How Residential Students and Global Learners Play a Role in Enhancing the MOOC Experience

Cinzia Smothers, Community Engagement Manager

Stephanie Haley, Engagement & Iteration Manager

We often receive feedback from learners about how smoothly their MOOC learning experience ran. Since this is in large part due to our Course Advocates, we wanted to share some context on what their role is here in the Office of Academic Innovation.

Course Advocates (CAs) and Course Development Assistants (CDAs) are assigned to assist Faculty Members who work with us to design, produce, and offer a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

CDAs and CAs have very similar and, in many respects, overlapping roles. The work of a CDA takes place primarily during the development of the MOOC leading up to the point of the course launch. Some activities that CDAs might be involved with are assignment creation, assisting with course building, graphic design tasks, and more. The work of a CA begins slightly before the MOOC launches and continues through the management and maintenance of the MOOC Discussion Forums, as well as through the course review process for future iterations. It is also not uncommon – and is even encouraged, when practical – for a CDA to transition into the CA role for a designated MOOC.

Our team of CAs and CDAs currently consists of about 60 individuals with rich and diverse backgrounds and interests. Most CAs and CDAs are current U-M students (undergraduate as well as graduate), but there is also a subset of enthusiastic former MOOC learners who have joined the CAs/CDAs’ ranks, often by direct invitation of the respective faculty member.

Sophie, who holds a Master of Science degree in Web Applications Development and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical/Computer Engineering, and who is the CA for Introduction to Data Science in Python and Applied Plotting, Charting & Data Representation in Python, became interested in MOOCs to stay involved in the Computer Vision sector. Reflecting on her experience as a CA, she said, “I enjoy helping learners troubleshoot problems with their assignments, it gives me a sense of empowerment and wellbeing.”

Blair, who is a doctoral candidate in the School of Education and the CA for Leading Ambitious Teaching & Learning, became a CA to gain a deeper understanding about various perspectives on systemic approaches to improving teaching and learning and also to learn more about MOOCs and innovative ways to increase access to educational opportunities. Reflecting on her experience so far, Blair said, “I like the opportunity to learn with and support a large group of learners in diverse contexts tackling the challenging issue of leading ambitious teaching and learning. I enjoy supporting the learners’ discussions about the course content because everyone brings such unique perspectives to the material and often these discussions push my own thinking.”

Isabella, CA for Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age and Inspiring and Motivating Individuals, said, “I first got involved with CA work by helping to develop one of U-M’s courses, and now I enjoy being able to be a part of the course community and making sure students from all over are excited about the material and having a fun time taking our courses.”

Sometimes, CAs might take on slightly different responsibilities, depending on specific circumstances and the CA’s interests, aptitudes, and background. Because of this variety of responsibilities and backgrounds, and with the goal of developing appropriate and responsive workflows, we initiated a process of examining CAs’ relevant work-related needs. For example, Kayla Carucci, a graduate student who will start her PhD program at the U-M School of Information this fall, has been working at the Digital Education and Innovation Lab over the summer months to conduct a contextual analysis of the CA/CDA workflow (more to come on this soon!).

To learn more about the CDA/CA role here at Academic Innovation, check out this snapshot of the role and its responsibilities.

U-M students who would like to apply to this position are encouraged to submit their resume through the Student Employment Office website.

Spotlight on the Simulations Community of Practice

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator

The Simulations Community of Practice is an interdisciplinary group of U-M staff and faculty who meet regularly to discuss the development and implementation of simulation-based teaching tools. Participants explore the benefits and challenges of simulation activities, as well as share experiences and resources.

This community of practice developed out of an open, informal conversation on simulation pedagogies hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation in March 2017. The conversation generated an abundance of questions, concerns and recommendations about the use of simulations in teaching, and participants expressed interested in having ongoing, more in-depth discussions. Since then, the group has met several times to examine a range of topics, including simulation types, facilitation best practices, learning goals and debrief techniques.

Meetings will continue in the 2017-2018 academic year. The Simulations Community of Practice is kicking off the semester with a session on Wednesday, September 27 from 1 – 2 p.m. at the Office of Academic Innovation (8th Floor, Hatcher Graduate Library South). At this gathering, participants will discuss the special considerations needed for planning, facilitating and debriefing simulation activities that involve sensitive topics or contexts.

We welcome all instructors and staff who create and/or facilitate simulation activities for the classroom, or who are interested in doing so, to join our group. Please email me, Sarah Moncada (, if you would like to be added to the email list.

Here is a brief overview of the group’s activities to date:

Initial Gathering at Innovation Hour

Three individuals in discussion at a high table with other small group discussions in the background.Faculty and staff from a range of units, including Public Policy, Nursing, Medicine, Education, Information, Engineering, ITS and Academic Innovation, convened for an informal conversation about simulation activities and pedagogies. Participants gained a sense of the tremendous range of simulations that take place at U-M, from the use of chicken skin as a simulation for cutaneous surgery to a customized digital platform for simulating multi-role government policy decisions.

