Calling Positive Problem Solvers to Join a Growing DIG Team

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Mike Daniel, Director of Policy and Operations

Ben Hayward, Lead Developer

As we soak in summer and prepare for a new academic year, we look at the themes emerging from our wide-ranging projects, the people that are needed to sustain momentum and drive our next stage of growth, and a culture of innovation in learning that keeps us thinking boldly about the future. We’re poised to expand our project portfolio. The Office of Academic Innovation is opening a newly designed collaborative space the first week of September. And now we’re looking for six new problem solvers to join our growing team.

Digital Innovation Greenhouse

Can you see yourself working with us to solve some of the most interesting problems in higher education today?

In 2015 we launched the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) within the Office of Academic Innovation with lofty aspirations. We began with the mission of advancing personalized education at Michigan. We have learned so much in the last two and a half years, and now we’re ready to raise the bar on helping Michigan create a permanent model for academic R&D.

At its core, DIG is where design, software development, behavioral insights, and data science come to meet. The result is a community of innovators with a shared commitment to transforming higher education. As we build new tools we are creating a new model for academic innovation that requires a team with a mix of expertise and skills new to higher education.

DIG is working with faculty innovators and academic units across campus on a wide range of projects. What has emerged is a clear set of themes. Our projects center primarily in three areas: personalizing education at scale, gameful learning, and engaged online education. Since establishing DIG we have made significant technological progress in the first two domains. We see an opportunity to dramatically expand our efforts in engaged online education through the creation of several new positions and strong collaborations with Academic Innovation’s Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL).

Already, there is much to be excited about.

Our tailored communication platform has grown to coach thousands of students each term on their personal experiences within their courses. With the commercial release of GradeCraft we’ve launched a new generation of gameful learning. With PolicyMaker we’re bringing the power of simulations to learning experiences ranging from preparing the pre-college learner to professional leadership training. M-Write is leveraging natural language processing to transform our ability to analyze essays and peer reviews at scale. In Problem Roulette we’re releasing a rebuilt practice tool for the modern area, pushing the boundaries of collaborative preparation.
By building new tools with our users as primary collaborators, we’ve designed products that delight faculty and learners. Yet, there is much more to do.

Three staff members collaborating around a white board with a view of campus in the backgroundAs we prioritize the many opportunities ahead we seek to further invest in design, developer, and behavioral science capabilities. Our team has seen a number of key additions in recent months. Oliver (Ollie) Saunders joined us from England by way of Silicon Valley. Ke Yu has kept his wardrobe Maize and Blue as a recent U-M graduate with a master’s degree in computer engineering. In Kristen Miller, we’ve added a talented graphic designer, vegetable critic and user interface developer to our design team. Carly Thanhouser brings to the team a passion for not only Bernese mountain dogs, but also applying behavior change principles, theory, communication techniques, and innovation strategy. And Kyle Schulz rounds out our excellent roster of new faces as a freshly minted data scientist with an analyst’s nose for the most economical daily food deals.

With our next stage of growth in mind, clarified by our own experiments and through Academic Innovation’s stewardship of the President’s Academic Innovation Initiative, we have created six new positions that we are looking to fill immediately.

  • Senior Developer — to play a key role in advancing our growing portfolio of digital applications.
  • Gameful Learning Developer — to help drive the design and development of new tools that will support gameful learning.
  • System Administrator — to support our rapidly evolving applications at scale.
  • Online Learning Developer — to help drive the design and develop digital applications aimed at enhancing online and residential education experiences and facilitating engaged and personalized learning, collaborating closely with Academic Innovations’s Digital Education and Innovation Lab on initiatives in the Lab’s portfolio of online courses for global and lifelong learners.
  • Online Learning Designer — to design and implement the visuals, interactions and experience for promising software applications and prototypes targeting online learning across a range of exciting new projects and technologies.
  • Online Learning Behavioral Scientist — to design, develop, and test behavioral interventions to enhance the impact of our online learning experiences and digital applications.

Together, the talented problem solvers that take on these new positions will join DIG and the Office of Academic Innovation to shape Michigan’s ground-breaking model for academic R&D. These positions represent the rapidly growing opportunities for collaboration across the Academic Innovation Labs: the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, the Gameful Learning Lab, and the Digital Education & Innovation Lab. Come change the future with us!

Transforming University Students from Consumers to Developers of Online Content

This article was originally posted on 7/12/2017 on the Coursera Blog

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

What would it look like for university students to be the content creators for a Coursera social impact campaign course? At the University of Michigan, Dr. Michaela Zint, Professor of Environmental Education & Communication in the University’s School for Environment and Sustainability and School of Education, and her students partnered with the Office of Academic Innovation and the University’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning to explore the idea of “an online course by students.” The goal of the initiative was to investigate how students could be transformed from consumers to developers of online content.

Dr. Michaela Zint, a noted proponent of environmental and sustainability education, explains:

“The students in our School for Environment and Sustainability are eager to learn how to educate others about climate change and how to do so effectively. In addition, research tells us that young adults from across the globe are looking for ways to best respond to this major societal challenge. Engaging students in the development of an action-oriented climate change online course therefore seemed like an appropriate way to merge these interests. Facilitating the co-creation of an online course also sounded like a lot more fun than developing an online course on my own. It was!”

