Exciting New ART 2.0 Features for Winter Backpacking and Beyond

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Sharing the Curricular History of U-M

Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0) has lived in the Office of Academic Innovation since 2015. During its time with us, faculty champion and ART 2.0 evangelist Dr. August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and the ART 2.0 team have iterated on what we show the U-M community. Since March 2016, CourseProfile has enabled students to view course history on things like enrollment in a course by school or college and pre, concurrent, and post course selections. In addition, CourseProfile shows a subset of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) data on topics like how much or little students wanted to take the course, or if it increased their interest in the subject. Starting in November 2016 the InstructorInfo deck was added, enabling students to view a subset of SET questions on U-M faculty spanning topics from clarity to creating a respectful classroom environment. In Fall 2017, we released MajorMetrics, which includes a timeline of how many students have graduated with a particular degree (referred to as majors for undergraduate students) in the last 10 years, as well as statistics on joint degrees (co-majors) and minors.

In each iteration of ART 2.0 we revisit our original vision and mission of the tool to promote a deep and shared U-M curricular history with our community, and to aid students in exploring, discovering, and selecting courses. We are enthused to share since fall 2017, more than 21,000 U-M community members have accessed the tool 230,000 times, demonstrating the sustained growth of the ART 2.0 service. As we look to the future of ART 2.0, we are eager to announce new features that align with our mission and respond to student feedback.

New ART 2.0 Iterations

Illustration of a laptop screen with icons representing grade distributionThe first exciting new addition to ART 2.0 are grade distributions. Now, when users access CourseProfile, they will see grade distributions for many U-M courses. In fact, of the 500 most searched for courses in ART 2.0, we have grade distribution data on 496. Showing grade distributions in a university-sanctioned tool is something students have asked for since ART 2.0 launched in 2016. Students tell us seeing grades in combination with the perceived workload of the course (something we also show in ART 2.0) helps them make decisions about their course schedule. Of equal importance, showing grades in our service helps “bust myths” about classes – or otherwise helps dispel the notion that “no one gets an A in this course.” We are eager for students to use grade distribution data in addition to the other rich data in ART 2.0 to help inform their class exploration and decision-making.

The second new ART 2.0 feature worth noting is the feedback feature we have added to the tool. Now, users can tell us if they have a positive or negative experience with ART 2.0, as well as leave comments for the ART 2.0 team. We want to hear from our users, and plan on using the feedback we get when examining additional ART 2.0 features.

Finally, we have improved the ART 2.0 search functionality so users can easily toggle between searching for courses, instructors, or majors. Like all of the software we build in the Office of Academic Innovation, we took user feedback on the search experience in ART 2.0 and made improvements to it- making the process of searching less confusing and easier for our users.

Check out ART 2.0 and the new features we’ve added, and feel free to give us some feedback too. We will keep improving the tool in service of the university and its community.

Seeing the “Big Picture”: Using Design Representations to Promote Understanding and Reflection on Design

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

“Visual representations can render phenomena, relationships, and ideas visible, allowing patterns to emerge from apparent disorder to become detectable and available to our senses and intellect.” (Hansen, 2000, p. 198)

A well-known challenge for design teams is being able to get a sense of the “big picture” of a design without a mediational tool or aid (Arias et al., 1997). In the field of learning design, diagrammatic or iconic representations of curriculum design can be valuable because they can highlight the relationships among learning activities, to give the viewer a sense of flow and movement (Quintana et al., 2018). Researchers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have just recently begun to make initial forays into creating design representations of MOOC curricula. For instance, Daniel Seaton and his colleagues at Harvard have developed methods that enable the creation of iconic representations of course elements (e.g., videos, textual readings) to promote understanding of relationships among course elements (see Seaton, 2016). Seaton’s methods and approach have inspired much of the work I describe in this blog post.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I described how we use curriculum storyboards during the early stages of the design process to represent emerging ideas about curriculum design and to give project team members a sense of the curriculum sequence—including its rhythm and cadence. In this blog post, I will share our work in the academic research and development space at the Office of Academic Innovation, and describe our experimentation with two representational formats to understand their potential utility for enabling curriculum designers to understand and reflect on course structure once a course has been designed and has “launched.” I will detail our investigation of the following two design representations: (1) course composition diagrams, which are digital and interactive representations of curriculum design, and (2) beaded representations of course structure, which are tangible constructions made with traditional craft materials, such as beads and straws. Both of these representational formats portray an abstraction of course elements and sequences, and fall under the designation of design representations—the codification of a curriculum design that makes it available for review and critique. The goal of our investigations was twofold: (1) to understand the kinds of insights that could be elicited by each format, and (2) the potential value of eliciting insights among design team members at the conclusion of a design process.