Despite the diversity of activities, disciplines and technologies, attendees agreed on what drives their use of simulations. Several noted the value of simulations as safe spaces where students can make and learn from mistakes. Students can experiment with their decisions and approaches in hands-on environments. Learners’ active engagement–especially when combined with post-simulation debrief or reflection activities–leads to a deeper understanding of systems, processes and skills.

There was also consensus among practitioners about the challenges of education-based simulation activities. Many commented on the special difficulties of evaluating student learning in these instructional contexts, as well as the challenge of managing the open-endedness or variability inherent to many simulations. Attendees expressed a desire to develop a greater understanding of simulation-related tools and activities from other disciplines, noting that U-M simulation designers and facilitators ought to come together to discuss best practices and necessary skills for conducting simulations responsibly and effectively.

Community of Practice: First Steps

Several individuals seated around a large conference room table.At the first meeting of the Community of Practice, attendees began by compiling a list of simulation activities that take place at U-M. Again there was a wide range, from small-group lean manufacturing paper-cutting simulations in the College of Engineering to large-scale empathy-building poverty simulations hosted by the Sociology Department and the School of Public Health.

In an attempt to assign these activities to categories or types, it became clear that individuals from different fields use different terminology to describe simulations and have contrasting understandings of what constitutes a simulation. The group then discussed distinctions, posing questions to each other such as, “What differentiates a simulation from a case study?” and “Do simulations always involve role-playing?” Several agreed that simulations involve collective decision-making of some kind, and that there must be a variable outcome–participants’ decisions within the simulation will change the experience and results.

Demo of PolicyMaker

Elisabeth Gerber standing in front of a computer lab pointing to a projector screen.At the community’s June gathering, Dr. Elisabeth Gerber , Jack L. Walker, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy in the Ford School of Public Policy, facilitated a demo of PolicyMaker, a digital platform for creating and implementing customized, interactive role-playing simulations. Gerber walked through the different functionalities of the tool from an instructor perspective, including how to create and manage a simulation scenario, assign roles to participants, and navigate within the platform.

Attendees of the demo were assigned participant roles within one of Gerber’s public policy scenarios to get a feel for how students might use the tool in an educational context. PolicyMaker is designed to facilitate and enhance an in-person simulation experience. The platform contains profile pages for students to learn about their roles, messaging  functions to communicate with other participants, calendars and voting tools to organize actions and decisions within the simulation, and a “news feed” to view outcomes and updates. All these features support the engaged, face-to-face interactions that take place in the classroom during a simulation.

The demo closed with a conversation about the potential use cases for PolicyMaker and the flexibility of the tool to work with a variety of scenarios and learning goals. Gerber encouraged participants to think about how the digital platform might operate in different academic domains and contexts. For more details, check out Michigan Daily reporter Nisa Khan’s feature on the PolicyMaker demo session.

Learning Goals and Debrief Techniques

Rachel Niemer pointing to a hand-drawn diagram on a whiteboard.By the final meeting of the summer, the Simulations Community of Practice had grown to include representatives from U-M Libraries, the LSA National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Ross School of Business, as well as faculty and staff from U-M’s Dearborn campus and Michigan State University.

The meeting opened with acknowledgement that a well-facilitated debrief session is the most instructive part of a simulation. It is important for students to have an opportunity to review, discuss, and reflect upon the simulation experience after it is over. In order to design effective debrief activities, facilitators must have a grasp of their learning goals and expectations for the simulation.

Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, noted that learning goals for simulations can vary widely. For example, the learning goals of a healthcare simulation, in which medical students are acting as doctors and performing simulated versions of tasks they will carry out in their professional lives are quite different from those of a poverty simulation, participants are intentionally placed in unfamiliar positions and situations as they navigate low-income challenges. These simulations would therefore require different debrief activities.

Others in attendance agreed, adding that it is important to identify whether the simulation has learning goals related to mastery learning and skill development or whether the primary focus is on empathy-building or social experience. In mastery-based healthcare simulations, the debrief may need to be immediate and action-oriented, whereas with empathy-building social simulations the participants may need time to “cool down” and process before an open-ended debrief conversation about participants’ reactions and key takeaways.

What’s Next?

The Simulations Community of Practice will be starting the school year with the September 27 discussion of special considerations for simulations involving sensitive topics or contexts.

Additional meetings this fall will focus on topics such as ways to effectively describe expectations to students and consideration of participants’ social identities when assigning roles and facilitating role-playing simulations. Be sure to check out our events page for details about upcoming gatherings of the Simulations Community of Practice.

