A Look Inside the Video Production Techniques Behind the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series

Cy Abdelnour, Instructional Media Specialist, shares the importance of production quality for educational courses with this look into the production techniques utilized in the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series.

Connecting Schools and College Across Campus with “Traveling Innovation Hours”

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator

In preparation for the November 14 Academic Innovation Initiative Summit, the Office of Academic Innovation has expanded its “Innovation Hour” event series in an effort to foster dialogue and collaboration between units across campus. This expanded series, called “Traveling Innovation Hours,” is a set of informal conversations, each co-hosted by Academic Innovation and a pair of U-M schools and colleges.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, Innovation Hours were gatherings hosted biweekly by Academic Innovation during which U-M community members could drop in and discuss a particular topic or open question related to teaching and learning in higher education. Each Innovation Hour followed a theme, with topics ranging from accessibility, students’ educational pathways, “just-in-time” teaching models, and many more.

Last year’s Innovation Hours took place at the Office of Academic Innovation–either at the Digital Education and Innovation Lab on Washington Street or on the 8th floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library. While we drew a diverse set of participants to these events, we wanted to introduce new voices and ideas this year by bringing the conversation to familiar spaces across campus and focusing on themes that are especially pertinent to nearby schools, colleges, and programs. We decided to take Innovation Hours “on the road” and invite facilitators from the host units to determine the theme for each session. The Traveling Innovation Hour was born!

Traveling Innovation Hour participants seated in discussion around a table.

One goal of Traveling Innovation Hours is to showcase innovative teaching and learning work from the host units. An example of this took place at the first Traveling Innovation Hour, where Don Peurach (School of Education) and Katie Richards-Schuster (School of Social Work) shared their experiences creating content for their schools’ online MicroMasters courses and led a conversation on the unique challenges of building meaningful online learning experiences for fields like theirs in which in-person interactions are so key to practice. At the most recent Traveling Innovation Hour, Elisabeth Gerber (Ford School of Public Policy) and Michael Bloom (Law School) described the ways different technologies have helped them manage course projects in which students interact with external clients. They invited other attendees to brainstorm solutions for the unique difficulties of coordinating student-client interaction.

Another goal of the series is to introduce attendees to individuals outside their unit who have similar goals and priorities. Fortunately, we are seeing evidence that Traveling Innovation Hours are meeting this second goal as well: One participant of the Traveling Innovation Hour co-hosted by the College of LSA and the School of Information remarked the most useful part of the event was the chance to meet colleagues from other departments who have an interest in helping students find personalized pathways through U-M. In addition, at the end of the Traveling Innovation Hour co-hosted by the Schools of Kinesiology and Public Health, one attendee from Kinesiology took a moment to suggest that the two co-hosting schools clearly had a lot in common and should continue these conversations. A (comedically brilliant) Public Health faculty member timed her response perfectly, “What, are you asking us out on a second date?” Not only do those schools have shared intellectual interests — the people present also have very similar senses of humor!

We are currently planning next semester’s Traveling Innovation Hours. If you have an idea for a theme you would like to discuss at a future Innovation Hour, please share via email at Details about next semester’s Traveling Innovation Hours will be forthcoming on the Academic Innovation events page.

What to Expect at the Academic Innovation Initiative Summit

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, previews the Academic Innovation Initiative Summit on November 14, 2017.

Is it Time to Scale College Towns? Reimagining Public Engagement through Agile Design

This article was originally posted on 10/11/2017 on Inside Higher Ed

Full remarks viewable here

Full presentation viewable here

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

To realize our preferred future of higher education, we have to create a vision of it. Growing up in one college town and spending my career in others, I took for granted until very recently that college towns are unique platforms for learning. Now I’m betting on the notion that like many other platforms, college towns are scalable. If this turns out to be true, a whole new world of possibilities for two-way public engagement is within reach.

Large wire sculpture of two adults sitting facing away from each other with solid structures of children inside the wire frames reaching out to each other

Love by Alexander Milov” by _masha is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When living in a college town, you begin your pursuits with a goal of seeking greater understanding, not with the goal of confirming a current set of beliefs. Fundamental to the dynamic university communities that anchor these unique college towns is compassion. Compassion, it turns out, is essential to discovery and discovery is at the center of a vibrant and healthy society. It’s time to invest time and treasure in the compassionate public square for the information age.