Group photo of Dr. Michaela Zint and her students posing with their hands in the air in front of an academic building

Over the course of two semesters, the course team worked together to develop an online course that would become part of Coursera’s Social Impact campaign — Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action. A desired outcome of the course was that learners feel empowered to address and respond to climate change as individuals and in partnership with their communities and political leaders.

Dr. Zint’s students were motivated to sign-up for the experience by a variety of factors, including the chance to do something innovative beyond the scope of a regular class, the desire to make a difference and have a far-reaching impact, and the opportunity to learn more about online education.

Priscila Papias, master’s student at the University of Michigan, describes the factors that led to her involvement in the course:

“As someone who has been itching to find a tangible way to impact climate change widely, I quickly jumped on this opportunity to create content for an online course on climate action. In addition to helping fill in gaps in my own knowledge on climate change and climate action, this class gave me the opportunity to learn about what individuals and communities are doing throughout the nation and across the globe to respond to climate change.”

During the first semester, the class focused on topics such as online teaching and learning at scale, learner-centered course design, assessment and evaluation in online courses, universal design principles, and fostering community in online courses.

Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab within the Office of Academic Innovation, worked closely with Dr. Zint and the students during this first semester:

“We wanted to provide professional development for these future educators and practitioners that would both support the creation of this online course and provide a foundation for their future careers.”

Students seated around a large table with laptops in discussionDuring the second semester, the class concentrated on tasks such as identifying primary and secondary audiences, determining topics for the course, creating a high-level outline, designing assessments and activities for the course, interviewing experts, and locating relevant and timely resources. Through a process of ongoing discussion and iteration, the course team settled on a structure that was used to guide the sequencing of course materials and assessment across the topic modules.

Bryon Maxey, Project Manager within the Office of Academic Innovation, noted the benefits of including students in the course development process:

“In my experience, this approach to online course creation is unique and allowed for truly multi-directional learning, not only for learners who will take the online course, but for the students who were central to course creation process and for the entire course team.”

As a result of the course team’s work throughout two semesters, the course contains a variety of interesting elements, such as a pledge card that online learners are encouraged to complete at the start of the course to express their commitment level, case studies of grassroots organizations, accounts from students that describe their personal experiences with making personal change, and a series of practical recommendations of how online learners can take action at the personal, community, and national (and global) level.

Dr. Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer within the Office of Academic Innovation and member of the course design team, reflects:

“Now that the course elements have been finalized, we can see that there is incredible richness in the resources that the students have put together. What is even more exciting, is that the structure of the course will allow online learners to engage with materials in ways that speak to their personal areas of interest and desired levels of commitment.”

Dr. Michaela Zint,With the course set to launch, the course team is excited to see what the impact of their work will be. Dr. Zint explains:

“My students and I cannot wait so see what our [online] learners think and what impact they will have as individuals, members of their communities, and politically.”

The course’s innovative model was recognized by the University of Michigan’s Campus of the Future initiative and Dr. Zint’s students were invited to participate in a university-wide colloquium on how to reinvent the university in the 21st century.

Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action is part of the Social Impact campaign and is receiving new enrollments daily.

Digging Deep with a Group of Michigan Faculty and Staff

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

“How do faculty and staff find out about the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) and what you do?”

“What kind of policy implications arise from features in DIG tools?”

“How does DIG steward the data the tools it’s helping build collect?”

These are just a sampling of questions we hear often in DIG from folks throughout the U-M community. This is understandable. While DIG prides itself on working with faculty and staff from a wide swath of the university, we are not immune to reaching some more swiftly and easily than others in both understanding our landscape of tools, or in seeking feedback on how we evolve our policies as our work expands. So, as we started to explore how to reach more faculty and staff, and use their input to help formulate guidelines for our educational technology tools, the DIG Policy Advisory Group idea was born.

X Marks the Spot

Digital Innovation Greenhouse

We formed the DIG Policy Advisory Group in the 2016-2017 academic year to grapple with ethical, legal, privacy, and other substantive issues as they relate to edutech in an age of big data, personalization, and learning analytics. As its title suggests, the DIG Policy Advisory Group brought together heterogenous U-M faculty and staff from throughout the institution representing groups like the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), a variety of schools and colleges and U-M experts on topics at the intersection of ethics, privacy and technology; and roles like academic advisers and the university’s chief privacy officer to counsel DIG on policy-related implications of the development of digital tools. Of equal importance, we sought to recruit faculty and staff who had previous limited engagement with the Office of Academic Innovation.

Grabbing our Shovels

The DIG Policy Advisory Group participants met several times throughout the academic year with members of the DIG team, Faculty Director (Dr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy) and some of our faculty innovators. When we started we set out objectives for our time together including:

  • Interact with and advise the DIG Team and faculty innovators on the policy-related implications of digital tool development, including both the creation of new features within those tools as well as the implications for access among various user groups within U-M and beyond.
  • Help communicate policy frameworks and recommend new features for digital education tools implemented by the DIG Team. This includes periodically sharing major feature development milestones and the related policy rationale behind those milestones to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) as well as key academic leadership as appropriate.

The DIG Policy Advisory Group helped us work through a series of complicated questions. For instance, how should student and instructor data be viewed in ART 2.0? What kind of self-populated student information should instructors have access to in ECoach? And what are the implications of using leaderboards in GradeCraft?