The Office of Academic Innovation Gives Back to the Ann Arbor Community

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

The Office of Academic Innovation values innovating, creating new opportunities, and engaging with the local community. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for the Academic Innovation staff to volunteer with Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor, it seemed like a natural fit.

Giving back to the community is an area in which the Academic Innovation team feels strongly. All members of the team were surveyed earlier this year to gauge their interest in volunteering within the Ann Arbor community and the responses were overwhelmingly supportive. “I feel fortunate to be a part of an office that values service and an office that creates opportunities for us to serve together,” said Megan Taylor, Research Associate within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

Food Gatherers, Michigan’s first food rescue program, is a not-for-profit organization established in 1988 founded by Zingerman’s Delicatessen. 30 staff members, along with more than 7,000 volunteers help to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste from more than 300 local sources including food retailers, restaurants, and food wholesalers. Volunteer opportunities are very hands-on. Food Gatherers operates a working warehouse, moving an average of 9 tons of food each day as well as a busy kitchen cooking and serving hot meals seven days a week.

Groups of 17 and 8 volunteered on Thursday, July 20 and Tuesday, August 8 respectively. Each group was made up of members of all three Academic Innovation labs: the Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL), the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) and the Gameful Learning Lab (GLL).

During their time at the Food Gatherers warehouse, Academic Innovation staff members packaged dry goods to be shipped out to food pantries and sorted through donated produce. Staff members were also given a tour of the facility and briefed on the history of the organization prior to volunteering. Mike Daniel, Director of Policy and Operations for the Office of Academic Innovation added, “Having an opportunity to learn more about and contribute to the great work being done at Food Gatherers was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget.”

Multiple men and women of the Academic Innovation team posing humorously while holding volunteer supplies. Mike Wojan, UX Designer within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse had some excellent things to say about his experience. “I was very impressed with the Food Gatherers operation and the great people who work there. It felt good to spend a couple hours giving back to the community in a meaningful, tangible way. Seeing how much food we were able to save and repackage for others in the community was really rewarding.”

The Office of Academic Innovation plans to lend a helping hand to other not-for-profit organizations in the future, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Amy Homkes- Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse summed up the volunteer experience by saying, “What struck me about volunteering at Food Gatherers was the wonderful intersection of giving and getting. We gave our time to a discrete project where real progress was made. We gained an opportunity to build team while enjoying each other’s company.”

Reimagining Higher Education from the Inside Out

The mounting case for investment in academic R&D.

This article was originally posted on 8/30/2017 on Inside Higher Ed

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

It’s time to reimagine higher education from the inside out. Whether you prefer revolution or renaissance, it’s clear we have entered a new era. As we begin to master the art of reach, bringing unprecedented numbers of lifelong learners into the system and making the system big on the outside, we must not forget to also make higher education big on the inside. Let me explain. To help, I may call upon some summer reading from Musk, Wells, and Asimov.

I’m fascinated by Elon Musk’s track record for innovation in complex, highly regulated industries – transportation (Tesla), energy (SolarCity), and aerospace (SpaceX). In Ashlee Vance’s biography on Musk’s captivating journey to the entrepreneurial pantheon, it is clear that to the Tesla CEO, everything is a design problem. There is a particular gem of a quote when Musk is asked about differentiation and designing the Tesla Model X. Responding with Muskian swagger and near contempt of inferior design efforts, Musk responds, “Anyone can make a car big on the outside. The trick is to make it big on the inside.” Musk goes on to describe the substandard experience of climbing into the third row of a competitor’s vehicle only to have your legs pressed up to your chin.

You can only make a high performance vehicle so heavy. Tesla designed the outside of the Model X with lightweight aluminum body panels in order to reserve heavier items for the optimization of the user experience on the inside of the car. Musk wants everyone to have a great experience, regardless of where they sit.

As we reimagine higher education from the inside out, how do we avoid building a third row of seats? As we solve for diversity and create more flexible pathways into a more porous university, how do we anticipate and solve for problems around inclusion and equity?

As we solve design problems in higher education, we must anticipate the new problems that follow. As an important example, we know we need to solve for diversity. We need more, on every dimension. We know the many benefits of diversity and we know our mission. Full steam ahead. Yet as we make large strides forward in attracting more diverse learners to our campuses, we have to anticipate new design challenges around inclusion and equity. If the new students and lifelong learners that enter our campuses are forced into third-row contortionism, have we really solved the problem? It’s not personalization or scale, it’s both.

To say this differently, and by way of a classic Simpsons reference, our goal is not to build the Canyonero. Anyone with funding can chase and indiscriminately add shiny features to make an institution huge. Our design choices must increase student learning. Fortunately, our emerging academic R&D models use evidence-based design and experimentation to create catalysts for academic innovation in the service of this goal.