Course composition diagrams

Following the methods described by Seaton (2016), we used Plot.ly, a web-based tool for creating infographics, to visualize the course structure of ten recently launched MOOCs on the Coursera platform. Yuanru Tan, a Learning Design and Accessibility Student fellow at Academic Innovation, manually “scraped” data from each page of each course (e.g., video titles, video length, number of “in-video” questions in a video) and from Coursera’s administrative analytics pages (e.g., average quiz scores) as the basis for the course composition diagrams. We used abstract icons to represent the elements of each course (e.g., videos were represented by orange triangles), displaying them in chronological order. Two examples are shown in Figure 1 (course names have been anonymized).

A visual representation of two professional development courses with diamonds representing assessments, triangles representing video, a four-pointed star representing readings, a long dash representing section headings, and a circle representing discussion prompts.

Figure 1: Two examples of course composition diagrams, with individual course elements shown as icons

The visualization elements were interactive; as users “hovered” over an element, they could obtain more details about it, such as title (for a video) and average quiz score (for a quiz). See Figure 2.

A diagram of a third professional development course with a box of text connected to a triangle which reads: Video - what is a growth mindset and how can it help you succeed?, length - 14 minutes, type - lecture, and in-video questions - 1

Figure 2: Additional details are visible when a user hovers over a course composition diagram

We invited members of the ten design teams who had worked on these courses, including faculty members, design managers, learning experience designers, course development assistants, course advocates, media specialists, and marketing specialists, to interact with one or more course composition diagrams (i.e., for courses that they worked on) and to complete a short survey that asked them to comment on their experience of interacting with the representation.

Yuanru Tan and I qualitatively analyzed the survey data, following an iterative process outlined by Creswell (2015). Our analysis of the survey data revealed several themes, however in this blog post, I will focus on only one—aspects of the affordances of course composition diagrams. Design team members described how the representations provided a high-level overview of course structure which revealed the proportion of one element type to another. The language in the responses to our survey echoed the principles of visual design, such as balance, variety, repetition, pattern, rhythm, emphasis, and movement. For instance, some comments related to balance with respect to the distribution of one or more element type. One respondent remarked, “Each module was relatively ‘even’ in terms of the number of content types.” Other comments related to balance with respect to the weighting or preponderance of an element type within a specific part of the course: “I see a similar trend of very heavy reading modules in the middle/end of the course.” Our analysis showed that the course composition diagrams allowed design team members to see “what was there,” from an objective point of view, while enabling them to see the relationship of individual elements to the whole course “composition,” suggesting that design team members were able to understand the course structure in a nuanced way.

Beaded representations of course structure

In a second study, we explored an unconventional format—that of beaded representations—to represent the five MOOCs that are part of the School of Education MicroMasters program, offered on the edX platform. Noni Korf, Director of the Learning Design and Media Team, envisioned the idea while at the edX Partners conference in Paris. Noni said, “While in Paris, I found some striped beads that reminded me of icons for text documents, which inspired the first beaded representation.” She was interested in seeing if the differences between the Coursera and edX platforms might be revealed through the beaded representations: “I was interested in finding patterns in MOOCs—were there ways of describing our course experiences that didn’t involve us diving deeply into the content? Could MOOCs be categorized as molecules with different molecular weights? Or pie chart bubbles with differing ratios of content with which to interact? Looking across our portfolio, I wanted to see if patterns would emerge in courses that followed a strictly linear structure (i.e., our MOOCs on Coursera) and in courses that offer more flexibility for learners (i.e., our MOOCs on edX).”

Our learning experience design team developed a method for representing course structure using traditional craft materials (e.g., transparent, translucent, and opaque beads, and colorful drinking straws), stringing them together in chronological order. Each course element corresponded to a “type” of material (e.g., readings were depicted using striped, opaque beads). Because the edX interface uses a nested structure, with course elements organized in sections and subsections, we depicted each subsection as an individual beaded string. Participants could comprehend the hierarchical structure of the course by viewing the first string of beads, followed by the next string beneath it. The courses we depicted were not entirely linear, and where learners could make choices about where to proceed next, so we created a branching structure in the representation by crimping shorter lengths of strings and attaching them to the stem (see Figure 3).