Hitting Pay Dirt

We learned a lot from members of the DIG Policy Advisory Group, many of whom came from pockets of the university we previously had limited access to. We took full advantage of their varying perspectives and expertise (as you can imagine many lively discussions were had). The group aided our efforts by helping us wrestle with questions both big and small on the implications of DIG tool developments for user groups of students, staff, and faculty. Examples include:

  • Incorporating a major and minor find in ART 2.0 so students can use course data to help inform their decision about their course of study;
  • Clarifying to students what the personal information they provide in DIG tools will be used for;
  • Establishing principles for what kind of data is made visible based on role (staff or faculty), while allowing flexibility for faculty with multiple functions (ex. faculty advisors);
  • Recommending ways to let faculty opt-in to using leaderboards while ensuring competition does not erode cooperation or other course learning objectives.

Of equal value, we shared more about our work with faculty and staff who were less familiar with DIG with the hope they spread their new found knowledge of DIG to their U-M communities. Given the success of our 2016-2017 Policy Advisory Group we are moving forward with re-convening the group again in the 2017-2018 academic year. We are adding some new members, keeping most of the old, and are looking forward to getting their feedback on new issues salient to DIG’s expanded portfolio.

As we look beyond this past year to future years and discover more ways to respond to questions like, “How do faculty and staff find out about DIG and what you do?” or “What kind of policy implications arise from features in DIG tools?,” we can’t think of too many better ways to spread DIG seeds than through developing strong campus relationships like the ones we formed, and will continue to strengthen, through the Policy Advisory Group.

Members of the 2016-2017 DIG Policy Advisory Group:

  • Michelle Aebersold, Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Director of Simulation and Educational Innovation in the Department of Systems, Populations and Leadership
  • Sol Bermann, Interim Chief Information Security Officer
  • John Carson, Associate Professor of History in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts,  Director of Undergraduate Studies in History, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Program in Science, Technology & Society
  • Rob Freidhoff, Director of the Engineering Advising Center
  • Rachel Goldman, Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Physics in the Colleges of Engineering and the Literature, Science, and the Arts, Associate Director, Applied Physics, Education Director, Center for Photonic and Multiscale Nanomaterials
  • Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering in the College of Engineering Director, University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society
  • Wallace Hopp, C.K. Prahalad Distinguished University Professor of Business and Engineering, Associate Dean for Part-Time MBA, Professor of Technology and Operations in the Ross School of Business, Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering in the College of Engineering
  • William Schultz, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in the College of Engineering, SACUA Senate Assembly Immediate Past Chair
  • Priti Shah, Professor of Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience and Educational Psychology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the School of Education

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead: The Academic Innovation Initiative

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator

In September 2016 President Mark Schlissel and former Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Martha Pollack charged the Office of Academic Innovation with stewarding the Academic Innovation Initiative. The Initiative is a year-long effort to discuss, design and pilot strategies that will support the University of Michigan’s continued leadership within the evolving landscape of higher education.

President Schlissel speaking while standing at a podium

How should the university adapt to continue to deliver academic excellence and social impact in a digital era where there is vast opportunity to reach new learners, create new opportunities for learning, and better meet increasingly diverse learner needs? To address this challenge, the President and Provost outlined the following goals for the Academic Innovation Initiative:

  • Launch a set of rich and interconnected experiments to explore the future of education at the University of Michigan, on and off campus, in formal and informal environments
  • Assess the constraints that inhibit academic innovation and explore ways to overcome them
  • Propose designs for structures and systems that enable ongoing academic innovation across the U-M
  • Recommend investments and solutions by which the designs can be realized and made available to the entire U-M community
  • Propose a transformational approach for leveraging academic innovation to shape the future of education and further realize our mission

Over the past several months the Office of Academic Innovation has worked closely with the Academic Innovation Initiative Faculty Steering Committee to tackle these goals. Below, members of the Steering Committee reflect on the accomplishments of the Initiative thus far, identify current challenges and share next steps for future academic innovation at Michigan.

Accomplishments of the Initiative

When asked what they believe have been the most significant accomplishments of the Academic Innovation Initiative to date, several Steering Committee members called attention to projects that “think outside the box” of traditional university offerings.

Teach-Out SeriesFor example, Dr. Agrawal believes the U-M Teach-Out Series to be a significant achievement of the initiative. Teach-Outs are short, weekend-long, open online learning experiences on contemporary issues. He helped create and facilitate the first U-M Teach-Out on Democratic to Authoritarian Rule. Dr. Agrawal values the flexibility and reach of the format. He observes, “The Teach-Outs allow faculty and learners to engage in ways that are usually not possible with a short lead-time, or because people with an interest in a particular topic are distributed very widely. With the Teach-Outs we can bring them into a common space to learn from each other and to engage with different experts. This is an interesting and important mechanism for the university to reach out and to engage with the public.”

Other Steering Committee members identified ways initiative-related efforts have helped shape the residential experience. Dr. Fishman pointed to the increased use of gameful learning principles on campus. More U-M instructors have begun using GradeCraft, a digital platform co-created by Dr. Fishman and Caitlin Holman, Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Information and Lead Software Developer at the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, that facilitates gameful course design. GradeCraft recently launched for commercial use by K-12 schools and universities.