Yet we can’t underestimate the barriers to diversity and inclusion. Today we experience digital polarization and design higher education solutions to reverse the trend. But this trend isn’t new. Look no further than H.G. Wells and The Time Machine to see how some problems endure. Here’s Wells in 1898 on the refinement of education for the few and not the many:

“Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people –due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor — is already leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land.  About London, for instance, perhaps half of the prettier country is shut in against intrusion. And this same widening gulf- which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich- will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along lines of social stratification, less and less frequent.”

Sound familiar? Some problems aren’t new. Happily, there are new opportunities to solve them. Technology and analytics present new opportunities to expand the reach and quality of experiences we provide. Yet technology is a tool. We need creative models for academic R&D to uncover the most mission-aligned opportunities to leverage technological, pedagogical, and business model innovation. Good news, there’s a positive storm swirling.

In January I had the privilege of delivering opening remarks at the first Harvesting Innovation for Learners gathering, or the HAIL Storm.  The HAIL Storm was born out of shared interest across a range of institutions to establish new models for academic research & development to improve access, quality, and equity in student learning. At the time of our first huddle, I suggested that we have an antifragility problem in higher education and called upon the Japanese art of kintsugi as a heuristic. There is beauty in brokenness and opportunity to go beyond institutional resilience. Through regular exchange with my HAIL Storm colleagues over the months since January, it’s clear to me that our emergent academic R&D models are progressing rapidly to solve some of our most important design challenges.

Through new models of academic R&D we seek and share evidence, enhance our organizational self-awareness, and create space to solve the most important design challenges in higher education.  We are creating antifragile institutions that become stronger when challenged and when exposed to chaos and uncertainty.

In mid-September, we’ll convene the second HAIL Storm discussion, this time in Palo Alto on the beautiful campus of Stanford University. The case for investment in academic R&D is mounting as we ready ourselves for a second exchange of ideas and another opportunity to challenge each other to push our models forward.

In the meantime at my own institution, the case for academic R&D at the University of Michigan is clear, and clearly supported by our President and Provost. As we reimagine education at a 21st-century global, public, research university, our academic R&D model is designed to create an open model for pre-college learning and preparation that broadens access and enhances participation; a personalized, rigorous, and inclusive model for residential learning grounded in learning analytics and experimentation; a flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning that embraces the evolution of the “porous” university; and a participatory and inclusive model for public engagement that accelerates knowledge dissemination and information collection.

As we gather again for the second HAIL Storm, I hope to explore the following with my colleagues across higher ed. As we advance diversity, how should we think ahead to create more inclusive 21st century learning environments? As we advance personalized learning, how should we think about shared experiences? As we advance more flexible models for lifelong learning, how should we think about hybrid learning environments that maximize student learning? As we advance public engagement, how should we think about activating public concern and encouraging multi-directional exchange of knowledge and information?

It is important that we focus on “should” and not “could”. To create a future higher education model where everyone can participate, we need to acknowledge that some problems have been around for some time. We have to embrace antifragility in order to experiment, learn, and share. We have to identify the most important design problems, and anticipate the problems to solve for next. We have to be contrarian. Only then will we understand our possible and probable futures and maximize the likelihood of reaching our preferred future.

With such a complex set of challenges in front of us, what do we need to get started? As usual, Isaac Asimov makes the complex simple. From his classic Foundation series: “The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people contains huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia.”

As we move toward the second HAIL Storm discussion there are many design challenges to attack with similar inertia. I’m reminded that the problems we face vary widely: some are old, some are new, some are borrowed, and some are blue. Wells reminds us that a widening gulf between rich and poor is an old problem in want of new solutions. A new problem comes from our success. Last month, Michigan surpassed 6 million enrollments in massive open online courses since launching our first MOOC in 2012. That sounds like the start to solving an access problem. But how do we avoid building a third row of seats? As we engage more deeply in strategic partnerships and expand the ‘build versus buy decision’ to ‘build, buy, or partner’, we increasingly borrow the design challenges of other organizations. Of course, some challenges are also uniquely ours. While institutions of higher education have many shared interests and face many common challenges, they are also distinct. For Michigan, we need to design for our own institutional mission, strengths, and opportunities. Something (go) blue!

As we increase investment of energy and resource into new models for academic R&D, like Musk, Wells, and Asimov, we need to look carefully at the past and present while peering around the corner and into the future. We need to understand what futures are possible, probable, and preferred. Through increased investment in academic R&D, we can go beyond the design of something simply big and make higher education big on the inside.

James DeVaney (@devaneygoblue) is the Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan where he leads the Office of Academic Innovation.