Five strands of varying styles of beads with branching strands attached to three of the five strands

Figure 3: The hierarchical structure of a section of a course is evident through the beaded representation. Each string depicts a subunit (an activity sequence that could include elements such as short and long videos, discussion forums, teamwork, and assessments).

We invited members of the design team that developed the MicroMasters series, including Dr. Don Peurach, the lead designer and course instructor, and Kathryn Gabriele, a graduate student (co-designer) to participate in a focus group session to view and interact with the beaded representations. Our conversation centered around the insights gleaned through viewing the beaded representations. Following a methodology that was similar to the first study, we analyzed transcripts from the discussion. Four uses for the beaded representations were evident from our analysis of the discussion: (1) participants were able to make curricular connections related to course architecture and pedagogical approaches, (2) participants were able to come to a deeper understanding of the learner experience, (3) participants gained insights about the design process, and (4) participants reflected on the method.

As with our prior work with course composition diagrams, the beaded representations provided a “bird’s-eye view” of course structure, allowed participants to make connections among elements, and enabled them to notice aspects such as pattern and variety. We noted the beaded representations acted as “boundary objects,” allowing participants to externalize ideas, facilitate shared understanding, and bridge conceptual gaps (Arias et al., 1997). Our use of traditional craft materials was intended to introduce an element of playfulness and intrigue into our participants’ experience. One participant remarked on how he had a “visceral” reaction to the beaded representations: “What the beads are doing is driving me to think and rethink.”

Future work

We intend to deepen our research around design representations, as we continue to refine our methods. Future work will include creating cluster visualizations of courses that are similar along particular dimensions, such as by content type, sequencing, and other types of patterns. We will continue to involve design teams in our work, asking them for their insight toward understanding the utility of various design representations to support understanding and reflection on design at various stages of the design process.

We look forward to receiving feedback on this work at the American Educational Researchers Association (AERA) conference and at the Conference for Human Computer Interaction (CHI). This will help us to advance our work on design representations as part of the work of academic research and development that is happening at Academic Innovation.


Rebecca Quintana, Yuanru Tan, and Noni Korf will present their paper “Visualizing course structure: Using course composition diagrams to reflect on design” at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in New York where it has been awarded “Best Paper” in the Online Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group.

Rebecca Quintana and Kathryn Gabriele will present the work of their co-authors Yuanru Tan and Noni Korf at the 2018 CHI conference: “‘It’s just that visceral’: Eliciting design insight using beaded representations of online course structure.”


Selected references

  • Arias, E., Eden, H., & Fisher, G. (1997, August). Enhancing communication, facilitating shared understanding, and creating better artifacts by integrating physical and computational media for design. In Proceedings of the 2nd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (pp. 1-12). ACM.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2015). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Boston: Pearson.
  • Hansen, Y. M. (2000). Visualization for thinking, planning, and problem solving (pp. 193-220). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Quintana, R., Tan, Y., & Korf, N. (2018, April). Visualizing course structure: Using course composition diagrams to reflect on design. Paper to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). April 13-17. New York, New York.
  • Seaton, D. (2016, January 29). Exploring Course Structure at HarvardX: A New Year’s Resolution for MOOC Research [blogpost]. Retrieved from https://vpal.harvard.edu/blog/exploring-course-structure-harvardx-new-year’s-resolution-mooc-research


Four Keys to Managing Collaborative Teamwork in a Socially-Engaging Online Course

Kathryn Gabriele, Doctoral Student in Educational Studies in the School of Education and Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters 2018 Winter Cohort Learner

Hélène Gosset, Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters 2018 Winter Cohort Learner


This is the third in a series of blog posts from the 2018 Winter Cohort of the University of Michigan’s Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters program. In this blog post, we hear from members of the 2018 Winter Cohort about their approaches to self-organizing in an online course that places high emphasis on social engagement to help enable the learning of all participants.

Whether collaborating on team activities in a university-based course or engaging in work groups in a professional context, collaborative work presents a dilemma. On the one hand, it creates the potential to learn and do more than would be possible by working alone, in isolation. On the other hand, it requires managing a long list of challenges, including meeting logistics, interpersonal dynamics, joint work on shared products, and more. These potentials and pitfalls can increase with the diversity of work groups, the geographic distribution of members, competing work demands on members, and the complexity of the work at hand.

These challenges of socially-engaged learning carry into massive open online courses. Research findings suggest some of the greatest payoffs for online learners lie in the opportunity to collaborate with other learners in authentic, project-based learning opportunities. However, many learners value working in the online space precisely because it affords them the opportunity to work individually, and around the contours of their professional and personal lives to engage when-and-as they see fit.

The Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters program uses an instructional design called “Self-Directed/Community-Supported Learning” that challenges participants to manage the payoffs and pitfalls of socially-engaging online learning in team practice exercises, small group and large group discussions, and celebrating success.

The challenge begins immediately, in the first lesson. As a learner who created a team, I (Kathryn) was both excited and uncertain about who would join. After all, in reading the personal introductions of other members of the 2018 Winter Cohort, I realized I would be working with colleagues from across the United States and around the world, some of whom are just starting their educational careers and others who are seasoned professionals.

As members of the 2018 Winter Cohort joined my team, I was overwhelmed by their experience and diversity: a former principal in France now preparing for a leadership position in Québec, an experienced Michigan educator, a University of North Carolina PhD student, a state-level educational professional from Uruguay, and a University of Michigan master’s student.

As someone new to online learning, I was relieved to discover one of my new teammates, Hélène, had completed an online master’s program. Interested in learning more about her experiences and about any advice she might have for the team, I asked her to share the “Top Takeaways” about socially-engaging learning from other online courses.

Here is Hélène’s advice on leveraging the potential (and avoiding the pitfalls) of socially-engaging online learning:

1. Relationship Building Takes Time: Be Open and Patient

Learning to work together takes time. It is possible you won’t really start learning from others until after a few collaborative sessions, so don’t change groups too soon. Take time to learn from others. Form relationships with members of the group. It’s a good way to stay motivated to complete MOOCs.

But, what if I don’t get along with members of my group? This happens, but before changing, check to see if the team has worked together to set norms and rules to guide the group. These are helpful for coordinating team efforts. After several collaborative sessions, if your current team is still a challenge, make a change. Just remember: the perfect group doesn’t exist!

2. Thoughtful, Respectful Communication is Key

Communication is very important in online learning. You often don’t have set times to meet when working asynchronously.Instead, you may have to create them using tools like chat platforms, email, video-conference conference technology, etc. Even if you feel you don’t have much to say, maintain a presence and show interest in what others are writing. This is especially important in your small team.

Understand some people need time to feel at ease and share ideas. So, help engage others who may not initially be quick to respond. Reach out! Ask questions about their thoughts on a precise topic.

3. Be Planful, but Adaptable

Planning and respecting the plan is fundamental to online team work. All learners are working on different timelines. Some work during the day, others at night, others on weekends. Often learners have a full-time job. Planning ahead is necessary for success. Nonetheless, a member of your team may get behind or withdraw from the course. Be prepared by always having an understanding of what others are working on and potential ways to adjust if necessary. Life happens, and sometimes teams need to rearrange how work is shared with little notice.

4. Be Open-Minded, but Earnest

Students from all over the world and from very different backgrounds enroll in MOOCs, so social codes and ways of proposing ideas can vary greatly. A team member may propose an idea with which you may disagree and/or lack comfort. Accept the expression of this idea, and be earnest and explain why you are not comfortable with it. Sometimes the fact that we write instead of talk can lead to misunderstanding and/or contribute to reasons for disagreement. When expressing an idea orally, we can share ideas and ask clarifying questions. It might be a good idea to schedule a video-conference with your team to try to talk through brainstorming sessions and any potential areas of disagreement.

As our team worked together in Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement, we found Hélène’s insights were helpful in guiding our collaboration. Heeding her advice allowed us to form strong, collegial relationships. While we did face the inevitable, initial challenge of self-organizing and delegating tasks in the absence of face-to-face conversation, following her “Top Takeaways” has helped us to successfully jump that hurdle and continue to move, as a team, closer to the finish line.

Using Chart Paper and Sticky Notes to Bring Curriculum Design into Focus

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

Large easel pages covered in multi-colored sticky notes adhered to glass walls in the Office of Academic Innovation

Figure 1: Workspace within the Office of Academic Innovation.

Visitors to the Office of Academic Innovation often comment on the notations and diagrams that cover our whiteboards and glass surfaces, or remark on our liberal use of colorful Sticky Notes that are clustered on walls and tables (see Figure 1). Clearly, a lot of creative work happens in our space, and many ideas are captured, improved on, and synthesized using a variety of materials. In this two-part series, I will explore how Academic Innovation project teams have experimented with various representational forms as we develop curricula for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In Part I, I will detail our use of low-fidelity representations to storyboard course design during the design phase, using three recent examples. In Part 2, I will share work that we have been doing in the academic research and development space, and describe our experimentation with two representational formats with the goal of understanding their potential utility for reflecting on design after a MOOC has launched.