In courses using GradeCraft, learners build their grade up from zero and have increased autonomy in the types of assignments they complete to achieve their desired course grade. Students are able to view their progress and feedback at any time, and there is flexibility to take risks and explore challenging activities without the fear of ruining one’s course grade. Beyond these core features of GradeCraft, Dr. Fishman thinks of gameful learning as a framework for profound change of the residential learning environment, “My real vision for gameful learning is that it’s a whole different way of thinking about the relationship between learners and content, between learners and goals–a different way of thinking about how we mark learning, regulate learning and promote learners.”

Many members of the Steering Committee believe the community-building work of the Initiative to be another significant accomplishment. Dr. Gerber notes, “To me, nurturing a culture of innovation is important. And you do that really through the experiments and through talking to people about constraints and what their ideas are. We have a couple of big signature projects, but then just being the place that is pushing the university to think about innovation differently–I think that’s really important.”

As one piece of this community-building effort, the Office of Academic Innovation hosts bi-weekly “Innovation Hours,” informal gatherings featuring a different theme each session. Innovation Hours have helped promote a culture of innovation by bringing diverse constituents together around shared interests. Some have even inspired ongoing communities of practice, where participants meet regularly to go more in depth on a particular topic. Dr. Gerber, for example, facilitates the Simulations Community of Practice, an interdisciplinary group that meets regularly to discuss the development and implementation of simulation-based teaching tools.

Challenges to Consider

Faculty members also reflected on challenges to address as the work of the Academic Innovation Initiative continues. Many cited the need to cultivate deeper connections between U-M’s campuses and disciplines. The Ann Arbor campus alone has 19 schools and colleges–each with its own organizational structures, priorities and resources. It is a challenge to break down the silos to connect constituents across campus(es) who are searching for solutions to similar pedagogical problems.

How does the Steering Committee plan to address this challenge? Dr. Gonzalez recommends studying the successes of innovative, discipline-specific teaching models and then exploring ways they might be useful or scalable in other domains. She pointed to the immersive, apprentice-based learning systems employed in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance as an example.

Similarly, Dr. Kaul agrees that “each school has something to offer” and suggests a systematic data-gathering effort to survey the teaching challenges and creative solutions of each of the campus units. Increased awareness of what other units are doing would encourage interdisciplinary collaboration as people discover shared problems and identify useful approaches from other areas.

Dr. Alcock recommends using digital tools to further connections between the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses, “It would be very cool to have classes taught on all three campuses and have the students interact. It could be online partly. That is something that has always interested me, to continue this three-way campus.”

Another constraint involves the entrenched practices and incentive structures of the separate units, which often discourage collaboration, pedagogical risk-taking and/or extensive change. In considering this challenge, Dr. Millunchick notes faculty incentives like titles and resources really matter– instructors might have great interest in developing a new pedagogical tool or trying a creative approach in their teaching but feels such work might not be valued or supported in their home departments. Titles like “Academic Innovation Fellow” signal prestige and significance, Dr. Millunchick suggests, while targeted resources and support help offset the burden of other professional obligations.

Dr. Gross believes a way to encourage innovation might involve offering more low-stakes ways for instructors to get involved with this work. She reflects on some of the Office’s existing projects and tools. “What could hook faculty into this, so they can start growing their skills stealthily, so they can start experiencing these things incrementally? I want the programs to be bold, but I want there to be a way for faculty to take small steps to start moving in this direction. So making sure ladders are built for each of these tools that we make.”

Many Steering Committee members lament the restrictive nature of the credit-hour system and the academic calendar, noting how difficult it is to create a radically different learning experience when it must still somehow fit neatly into the semester schedule and academic transcript. Dr. LaVaque-Manty asks, “How do we free faculty and students from worrying about the structural constraints of the curriculum?”

Dr. Stalburg, for example, wonders if the General Studies major might be reimagined as a prestigious means of handcrafting a self-directed, competency-based degree program. Dr. Gross suggests a summer institute that could serve as a safe space for academic exploration and risk-taking. Dr. Gonzalez envisions a small-scale experiment in which a cohort of faculty and students are released from typical requirements and supported by the university to participate in project-based learning experiences. Regardless of what this future project might look like, many agree with Dr. Fishman when he says, “I would love to see us move rapidly beyond the idea of credit-hours and grades to create constraint-freeing spaces.”

Next Steps

So what is next for the Academic Innovation Initiative? In an effort to continue pursuing the goals of the President’s charge, here are some activities and projects the Steering Committee members and the Office of Academic Innovation have on the horizon:

  • Traveling Innovation Hours – Instead of hosting bi-weekly themed conversations in the Office of Academic Innovation Spaces in Hatcher and 500 E. Washington this fall, Academic Innovation staff will host Innovation Hours in different regions of the Ann Arbor campus to hear from departmental communities about pedagogical challenges and creative solutions in their home units.
  • Intend to Attend – Dr. LaVaque-Manty, Dr. McKay and Dr. Millunchick, in collaboration with the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, are developing an M-Cubed project entitled Intend to Attend, which will use digital tools to build opportunities for college admissions support and guidance about the college experience for pre-college learners.
  • Foundational Course Initiative – Dr. McKay, the REBUILD team and CRLT will pilot its program of collaborative course design that provides instructional, technological, assessment and student support resources to teaching teams of foundational courses.
  • Expansion of the U-M Teach-Out Series – The next round of Teach-Outs is slated for early fall 2017 and will include offerings on the evolution of the Internet and its impact on society, civil rights and liberties in the contemporary era, privacy and identity in the face of Big Data and the modern epidemic of sleep deprivation. Instructional teams are invited to submit proposals for the third round of the U-M Teach-Out Series by September 27.
  • Academic Innovation Initiative Summit – The Office of Academic Innovation will host a series of events and activities in fall 2017 to celebrate the progress of the Initiative and foster dialogue on important questions related to higher education. Mark your calendars for November 14, 2017, when we will host an inclusive, interactive, day-long summit to close the initial year-long push and to collaboratively design the future of academic innovation at Michigan. Check our events page for updates and further details as the fall term approaches