Gearing up for Fall 17 in the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG)

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


The Fall 2017 semester is almost here and much like farmers gearing up to harvest their fall crops, in the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) we are readying to reap the efforts of our summer development cycle. In DIG we use an iterative process to software design and development. What does this mean exactly? Essentially, we continually improve our tools — produce better code, strengthen user interface and apply behavioral science, to the the digital teaching and learning tools we’ve championed here at the University of Michigan (U-M). Iterating on our tools happens in parallel with scaling our user bases. This fall we are excited to show off new features and looks in our suite of software, while also highlighting some of our new users. Here are just a few of the things we are looking forward to:

The Problem Roulette Re-Launch

Problem RouletteIn 2011, Problem Roulette was born. Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy Gus Evrard created the Problem Roulette tool as a way to provide web-based practice of past exam-like problems. Problem Roulette offered students equal access to a low-risk practice space to develop domain-specific competencies. Its use quickly expanded to eight courses and 15,000 study sessions per month during the fall and winter academic terms. For the past several months DIG, in partnership with the Gameful Learning Lab (GLL), is re-designing and re-coding Problem Roulette substantially by improving the look and feel of the tool, while also increasing the ease of use for both faculty and students. Not only are we eager to re-launch the new and improved Problem Roulette, but we are especially keen on introducing new features including:

  • Exam mode, where students can do timed practice across multiple domains to mimic the experience of taking a test and creating their own practice exam templates;
  • Group study where students can work cooperatively with one another on problems.

ECoach Expansion

ECoachWhat would it look like to deliver personalized content to students in a large course where faculty cannot otherwise easily reach each and every one? Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Education and Faculty Director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, asked this very question several years ago, and sought to seek a technological solution to this pressing question. ECoach was Professor McKay’s solution. Initially developed by a research team as a way to create personal connection and support for students in introductory physics, chemistry, statistics and biology classes, the application has now grown into a tailored communication system built on behavioral science techniques like motivational affirmation. Students use ECoach to receive personalized assistance in large classes, learn best practices, discover opportunities in areas of interest and avoid common pitfalls. As ECoach becomes more refined, we are actively seeking to increase its use in large courses throughout U-M. We are excited to announce that this fall ECoach will go live in nine courses:

  • New ECoach courses include Biology 171 (Introductory Biology: Ecology and Evolution) and two sections of Econ 101 (Principles of Economics I);
  • ECoach is coming back to Physics 140 (General Physics I);
  • ECoach will remain in Chem 130 (General Chemistry), EECS 183 (Elementary Programming Concepts), EECS 280 (Programming and Introductory Data Structures), Engr 101 (Intro Comp & Prog) and Stats 250 (Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis)

In addition to these large introductory courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), we are also eager to pilot ECoach in an applied liberal arts course:

  • ALA 125 (Positioning Yourself for a Successful Internship)

This kind of course is new for the ECoach team, based on factors like the course’s duration (it’s two seven week sessions), the kind of assignments the course requires (no exams), and its grading structure (pass/fail versus letter grades).

Finally, while the First Year ECoach’s content will remain focused on first year students, all U-M students will now have access to it so any student who needs a refresher on, for example, best ways to study, will be able to view what ECoach has to say.

M-Write Developments

M-Write logoWhile we, rightfully, spend ample time helping students become better writers, how do we help students use writing-to-learn by asking them to explain what they know? M-Write, founded by Anne Gere, Arthur F. Thurnau, Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor of Education and English Language and Literature and Director of the Sweetland Writing Center and Ginger Shultz, Assistant Professor, Chemistry, address this very issue by employing writing-to-learn pedagogy through digital infrastructure, enabling faculty to infuse writing into large gateway courses. As Professor Gere and Professor Shultz work to expand the use of M-Write in concert by facilitating faculty development, DIG is focusing on making improvements to and expanding the digital components of the tool. Over the fall semester we are eager to work on:

  • An enhanced peer review tool that has benefited from DIG user experience expertise to create an easy-to-use way for students to seek peer-to-peer feedback on writing-to-learn assignments. Our enhanced user experience will also extend to instructors and writing fellows increasing the ease with which writing assignments may be reviewed;
  • An automated text analysis tool that will work with trained writing fellows to provide feedback to students on the quality and content of their writing, and to lessen the work of grading writing in large courses for instructors and writing fellows;
  • A long-term integration with ECoach to send personalized feedback to students on their writing based on the results of the automated text analysis coupled with writing fellows’ review.

As you can see, fall is an exhilarating time here in DIG as more and more students, faculty, and staff use the tools we continue to iterate on. We look forward to planting another crop of DIG seeds and watching them grow till our next release of digital edtech made at Michigan.

Reflections on the Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab

Back in June, I wrote about the (then upcoming) Gameful Course Design Summer Institute. Our goals for the event, held on July 24 and 25, were to introduce a new group of instructors, from within and beyond the University of Michigan, to the ideas of gameful course design. Attendees included K-12 teachers, higher ed instructional designers and educational technologists, and professors from a range of institutions. We hoped that giving people dedicated time, away from the requirements of everyday work, would open up space for them to imagine and create new learning environments and experiences. Beyond giving individuals a new toolkit for course design, we hoped to seed a community of adventurers: educators who want to experiment with new approaches to assessing student learning and blaze new trails to engage students.