Design challenges

MOOCs can be structurally complex, because they contain a wide range of activities and resources that can be arranged in various curriculum sequences. Course elements can communicate instructional content, such as videos, links to external resources, and static pages of text and images. We also use course elements to provide opportunities for learners to interact with content and other learners, using machine-graded quizzes, peer-graded assignments, special widgets, and discussion forums. Once a course is “live,” learners can get a sense of the layout of a course by navigating through its elements, using a menu of icons and textual links.

However, during the design process, project teams may have difficulty grasping the overall shape of a course—including the sequence and arrangements of various course elements—without an aid or tool. In the absence of a bird’s eye view, it can be difficult to comprehend (1) if course elements are mapping to learning goals, (2) if challenge and effort are distributed evenly throughout the course, and (3) if content and activities are varied in ways that are engaging for learners.

Introducing design representations

The scholarly work from the emerging field of learning design is a useful resource, because it considers how learning activities—tasks that learners engage in, in order to make progress on, and meet, learning goals—can be codified and made available for review and critique. Visual representations of curriculum design can be used as a shared referent in the form of design representations. Researchers like Grainne Conole from the University of Leicester have examined the utility of a variety of representational formats, such as mind maps, models, and diagrams, which can bring particular pedagogical dimensions into focus. For instance, Conole explains the “swim-lanes” format is a useful diagram for depicting activity levels that the curriculum designer anticipates will take place (Conole, 2010).

Drawing on the field of learning design, we have used large-format visual representations with course design teams to support and stimulate thinking about curriculum design. We have experimented with different representational formats, all of which essentially portray an abstraction of course elements and sequences. Since the big picture can be particularly hard to grasp at the “fuzzy front end” of the design process (i.e., when project teams are still making decisions about how instruction should be organized and sequenced in the online environment), we have tested using design representations as a mediational tool during design conversations. We found that during design meetings with faculty partners it can be helpful to focus on a shared referent—which can be used to stimulate conversations about target audiences and learning goals—to test ideas about content and activity structure, and to evaluate whether or not the current design gives learners sufficient opportunities to make progress and demonstrate that they have met learning goals. Next, we detail an approach that we have been piloting—using low-fidelity materials to storyboard curriculum design. The idea is that by using low-fidelity materials (e.g., Sticky Notes), design teams can get an “at a glance” view of the current state of a curriculum design, while feeling free to add and subtract elements, and move things around.

Design representations in practice at Academic Innovation

Rebecca Quintana and Brenda Gunderson standing in front of a whiteboard and easel paper page covered in multi-colored sticky notes

Figure 2: Rebecca Quintana and Brenda Gunderson work through the “translation” process of creating a curriculum storyboard for the first course in a series about Statistics.

In this first example, we created a curriculum storyboard with a team that is developing a series of MOOCs about statistics. The design team is large and includes Dr. Brenda Gunderson, the lead faculty innovator; professors, staff, and graduate students from the College of Literature Science and the Arts (LSA); faculty from the Consulting for Statistics, Computing, and Analytics Research group (CSCAR); a design manager; and a learning experience designer. The design team had jointly contributed to a spreadsheet that listed learning goals, possible topic areas, and possible data sets. During a “check-in” meeting, the design manager, learning experience designer, and lead faculty member worked through a process of translating the information contained within the spreadsheet to a curriculum storyboard (see Figure 2). We developed a system for representing the curriculum plan, using colored sticky notes and icons to represent each element type (e.g., a blue sticky note with an arrow stood for a lecture video). In a subsequent design meeting, the entire design team discussed the storyboard and made adjustments to the flow by adding and rearranging sticky notes.

In a second example, we created a curriculum storyboard for Dr. Katie Richards-Schuster, the lead faculty innovator who is developing the Social Welfare Policies and Services course, the final MOOC in the School of Social Work’s MicroMasters program (see Figure 3). The learning goals, instructional content, activities, and assessments for the course were already well-defined, but before moving into the production phase, the design team wanted to ensure the design made sense in terms of curriculum sequencing (e.g., building on foundational concepts introduced earlier in the course), workload balancing (e.g., creating a regular cadence for learner engagement), and personalized learning (e.g., providing learners with opportunities to investigate topics of personal relevance).

Four easel paper pages adhered to a whiteboard covered in multi-colored sticky notes

Figure 3: A curriculum storyboard of the Social Welfare Policies and Services course.