Members of the Academic Innovation Faculty Steering Committee:

  • Arun Agrawal, Samuel Trask Dana Professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Sue Alcock, John H. D’Arms Collegiate and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Classical Archaeology and Classics in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Special Counsel for Institutional Outreach and Engagement in the Office of the President
  • Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Education and Information in the School of Information and School of Education
  • Elisabeth Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy in the Ford School of Public Policy
  • Anita Gonzalez, Professor of Theatre and Drama within the School of Music, Theatre and Dance
  • Melissa Gross, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Biomechanics in the School of Kinesiology
  • Gautam Kaul, Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Finance in the Ross School of Business
  • Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Political Science in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • David Mendez, Professor of Health Management and Policy in the School of Public Health
  • Joanna Millunchick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Material Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering
  • Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Principal Investigator for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse
  • Caren Stalburg, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Medical School

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Making Searchability A Priority

Adam Levick, Data Scientist

At Academic Innovation, we build at scale. Whether we are building MOOCs, digital tools, or learning analytics, a big part of success is being able to sustainably bring our innovations to great numbers of people. This means that having a team devoted to understanding the value of what we do, and then being able to broadly promote that value is key to our success. That team is known as “Marketing.” This is the first of a series of posts that will describe the kind of work the Marketing team does to help ensure the success of our initiatives.

Approaching Solutions at Scale

What often comes as an early surprise for those that work with us, is that building for scale requires very different approaches than those used in the residential setting. These differences are especially pronounced in how promotion is approached. This can best be defined as a need to shift the balance from “readability” to “searchability” as the primary consideration for titling and describing our innovations. We define something with high “readability” as something that is enjoyable to read, whereas something with high “searchability” is something that has the ability to be found in the first place.

Finding Massive Online Open Courses

In the residential setting, when students are in the process of choosing courses they generally find those courses in one centralized system where they are able to easily browse every course offered in a subject area. Courses with titles and descriptions that have high “readability” for the student (based on their interests) will drive them to enroll in that course. This is extremely different from an online setting, where the number of potential options are amazingly more diverse, complex, and distributed. What may be an engaging and readable title in a residential listing may not connect to the types of search terms people are most commonly using to find related content (whether that be a Wikipedia page, new articles, or other online courses). For this reason, when we create MOOCs, we approach titles and descriptions with the primary goal of better matching the words and phrases people are searching for when looking for related content. While “readability” is important and still a major consideration, in the online setting, sacrificing “searchability” means the learner may never find the content in the first place!

Getting In Touch With Potential Learners

A screenshot of Google Trends resultsAfter identifying a course that could potentially benefit from better aligning title/description with search habits, we do a close reading of that course’s proposal to identify the different types of language used to describe content and to ascertain the key values learners gain from interacting with that content. Once we have an understanding of the kinds of words and word pairs used to describe the course, we use an online tool, Google Trends, to identify which alternatives are most aligned with the searches people make on Google. This allows us to build a pool of high value words that can then be put together to form potential titles and descriptions. We can then take 3 or 4 of these titles, and test them in an online survey with 200-300 potential learners to identify whether interest in specific titling is definitively more interesting to all or different segments (gender, age, or location) of learners. The end result is a simple recommendation on which title will produce the best “searchability” for your course, as well as a pool of high value words to use in descriptions and for promotion in the future.

“Go Gameful” this Summer at the Gameful Course Design Summer Institute

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab

The tradition began sometime in graduate school: every year some well-meaning aunt or uncle (or student or grandparent or random person I met at a party) would assume that I have the summer off, since I study/teach/work at a University. Certainly, I am not the only one to experience this phenomenon. For a time, the questions grated on me; “I wish,” I’d say.

Even within University of Michigan, I hear an individual from one department ask someone from another unit, “Is summer slower for you?” Responses generally sound like, “It’s different, but we’re still busy.” Of course both of those clauses are true, but I have learned, over time, to relish the different kinds of work I get to do during the summer.

As an instructor (and as a learning experience designer), the focus during the academic year has to be on supporting your students (or clients) through their learning journeys: observing their efforts, providing feedback, offering alternative explanations, helping them identify next steps, keeping the momentum going in the right direction. It is deeply rewarding work – I feel my successes and stumbles acutely in my chest during the academic year: A warm glow when a student/client crosses a threshold of understanding, an ache when I can’t figure out how to reframe a topic so that they “get it.”

The summer work, though, feels different. If the academic year is felt in my chest, summer feels like butterflies in my stomach. Summer work is all about digging deep, designing new things and building anticipation for the big reveal of what we’ve built. For some academics, energy is spent designing new hypotheses and experiments, others are working on new arguments and manuscripts. For those of us in the Gameful Learning Lab, this summer is about digging into a new initiative that will give instructors the space, guidance and foundation to (re)design a gameful learning experience for their students: a course design summer institute called “Going Gameful: Levelup your Teaching.”