The event began  with welcoming remarks from James Hilton, Vice Provost of Academic Innovation and Dean of Libraries, and a dynamic keynote from Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the U-M School of Information and School of Education. Fishman’s talk explored ten principles of game design that make games excellent and engaging learning environments, and posed the question, “What might your classes look like if you applied these principles to the design of your courses?”

I followed the keynote with a mini-workshop to guide instructors through a set of exercises to articulate their teaching philosophies, identify gameful design principles that align with those philosophies, and employing practices they can use in their course design and teaching to embody those philosophies and principles.

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer in the Gameful Learning Lab, and emcee/creator of the Institute, led participants into the heart of the event: working through a design process for their courses. She provided a set of worksheets to help participants visually sketch out possible assessment structures and to guide them through developing a model for the point structures in their new courses. We capped off Day 1 with a scavenger hunt around central campus and downtown Ann Arbor, followed by an opportunity to socialize at a casual reception.

“Inspiration” was the focus of Day 2. We launched the day with a panel of U-M community members who have had a range of gameful experiences. Panel participants were:

  • Pamela Bogart, Lecturer and Digital Initiatives Coordinator, English Language Institute, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Monica Chen, BSI ‘17 and User Experience Intern, Digital Innovation Greenhouse
  • Jandi Kelly, Doctoral Student, Center for the Study of Higher and Professional Education, School of Education
  • Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Director of LSA Honors Program

Much of the rest of the day was collaborative working time so participants could share their designs with one another, get feedback and refine those designs.

Without a doubt one of the highlights of the day was the keynote address from Paul Darvasi, Educator, Writer & Game Designer, Royal St. George’s College/York University. Paul has explored many intersections of games and education, which he writes about at During the keynote he talked about his work developing pervasive games for learning. In his classrooms,  students can choose to be immersed in a role-playing game to learn about literature or technology. It was fascinating!

We are already preparing for next year’s event. In addition to the workshops, we hope to add a conference which will include presentations from some of this year’s attendees sharing the success and challenges of their newly designed gameful courses. Save the date: July 23-25 — we hope to see you there!

The Digital Education & Innovation Lab is Hiring Talented Problem Solvers

Dave Malicke, Operations Lead

The Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL) within the Office of Academic Innovation partners with faculty to drive curricular innovation, and as a strategic priority for the University of Michigan, our work continues to grow. To help us keep pace with this accelerated growth we are excited to announce a number of new open positions. With the addition of new members to our creative team we will continue to unlock new opportunities for innovation in learning for the U-M community and learners around the world. These positions are:

Project Manager, Digital Learning Initiatives
The Project Manager reports to the Project Facilitation Lead and collaborates with faculty, course teams, instructional designers, learning experience designers, instructional, media specialists, external platform partners and other project managers to manage the scoping, design and development of online courses and other learning initiatives.

Learning Experience Designer
The Learning Experience Designer works closely with faculty, project managers, programmers, researchers, and media specialists to design and enhance courses and learning experiences. This role is a key contributor in expanding the capabilities of Academic Innovation and the School of Social Work to achieve our vision of transforming education. By leading instructional design processes, the Learning Experience Designer role assists faculty in incorporating best practices, learning theories, and engagement techniques in the development of new courses and the transformation of existing courses.

Community Engagement Manager
The Community Engagement Manager will collaborate with faculty, project managers, learning experience designers, and media producers to develop and lead a community of Course Advocates in the monitoring and maintenance of active courses, and the discovery of new audiences. This role signals a new opportunity to encourage participation in online courses, such as MOOCs, and to find new audiences for our digital initiatives

Course Iteration Manager
The Course Iteration Manager will collaborate with faculty, project managers, learning experience designers, and media producers to manage the review and iteration of online courses and other learning initiatives through the use of design and data driven thinking.

Media and Technology Solutions Engineer
A key component of the Media and Technology Solutions Engineer role is the development and management of a media asset management system for Academic Innovation. The incumbent will work to develop and maintain recording studio infrastructure, assess and address technical issues, identify opportunities for enhancement of workflows, develop new tools and technologies to support the advancement of innovation in teaching and learning, and participate in proactively designing a work environment where digital assets and workflows support efficiency and experimentation.

With more than 6 million enrollments across 112 courses, 61 of which are currently available on Coursera and edX, courses such as Python for Everybody, Data Science Ethics, Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change and exciting new global learning events in the Teach-Out Series, there are tremendous opportunities at DEIL to research and design learning experiences for the 21st century. The evolution of design in academic innovation is far from over, and we hope to continue our exploration with you on the team.