“I found the process very helpful to ‘see’ the course and its elements. The colored sticky notes also helped as I was conceptualizing types of activities and assignments,” Dr. Katie Richards-Schuster said. “I have continued to go back to these sheets (and pictures from them) as I have built out the course. They continue to help guide my ability to visualize the course and what I hope will be the learner’s experience with it.”

In a third example, we created a curriculum storyboard for use in design meetings that were held virtually (see Figure 4). Most of the design meetings for the Strategic Planning of Public Libraries MOOC were held online using video conferencing tools. Throughout the process, we used a variety of digital communication and coordination strategies, including email, shared documents, and spreadsheets to develop the curriculum for the course. As we were nearing the end of the design process, a learning experience designer and a student intern created a curriculum storyboard of the entire course (based on the digital documentation). We photographed the storyboard and sent the photos to the course’s instructor, Larry Neal, via email. In a subsequent design meeting, we discussed the design of the whole course, focusing on areas that were tagged “to think about” (the neon green Sticky Notes).

A collage of photos of easel paper pages standing upright and laying on a table organized with multi-colored sticky notes

Figure 4: A curriculum storyboard of the Public Library Management: Strategic Planning MOOC.

Jeff Bennett, Design Manager in the Office of Academic Innovation, said, “These colorful visualizations helped streamline a process, by making the course easier to understand for both myself and the faculty member, moving us forward at a critical moment in the design process.”

Neal said, “Working with a visual representation provided both a detailed and broad overview of the entire course. It also provided a simple model for collaboration and understanding the desired outcomes between the course instructor and the MOOC designers.”

As we continue to experiment with curriculum storyboarding in our design processes, we will continue to refine our methods toward a more nuanced understanding of how they work best and how they may be effectively used in the future.

Selected references

  • Conole, G. (2010). An overview of design representations. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 482-489).

Next Up for Origin Stories-Problem Roulette: Getting to know our Exam Prep Tool

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Recently we introduced Origin Stories, an Office of Academic Innovation Podcast series that features each one of our digital edtech tools. Origin Stories tells the tales of why and how our tools were born, uncovering our faculty partners’ early motivations for creating teaching and learning software, and exploring what the future of these tools may look like.

Problem Roulette, origin stories podcast seriesThis month we welcome you to take a listen to Dr. August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Mike Mills, U-M alumnus and current UCLA physics graduate student, as they share the history and evolution of Problem Roulette, a “points free zone” web application for exam preparation. Learn more about Dr. Evrard’s desire to help students more effectively study for courses that use multiple choice exams, while ensuring that all U-M students have access to past exam problems. Listen as Dr. Evrard and Mr. Mills discuss the early look and feel of Problem Roulette, and how much it has changed since they began collaborating with the Office of Academic Innovation. Explore with us what the future of Problem Roulette looks like including additional features like group study mode, which enables students to work with their peers on exam preparation. Click on the link below and enjoy learning more about this simple and effective digital edtech tool.




Spotlight on the Digital Tools and Youth Outreach Community

Megan Taylor, Research Associate

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

The Digital Tools and Youth Outreach community is a group of U-M faculty and staff who meet throughout the academic year to explore the relationships between digital technology, learning and engagement in K-12 environments and success in higher education. This community, formed through a partnership between the Office of Academic Innovation and the U-M Center for Educational Outreach, met recently to hear Rachel Niemer, Director of Strategic Initiatives speak on gameful pedagogy, as well as the gameful learning management tool, Gradecraft. Laurie Sutch, Executive Director of the Talent Gateway at U-M Dearborn was also on hand to discuss using Gradecraft in a non-course setting with the Talent Gateway.

The Digital Tools and Youth Outreach community was formed in November 2017, in an effort to spark conversations and collaborations between two increasingly interconnected communities on campus: the youth outreach community and educational technology community. This partnership between the Office of Academic Innovation and the Center for Educational Outreach is an opportunity to bring these communities together in a significant way. The Office of Academic Innovation offers expertise and experience in edtech and the use of digital tools to support teaching and learning, and the Center for Educational Outreach coordinates and supports all K-12 outreach programming. The purpose of the Digital Tools and Youth Outreach Community is to increase knowledge of existing digital tools, imagine new uses for digital tools and discuss how to incorporate these tools to complement K-12 outreach programming and strengthen and broaden our impacts. This community is a space for each of these groups to learn from each other, build connections and spark meaningful and unique collaborations.