On July 24 and 25, 2017, instructors from higher education and K-12 are invited to Ann Arbor for the opportunity to dive into gameful course design. What’s gameful course design, you ask? Gameful course design is an approach to creating learning experiences that draws from theories of motivation, the learning sciences and the principles of game design. Every gameful course has a unique design, but they all have some traits in common:

  • Students are offered choices in how they approach and demonstrate their learning,
  • The grading scheme frame is flipped from the traditional percentage-based system to a points-based system that builds from 0, and
  • One particular course grade distribution is not enforced, i.e. grades aren’t given on a “curve.”

We have planned a highly-interactive set of workshops for participants to apply gameful principles to their own course designs. Attendees will hear from, and talk to, students who have taken gameful courses, the experts in the Gameful Learning Lab and the burgeoning community of instructors shaping our understanding of, and experimentation with, gameful course designs. Dr. Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and School of Education, will provide the opening keynote on the first day of the institute. Paul Darvasi, educator, writer and game designer from Royal St. George’s College and York University, will describe his “ward simulation,” where his high school English students role-play the characters from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for an extended period of time.

GradeCraftIn addition to giving plenty of time for participants to dig deep into their gameful course designs, and to reflect on how gameful principles align with their own teaching philosophy, workshop leaders will expose participants to GradeCraft, a learning management system built to facilitate the transparency and unique grading structures of gameful courses. This summer, GradeCraft launches as a product that is available to any instructor to manage their courses.

Our hope is that the experience of the Institute reflects what it feels like to be an academic/educator during the summer: more focused and more playful than during the academic year. One of the components of the institute that particularly gives me “butterflies” (both butterflies of excitement and of nervousness) is our evening activity: a scavenger hunt around U-M and Ann Arbor. It is a new kind of event for me to implement, but I’ve really enjoyed similar ones at other conferences. Plus, I’m excited to show off Ann Arbor!

Registration for the institute closes on July 10. We have a limited number of scholarships available for U-M graduate students who would like to participate. The scholarship application is due by June 30. Go gameful, and join us on July 24th and 25th!

Sowing Seeds with U-M Faculty and Staff: DIG at Enriching Scholarship

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

In Spring of every year as we bid adieu to students for their exciting summer plans, I look forward to the month of May for several reasons including the generally better Michigan weather (freak cold snaps withstanding), and, of course, Enriching Scholarship. Having worked at Michigan since 2008, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in and lead several Enriching Scholarship sessions, and I can say with certainty that the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) sessions I participated in this May were some of my favorites.

Filling with Soil

In DIG, we have several digital education tools that U-M faculty and staff have varying familiarity of across campus. We use opportunities like Enriching Scholarship to increase interest in, and understanding of, our tools, and equally the approach we take in DIG on how we design and implement education software. Putting it another way, we want faculty and staff to be both knowledgeable of the rich soil we use to grow DIG seeds (projects), and the seeds themselves. During a DIG-wide panel where faculty and staff from the College of Engineering and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts talked about their experiences using DIG tools like ECoach and Gradecraft, the conversation spanned several topics including why faculty and staff decided to use DIG tools, the differences they’ve observed in their classes and with their students since using our tools, and their experiences with DIG staff.

Sprinkling Seeds

robbie routenbergSo, what did faculty and staff have to say about their adoption of DIG projects? Well, it turns out quite a lot. When discussing her experience with ECoach, College of Engineering Professor Dr. Mary Lou Dorf discussed her early adoption of the tool in her EECS 183: Elementary Programming Concepts course. She highlighted the benefits of ECoach making information more transparent for her students, and valuing the motivational and personalized messages delivered to her students at key times in the semester (such as after an exam). robbie routenberg, Director of the Global Scholars Program in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts explained that of the several reasons why they use Gradecraft it has helped, “students feel more in control of their grades.” Indeed, given that courses that use Gradecraft offer students more assignment choices than traditional classes, students have more autonomy over how and when they earn points. College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Professor Dr. Mika LaVaque-Manty said students using Gradecraft are more apt to take risks when making assignment decisions because no matter what, “they earn something and they learn something.” In another Enriching Scholarship session, Ford School of Public Policy Professor Dr. Elisabeth R. Gerber showcased the role-playing simulation tool Policymaker, and talked about how her students increased their engaged learning by embracing aspects of the tool like the Newsfeed (a Twitter-esque like feature where students write and respond to statements throughout the simulation as the character they are playing, and which are broadcast to the rest of the group for their consumption or response).

Watering Seedlings

Laura Alford and Mika LaVaque-MantyOf course, we also used our Enriching Scholarship sessions to hear from faculty and staff who work with the Office of Academic Innovation to share how well we are nurturing the soil. In other words, what kind of gains do faculty and staff experience when working with DIG? The theme that stood out to me the most was echoed by Dr. LaVaque-Manty when he said, “we are seeing a lot of interest in these tools because (DIG) makes everything a lot easier.” His words ring true for me as a member of the DIG team striving to aid faculty to seamlessly integrate DIG tools in their classes.

