs for face-to-face learning opportunities. We are continually striving to discover new ways to engage learners and open our courses and learning opportunities
The University of Michigan’s Wolverine Pathways program is a free, year-round youth outreach program that partners with families and Michigan schools in Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti. Wolverine Pathways provides diverse learning experiences and leadership opportunities that support admitted students’ success in high school and prepare them for college and their future careers. Wolverine Pathway scholars who successfully complete the program, apply, and are admitted of the University of Michigan will receive a full, four-year tuition scholarship to the university.
In November 2017, Megan Taylor, a Research Associate in the Office of Academic Innovation, met with Dana Davidson, the Project Coordinator of Wolverine Pathways, to discuss and explore opportunities for the Office of Academic Innovation to partner with, and support, the Wolverine Pathways Program. In a series of exploratory meetings, Dana expressed she was looking for a unique and engaging curriculum for eighth and ninth grade students in their upcoming winter session. After initial discussions, we soon arrived at the idea of incorporating material from the Teach-Out Series, and adapting the curricula specifically for the needs and interests of the eighth and ninth grade Wolverine Pathway Scholars.
A Partnership for Pre-College Learners
In reviewing the series of Teach-Outs, both teams identified digital literacy as an important component of academic and social preparation among teens. American teens face daily choices about how they approach and engage with information, as well as their activity on social media. With this in mind, we identified the Fake News, Facts, and Alternative Facts and Privacy, Reputation, and Identity in a Digital Age Teach-Outs as ideal fits for the Wolverine Pathways students. Working with curriculum designers from Michigan public schools, we designed a plan to integrate the Teach-Outs into a curriculum that would fit the Wolverine Pathways environment and structure.
While Teach-Out content was originally designed for an online, global audience, the Wolverine Pathways team plan to use this content in a face-to-face classroom with an age-specific cohort. Rather than viewing videos on personal devices, the class might watch together on one screen. Instead of discussion taking place on a web forum, the conversation may be prompted and moderated in-person by a teacher. After consulting with the Wolverine Pathways curriculum designers, the Academic Innovation team created a repository of videos and new documentation for all text-based content so Teach-Out resources could be used in a flexible way by teachers interacting with students face-to-face.
The initial introduction of Teach-Out content to Wolverine Pathways teachers was well received, and both teams are excited to see how it will impact the students’ ability to gain digital literacy. Following the 2018 pilot, we hope to continue partnering with Wolverine Pathways to adopt future Teach-Outs for their students. By observing and evaluating the pilot curriculum, and building on our partnership with the Wolverine Pathways team, we hope to develop more learning opportunities to support Michigan public school programs and pre-college learners.