20+ U-M Initiatives Supporting Social Impact and Public Engagement

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Coursera recently announced a series of 14 empowering and transformative learning experiences from institutions around the world addressing difficult issues facing global society today.

#LearnActImpact from Coursera is designed to encourage learners to explore these courses in depth and apply their learning at the individual, community and societal level. In light of the University of Michigan’s longstanding commitment to public engagement and impact, the Office of Academic Innovation continues to support the University’s ongoing social contract by expanding access to educational resources in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion, social justice, environment and sustainability and more.

In creating a culture of innovation in learning, we have partnered with many faculty innovators and academic units to create new opportunities for on campus and global learners to engage around topics most important to addressing societal, economic and political problems.

We encourage you to explore these educational opportunities and engage in thoughtful discussion about these important global challenges.

Group of young people planting in a treeAct On Climate: Steps to individual, community and political action, School for Environment and SustainabilityDeveloped by a team of faculty, staff and students, this new MOOC encourages and supports social action to address and respond to climate change at the individual, community and political levels.

Man speaking to crowd and illustration of a red AIDS ribbonAIDS: Fear and Hope, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Learn about the economic, social and political factors and basic biology of the virus, HIV, and the disease it causes, AIDS, as well as the progress of scientific research and medical treatments.

Lady Justice sculptureData Science Ethics, College of Engineering Explore how ethics apply to data ownership, different aspects of privacy, how to get informed consent, and what it means to be fair.

Democratic to Authoritarian RuleDemocratic to Authoritarian Rule, School for Environment and Sustainability Understand how contemporary changes in political systems fit into the larger historical context of how countries shift between democratic and authoritarian governments in this Teach-Out.

Fake News, Facts, and Alternative FactsFake News, Facts, and Alternative Facts, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Learn how to distinguish between credible news sources and identify information biases in this Teach-Out to become a critical consumer of information.

Woman pointing to a crowd of business professionals raising their handsLeading for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Higher Education, School of EducationExplore new approaches to leadership in higher education in the context of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMastersLeading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters, School of EducationGain new knowledge and core skills to advance educational instruction through educational policy, reform and practice.

Children working on desktop computers in a library computer labPublic Library Management, School of InformationLibrary professionals can expand their toolkit of management strategies in this new series of courses.

Yes check boxSecuring Digital Democracy, College of Engineering Learn what every citizen should know about the security risks, and future potential, of electronic voting and Internet voting.

Saluting veteranService Transformed: Lessons in U.S. Veteran Centered Care, Medical School Learn the origins of Academic Medical Centers and Veterans Administration affiliations, recognize and manage the influence of bias, class, and power on clinical encounters and reflect on the biases that affect U.S. veterans.

Smiling people sitting on a benchSocial Work: Practice, Policy and Research MicroMasters, School of Social Work Better understand social work core theories and practices.

Stand up for Science: Practical Approaches to Discussing Science that MattersStand Up for Science: Practical Approaches to Discussion Science that Matters,  College of Literature, Science, and the Arts & School of Public Health – Develop strategies to effectively bridge communications between public audiences and scientific researchers in this Teach-Out.

The Future of Obamacare - Repeal, Repair, or Replace?The Future of Obamacare: Repeal, Repair, or Replace?, School of Public Health Understand the facets of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how different options for its future will impact the U.S. healthcare landscape in this Teach-Out.

Young man looking in the distance standing in front of a wall of graffitiYouth Civil Rights Academy, School of Social Work An interactive, digital portal for high school students to learn about their rights in a modern day context, share their stories and experiences and discover resources for effecting change at different levels.

In addition to these initiatives, the Michigan community continues to engage around topics that align closely with our commitments to impact and public engagement. The following new courses and learning experiences are currently in development.

Building a Business for Social Impact, Ross School of Business Explore if, when and how to launch a social enterprise.

Centering (IM)Visible Voices, School of Education Explore the lived experiences of historically marginalized individuals.

Community Organizing for Social Justice in Diverse Democracy, School of Social Work Examine strategies for organizing for social justice in a diverse democratic society.

Governing Sustainability, School for Environment and Sustainability Examine sustainability governance strategies of real-world decision makers.

Mass Incarceration in the U.S.: Toward Decarceration, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Explore an accessible and educational frame to thoughtfully examine the history, societal impacts, and efficacy of the American penal system.

Storytelling for Social Change, School of Music, Theatre and Dance Learn how theatre can motivate social change and activism.

Upcoming Teach-Outs The next round of weekend-long, global community learning events will focus on modern civil rights and liberties, the evolution of the Internet, privacy and identity in a Big Data era and sleep deprivation.

Using Digital Modules to Holistically Prepare Students for Sustainable Community Engagement, School of Social Work Learn how to effectively and respectfully engage in, work alongside, and transition from a community-based initiative.