Enriching Scholarship presented a ripe opportunity for the DIG team and our faculty and staff partners to talk about their experiences, and while I appreciate everything that was shared the comments that stuck with me the most were College of Engineering Professor Dr. Laura Alford’s remark that, “ECoach language makes so much sense to students” followed by Dr. Dorf’s statement that , “The students are happy. They love ECoach!” This excellent feedback will continue to inspire us as we work on our tools in anticipation of students returning in September.

Expanding the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series

This article was originally posted on 5/31/2017 on the edX Partner Portal

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

In September 2016, University of Michigan’s President Mark Schlissel charged the Office of Academic Innovation and the U-M community to launch a set of rich and interconnected experiments to explore the future of education at the University of Michigan. One of many ideas that surfaced through the President’s Academic Innovation Initiative was the U-M Teach-Out Series which was conceptualized in January and February and launched in March 2017.

University of Michigan Teach-Out SeriesWith the Teach-Out, we combine the global reach of MOOCs with a model designed to explore new approaches to just-in-time teaching and learning. Yet the Teach-Out is very much connected to the ongoing Michigan saga. Teach-outs are modeled after the historic U-M teach-ins, which started fifty-two years earlier in March of 1965 in response to military action in Vietnam. Faculty considering how to best respond to President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of troops into the country created a marathon educational event designed to activate public concern and elevate public discourse. Within a year, teach-ins were conducted at 35 other college campuses, and a few years later the model inspired the first Earth Day.

Throughout U-M’s 200-year history, we’ve leveraged academic innovation to expand our community and realize our public mission. MOOCs have provided new ways to think about how to best disseminate our broad portfolio of scholarly work with the world and how to connect our intellectual power with lifelong learners and decision-makers across society. MOOCs have helped to reframe several important conversations around teaching and learning, knowledge dissemination, openness, and inclusive learning environments, to name a few. We see significant room for further innovation as we continue to embrace compassion, openness, personalization, and inclusivity in higher education.

We believe the Teach-Out will accelerate our ability to bring new individuals and communities into unprecedentedly open and inclusive learning environments and offers a concrete contribution to the design of the compassionate public square for the information age. Through the Teach-Out model we will continue to explore opportunities to make the great public research university even more open in the future. We will unbundle our expertise from the disciplines and rebundle around problems that demand our attention. We are now seeing the MOOC evolve beyond minimum viable product and can point to a sizeable wave of second order experiments that move us closer to a future where anyone committed to lifelong learning and listening can fully participate.

We held our first four Teach-Outs between March 31st and May 14th and have released a new call for proposals to solicit ideas from instructional teams to create opportunities for learners around the world to come together with our campus community in conversation on topics of widespread interest. We have seen significant support for this model across disciplines and expect the next wave to reflect an even broader range of academic expertise and experience with learning technologies.

As with all pilots, we’re thinking actively about measures of success. We’re looking at relatively simple metrics like reach and participation, learner satisfaction, and change in understanding. We’re collecting different kinds of information as well. We are exploring the extent to which different Teach-Out approaches help us to effectively share our broad portfolio of scholarly of work. We’re looking at faculty involvement and the benefits and challenges of team instruction and multidisciplinary teaching teams. We’re thinking about different ways to measure our ability to connect U-M’s broad intellectual power to the problems most import to society. We’re looking at engagement from other institutions and our ability to attract new communities of learners. We’re exploring ways to capture whether learners are exposed to new ideas and perspectives. We’re interested in the relevance of the Teach-Out model to decision-makers at all levels of society. And we’re capturing the different ways that these global community learning events can become resources for different learners in different learning environments.

Micro-Credentials and College Admissions: Enhancing Access and Supporting Learning

This article was originally posted on 5/24/2017 on Inside Higher Ed

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Given the frequency with which I am asked about the summertime pace on university campuses, I suspect there are many who imagine the gears of innovation grinding to a halt. Sorry to disappoint. There is just a bit of a break from the norm but summertime in Ann Arbor is anything but monotonous.

As we imagine again the future model of teaching and learning at a public research university we often create opportunities to collaborate with innovators from other institutions, relax constraints to encourage new ideas, and work together to design a better future. This summer we’ll support collaborative and open research when hosting the Learning Analytics Summer Institute and we’ll go gameful in launching the first Gameful Course Design Summer Institute.

But first up this summer was an interactive workshop focused on micro-credentials and college admissions. Barry Fishman (@BarryFishman) is Professor of Information and Professor of Education at the University of Michigan. Stephanie Teasley (@stephteasley) is Research Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Last week, Barry and Stephanie hosted a workshop in Ann Arbor that pulled together leaders from more than a dozen institutions and organizations that are actively exploring the potential of micro-credentials.

Barry and Stephanie graciously agreed to answer my questions about the direction of micro-credentials, aka badges, in college admissions as we work toward an elegant design that effectively considers access, participation, and learning.

Question 1: Last week you hosted a workshop at the University of Michigan with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that focused on micro-credentials and college readiness. Can you give us the backstory? What was your goal for the workshop? What problems are you trying to address?