Rachel Niemer opened up the conversation by posing a question to the group. “What does engagement mean for you?,” Neimer asked. “Gameful courses provide opportunities for students to make choices for how they are going to learn.” She noted that gameful learning creates a sense of belongingness for students, while also pointing out that competition in courses can be motivating for some students and demotivating for others. A short demonstration of the Gradecraft dashboard was presented, including a brief history since the tools’ inception.

Laurie Sutch standing next to a podium and in front of a projector screen in front of a seated audience

Just over a year ago, Laurie Sutch helped launch the Talent Gateway, an initiative unique to UM-Dearborn that empowers students to be agents of change in their own lives by connecting them with resources, experiences, and people who can help to prepare them for a successful life ahead. Students can voluntarily participate in a variety of “challenges” to help them develop particular skills that would be valuable to a potential employer such as critical thinking and problem-solving, oral and written communication and digital literacy. Talent ambassadors, represented by all four U-M Dearborn colleges, provide feedback to participating students. “Students feel like they know the talent ambassadors and feel like they are a part of a community,” said Sutch. Students are offered incentives for completing challenges, such as an (M)Talent distinction on their official transcripts and recognition at graduation.

“We were excited to welcome Rachel and Laurie to share about gameful learning, Gradecraft, and the Talent Gateway. Their work is an inspiration and it intrigued many of our community members to learn about the unique ways that gameful pedagogy can shape programming. It was a robust learning opportunity and we look forward to further exploring how gameful pedagogy could be incorporated into our outreach practices,” said Megan Taylor, Research Associate for the Office of Academic Innovation, who helped form the community along with Adam Skoczylas, Program Manager for the U-M Center for Educational Outreach.

Reflecting on the meeting, Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate for the Office of Academic Innovation, said, “What does it mean to support K-12 outreach using digital tools? How do we use digital edtech born in the classroom in diverse settings in meaningful ways? I am so happy we have a community grappling with these questions. The Digital Tools and Youth Outreach group provides for us a space to convene and discuss how to use digital edtech in creative ways to reach K-12 students, and promote a college-going culture.”

At its heart, the goal of this community is to use digital tools to strengthen and scale outreach practices so that they may be increasingly accessible and inclusive to have a broader impact. In pursuing a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community, it is absolutely essential that our outreach practices and efforts too, are diverse, equitable and accessible to all students and communities. As attaining a college degree becomes increasingly critical in today’s economy, these conversations and questions grow in significance, and I am thankful to have this community of practitioners to grapple with them.

“The Office of Academic Innovation aims to broaden access to higher education by building new models for pre-college learning that are open, both in terms of easily accessible content for college preparation, but also that make pathways to higher education transparent to all populations. This community is a wonderful space to explore, with like-minded partners from across campus, how our existing tools can support ongoing efforts and be used to re-imagine how the University of Michigan supports pre-college learners,” said  Niemer.

Throughout the next year, the community will continue to host learning opportunities. Next, they will begin to dig into the use of data in K-12 program evaluation to improve outcomes, and will explore the ethical use of data as it pertains to youth and their families.

The Digital Tools and Youth Outreach community meets regularly for an in-depth learning opportunity on a specific topic with guest speakers and facilitators. Additionally, they host informal pop-up small groups bringing together U-M faculty and staff for conversation on a specific question, idea or challenge that a member of our community is grappling with. If you are interested in being a part of this community, please contact Megan Taylor at megsnt@umich.edu.

New Opportunities for Learning at Scale, Agile Curriculum Design and Two-Way Public Engagement in 2018

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

To the University of Michigan community:

Welcome back to campus and to another year filled with possibilities and opportunities to celebrate our past, question our present, and position for the future. At the Office of Academic Innovation we returned from winter break energized by the many opportunities we see for long-term mission-aligned growth. Through launching a rich and interconnected set of experiments, and through campus-wide conversation, we closed 2017 knowing that in order to realize our preferred future, we need to create a vision of it.

That vision focuses on learning first, yet technology and analytics can open and expand the reach and the quality of experience for our diverse communities of learners. Academic innovation is really about embracing an academic R&D mindset. We have an opportunity to turn our research mindset on ourselves. If we embrace experimentation, we’ll ask better and better questions about what works for whom. In so doing, we’ll expand the very definition of the Michigan community by further expanding our reach and creating more inclusive environments within. Ultimately, we’ll help U-M blur the distinction between scholarship and teaching and learning.