We encourage faculty innovators and cross disciplinary teams to help us continue to fulfill the University’s commitment to social impact by partnering with us! Learn how you can get involved. We also ask the greater to community to share their ideas, recommendations and enriching experiences for new innovative approaches in support of social engagement in the Ideas2017 Challenge.

Open Online Office Hours (OOOH!)

Adam Levick, Data Scientist

Launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) involves a lot of moving parts. The design and development of the content and the production make up the bulk of the process. After this hard work is done, it’s time to get the word out about a course, but what’s the best way to do this? The Marketing team at Academic Innovation will help develop communications strategies and promote MOOCs through a variety of approaches including press releases, blog posts, and social media. We also collaborate with and support faculty interested in connecting directly with potential learners by developing strategies for faculty to engage with potential learners in online communities, where their primary audiences are spending time.

Q&A on the Web

We recently started to help MOOC faculty engage with audiences through two websites, Reddit and Quora, with great results.


At the time of this post, Reddit is the 9th most visited site (daily) on the internet. Of the top 50 most visited sites online, Reddit users generally spend the highest amount of time per day and view the most pages on their site compared with other most visited sites. This means Reddit is extremely active. This site is made up of “subreddits,” which are user communities that are interested in a specific type of content, such as “r/science” where users mostly discuss new science, or “r/aww” where users post pictures of animals being adorable. “r/IAMA,” which stands for “ask me anything” and “I am a,” is a highly popular (16+ million subscribers) subreddit where scheduled guests come on to discuss their job and life while promoting content or a cause. Here are some examples of our faculty using Reddit:

Data Science Ethics

Dr. H.V. Jagadish, Bernard A Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the College of Engineering

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Data Science Ethics

61 comments, 104 upvotes

“Reddit User: Hi Professor, thank you for the AMA!
What would you say are some of the dangers of predictive analytics? How does the study of data ethics address some of those dangers and, also, who is responsible for conclusions made by a machine?

H.V. Jagadish: Predictions depend on the model, which reflects the worldview of the model-builder. Predictions depend on the training data, which may not be appropriately representative. Predictions depend on the input variables, which could have errors. Whoever is responsible for predictions (the human) has to take responsibility. We cannot simply say the machine did it.”

Applied Data Science with Python

Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information, and the faculty development team

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Applied Data Science with Python

58 comments, 110 upvotes

Reddit User: “How proficient does one need to be in Python going into the class to be successful?”

Applied Data Science with Python Team: “All of us chiming in: If you don’t know python but you have a programming background I think it’s very attainable – we provide some material in the first week which will help bridge the gap. If you don’t have a programming background or want a review, then we would recommend checking out Dr. Chuck’s MOOC, ‘programming for everybody.’”


Quora is a question and answer site, which is well positioned to support faculty engagement with learners. Questions are tagged with subjects, and users can follow those subjects in addition to specific authors. Quora also let’s experts set up Q&A “Sessions” in one of 8 different categories where they answer a series of questions from users all over the world. Unlike AMA’s which are scheduled multiple times in a day, Sessions in a given category are separated by at least a day (and sometimes weeks). Here are some examples of our faculty using Quora:

Web Design for Everybody 

Dr. Colleen Van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information in the School of Information

Screenshot of the Quora Q and A with Dr. Colleen Van Lent

Answered 15 questions, each receiving 400-1,500 views

Quora User’s Question: “I have 9 year old daughter that started programming in Scratch 2 years ago. Would you recommend JS as a next step? Which page/video/tool/program?”

Colleen van Lent: “The choice of next language depends a little bit on who is around to help out. Last year my 11yr old son struggled trying to learn JavaScript using traditional books. The problem is that the smallest typo in the book will derail him – at this age they are still typing the code more than coding themselves. The only reason it works for him is that I can check in when he gets stuck.

He had a lot of success with Snake Wrangling for Kids for learning Python. He is currently using Khan academy to learn JavaScript.

My 9yr old daughter uses Anybody can Learn to do general coding ideas rather than a specific language. She also learned HTML and CSS last year, with a little bit of JavaScript.

If you can, contact any local colleges or universities. Many student groups hold coding workshops for elementary and middle school children.”

Faculty who have used these platforms enjoy how this type of engagement gives potential learners a less-formal space to get to know them. We have also heard that these experiences are useful for supplying faculty and their teams with questions that are top of mind for potential learners in their subject areas:

“[Using Reddit] helped me connect with a group of keen learners who had a breadth of exposure with similar MOOC offerings, giving [our course team] an understanding of what students were looking for.” – Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information and Director of Learning Analytics and Research in the Office of Academic Innovation

Faculty interested in participating in future Q&A sessions are encouraged to speak with their program manager and connect with our marketing team to discuss their ideas.