This workshop was born out of an interest in exploring new pathways to and through higher education. Our work over the past decade has explored various ways to expand participation and success in higher education, through a range of means. Micro-credentials — also known as digital badges — struck us as a promising tool for recognizing student learning in ways that are not currently captured by more typical measures such as standardized tests and high school GPAs. We were aware of the excellent work being done by colleagues in the Chicago City of Learning and Mouse in NYC to support and record diverse learners’ engagement in a range of informal and formal learning activities using badges, and wanted to see how their work could be leveraged along with efforts at broadening access to higher education. Because of a general orientation towards academic innovation and diversity, equity, and inclusion, the University Michigan has already begun to explore new pathways into the university. The time seemed right to explore this topic further on our own campus.

Question 2: How would you characterize the micro-credentials and badging landscape today? What are some of the most important questions people are working through?

Many if not most of the required technical components are in place for a robust badging infrastructure… but we’re still lacking strong use cases and a coordinated strategy for implementation. This is a common challenge in education (and other fields), where people often focus on isolated elements of a challenging problem, but don’t take on the harder task of building workable solutions or the underlying social and technical infrastructures needed for complex real-world systems. There is a near-final second-generation standard for digital badges from IMS Global, along with a (small) number of groups and companies working on platforms and infrastructure for awarding and sharing badges. Groups like Mouse and Chicago City of Learning are developing practices for awarding and aggregating badges for K-12 learners. And several consortia are thinking about how badges can be used at the college level to indicate workforce readiness. But how these various efforts translate into coordinated broader application remains unknown.

Our workshop focused on the more limited – but still big – domain of college and university admissions. A real challenge for admissions is to develop trustworthy measures of student potential that can be reviewed in a relatively short period of time. Various issues remain challenging: measurement validity (How do we know what a badge measures?), endorsement (Who vouches for the validity of badges?) and scaling (Can badges help us evaluate thousands of applications?).

Question 3: To really explore the connections between micro-credentials and college readiness requires insight from individuals representing a range of roles and organizations. Can you tell us about the workshop participants how you thought about assembling the right group for this particular conversation?

Our goal was to bring together three key stakeholders: organizations that award badges to students, college admissions officers, and people with expertise in educational assessment and innovation. Badge awarding organizations were represented by Mouse and the Chicago City of Learning. College admissions was represented by the University of Michigan Office of Undergraduate Admission and the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design both at Michigan, and Kalamazoo College Admissions, as well as participants from the Parsons School of Design, Eastern Michigan University, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and others. The third group was made up of practitioners, university faculty, and innovation developers. We wanted to get people thinking about opportunities and challenges in both the college admissions space and the digital badge space. In the workshop, everybody was “surprised” by something – some new information or perspective – from a space outside of their normal work.

Question 4: Can you tell us about some of the key takeaways from the workshop? What do you hope to see happen next? Any bold predictions about the future?

The workshop was valuable for bringing important issues to the surface, and for informing different audiences about the nature of challenges faced by the people working in these areas. The goal of a workshop like this is not necessarily to find solutions to problems, but rather to help frame an agenda for making progress in the future. So one big takeaway from our workshop will be recommendations to the National Science Foundation (and others) about which problems in the badging-and-college-admission space need particular attention. Our workshop closed with the participants generating and prioritizing issues that need further focus. While we are still sorting through our notes, some issues that rose to the surface include: Developing an infrastructure that simultaneously meets the needs of college admissions organizations, badge awarding organizations, and learners; Creating systems for validating and endorsing learning from badges to support scalability and trustworthiness; and ensuring that newly created systems do not replicate or inadvertently amplify current inequities in the education system.

Question 5: How does this effort align with your own work as faculty at the University of Michigan? How does it connect to the President’s Academic Innovation Initiative?

We see micro-credentials — also known as digital badges — as a key component of the larger conversation about how we might re-think what teaching and learning looks like at a public research university. The past five years have seen explorations in many areas at Michigan, from MOOCs to learning analytics to personalized coaching, from rethinking the nature of the academic transcript to re-framing classroom assessment with gameful learning. A lot of these efforts are either explicitly or implicitly oriented towards broadening access, enhancing participation, and supporting student success. We believe that digital badges can play a role in all three of these areas. For example, badges can be used to recognize learning and accomplishment. They might also serve as evidence of a student’s readiness for study at a place like Michigan, adding information that goes beyond what we can learn from traditional measures like test scores or GPA. Digital badges can even be used to help identify students with particular interests earlier in their academic careers, so that those students might be steered towards activities that will open up further opportunities and help identify a possible set of higher ed institutions that may best serve their interests and aspirations.

Question 6: What advice do you have for people across the higher ed landscape who are just beginning to think about the potential for micro-credentials? How should they get started? What should they know about the conversation and experimentation already underway?

We encourage people to think broadly about their goals for enhancing access to and supporting learning across higher education. If you treat badges as an “add on” or purely extrinsic incentive or reward for some student behavior, it’s unlikely that they will make a real difference for learners… or for your organization. College admissions is built on an elaborate infrastructure that shapes not just the application process, but K-12 education and how students engage with learning, especially in secondary schools. But that infrastructure came from somewhere, and took time to develop into its’ current form. To make meaningful or lasting change, we need to engage with this infrastructure and design for uses of badges that have meaning and offer equitable access for everyone involved. As with most important challenges in education, there is no “one thing” that leads to real change or improvement. Those who seek to use digital badges to represent learning — at any educational level or for any purpose — will benefit most from partnering with others who are exploring in this domain, and working together to build a new infrastructure for learning supported by badges.