Over the past year the Office of Academic Innovation has refined its vision and articulated a preferred future for U-M. In this preferred future, we see new possibilities to redefine the role of the great public research university in the higher education landscape and many opportunities to positively impact pre-college learning, residential learning, global and lifelong learning, and public engagement. Our preferred future for U-M includes:

  • 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 a more permeable university
  • A participatory and inclusive model for public engagement that accelerates the construction and sharing of new knowledge through public dialogue.

There is much to be excited about in the year ahead. Here are a few highlights in support of these areas of focus:

An open model for pre-college learning and preparation that broadens access and enhances participation

We are designing new courses for pre-college learners, including a MOOC on Computational Thinking, a unique collaboration between faculty from the College of Engineering and the School of Education. We have partnered with the Center for Educational Outreach to lead the Digital Tools and Youth Outreach community of practice, and we are partnering with the Wolverine Pathways program to provide Teach-Outs to middle and high school students.


A personalized, rigorous, and inclusive model for residential learning grounded in learning analytics and experimentation

We are developing new hybrid degree options to create new pathways for learners. Across campus, we see more courses “going gameful” than before, providing new opportunities for residential learners and new opportunities for research. We are offering visiting fellowships for doctoral graduate students who wish to conduct research and development in the area of academic innovation over the summer. We are expanding the use of tools created at U-M, like PolicyMaker, Gradecraft, ECoach, Problem Roulette and ART 2.0, to enhance learning in a wide range of environments across campus.


A flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning that embraces the evolution of a more permeable university

We are currently building new MOOCs and specializations in areas like statistics, applied data science, and programming, and are exploring opportunities to create agile learning experiences to prepare learners for the future of work. We are expanding our global classroom through our newly created Mentor Academy, and we are expanding access to one of our MicroMasters programs by creating new sessions open to practicing educators, graduate students, faculty members, and reformers across the US and around the world. Through “Writing Jams” we are enhancing the accessibility of course content for global and lifelong learners.


A participatory and inclusive model for public engagement that accelerates the construction and sharing of new knowledge through public dialogue

We are reimagining public engagement. We have reached more than 50,000 public learner participants in our Teach-Out series and we plan to expand this series in 2018 with a Teach-Out launching every two weeks throughout the year. Anytime a member of the public wants to join a conversation about a timely topic of widespread interest, they have an opportunity to do so at Michigan.

Starting next month, we will launch a three-part Teach-Out focused on free speech (in higher education, sports, and journalism) as part of U-M’s campuswide series of events and activities to examine the intersection of free speech and inclusion. Through the Teach-Out series, we hope to extend the reach of this dialogue and invite in diverse perspectives from around the world.

We will create and host Teach-Outs on social justice, AR/VR, privacy, opioids, and universal basic income, all of which connect public learners to U-M’s institutional strategic priorities in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion; augmented and virtual reality; data science; precision health; and poverty solutions. We plan to build on the success of the Teach-Out series in 2018 and create new opportunities for two-way public engagement.


Thought partnership through exemplary service

We have made significant progress since establishing the Office of Academic Innovation and have earned the role of thought partner through exemplary service. In order to maintain our momentum and continue to evolve our model for academic R&D, we have reorganized ourselves from a three lab structure to a single-AI model to better meet the needs of our partners across campus and learners in Ann Arbor and around the world.

This new structure simplifies the process of obtaining design-thinking and consultative services for partners across campus. This new model organizes our talented team to further support academic innovation across campus and to address new opportunities for learning at scale, agile curriculum design, and two-way public engagement.

We are in a better position to accelerate pedagogical, programmatic, and business model innovation and long-term mission-aligned growth. We remain a design shop, a makerspace, and an incubator. We continue to be a place to experiment. It is the next step in creating a dynamic model for academic R&D which will immediately allow us to:

  • Build and leverage central and distributed capacity to strengthen large scale initiatives while continuing to launch a set of rich and interconnected experiments.
  • Design and deliver transformational approaches for leveraging academic innovation to shape the future of education at U-M and beyond.
  • Engage the U-M community in communities of practice to address new opportunities for, and constraints that inhibit, growth of academic innovation.
  • Balance sustainable growth and operational efficiency in the Academic Innovation model with positive risk-taking and exploration of new opportunity spaces.

We invite faculty to engage with us around projects that will help us move toward our preferred future. Faculty can attend our events, sign up for one-on-one consultations, join (or suggest) communities of practice, and propose new projects.

We are grateful to all our partners across campus and beyond as we shape the future of higher education and look forward to continued collaboration and experimentation in 2018.


James DeVaney