I’m proud of the real and vital commitments my own institution, the University of Michigan, has made to academic innovation, public engagement, and diversity, equity and inclusion. These mission-aligned investments fit together like puzzle pieces and signal to our community and the world that the leading public research university will continue its long-standing commitment to innovation, inclusion, excellence, and social justice well into the future.

As I’ve settled into my role at U-M over the last three and a half years, I’ve discovered there are many universities such as Davidson College, Georgetown University, and Dartmouth College, who share our values and sense of urgency. Another institution I’ve come to admire greatly is Duke University. So it was a joy to receive an invitation to speak at the Duke NextEd Festival last week in Durham to kickoff a community conversation around innovative ways to make the Duke educational experience more engaging, transformative, and equitable.

In my remarks on “Academic Innovation and the Compassionate Public Square” (full remarks and presentation viewable here), I described a problem: If the world of facts and basic research is no longer valued by society, we have a problem of relevance, not existence.

I then described how we are leveraging our model for academic R&D to design solutions to this problem of relevance. Universities watched as the bootcamp industry grew outside of academia. There is clear demand for just-in-time learning. We should take note but resist imitation. There is a real opportunity for universities to reclaim and reimagine the bootcamp concept and bolster leading research enterprises with a new capability for agile curriculum development. Imagine the power of just-in-time community problem solving fueled by the expertise and lived experiences of universities and their growing global learning communities.

College towns are platforms that need to be scaled. Higher education institutions regularly transform society while also providing anchors for tradition and values. Whether it’s accelerating or pacing, institutions are constantly influencing the velocity of societal change. We’re applying an academic R&D mindset at Michigan and it’s starting to scale. We are creating a model for agile curriculum development differentiated by the capacities of a vast research enterprise. This is about relevance.

University of Michigan Teach-Out SeriesTo provide an example of academic R&D in action, I described in my remarks the evolution of the Teach-Out model as a new opportunity for two-way engagement with the public. It is now possible to move from a producer push model to true conversation with a global public community. Through a dialogue-based approach we set higher expectations of the public as content creators and active participants. College towns are the greatest. And they can do better to facilitate compassionate and critical conversations around the issues most important to society.

The Teach-Out puts institutions, individual scholars, and diverse public stakeholders into conversation about real-time contemporary issues. By scaling communities that are bound together by a commitment to discovery, and moving beyond a broadcast model for public engagement, we have a much greater chance of activating public concern and elevating public discourse.

They day after I visited Duke for the NextEd Festival I returned home to Ann Arbor in time to listen to U-M’s President Mark Schlissel establish new commitments to reimagine public engagement. Building from a long history of public engagement and academic innovation at U-M, our mode of connected experimentation is about recognizing the diversity of learners in any large population and figuring out how to use technology not just to transmit but to help learners construct their own understanding of the world. Through meaningful two-way engagement we strengthen the U-M community and increase the power of our collective potential in pursuing new discoveries and greater understanding.

U-M was founded in 1817 to serve the Michigan Territories. In 2017, U-M is poised to create a compassionate public square through a growing and tangible focus on global and lifelong learning. A compassionate square that is virtuous, vibrant, vital, and vast, can only serve to elevate public discourse, not distort.

What I love about hearing from my colleagues at Duke, Davidson, Georgetown, Dartmouth and others, is that each institution is finding its own way. The magnitude of opportunities ahead is far greater than the capacity of any single institution and many solutions are needed in order to establish a an environment in which society and the academy learn from each other. U-M will celebrate academic innovation and public engagement at our Academic Innovation Initiative Summit next month. I hope other institutions will continue to design and share innovative solutions to two-way engagement with the public.

The Future of Engagement: Using Contextual Inquiry to Enhance the Course Advocate Role

Kayla Carucci, Community Engagement Intern

Why Contextual Inquiry?

At the Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL), Course Advocates (CAs) play an integral part in managing online courses. Last month, we defined the role and responsibilities of CAs . One of our Learning Experience Designers described them as “the frontline for any problems that could surface after course launch.”

Initially the Lab employed only a handful of CAs, but today there are more than 50! While DEIL has experienced rapid growth throughout the past five years, the Course Advocate position has remained relatively unchanged. As a result, two DEIL employees suggested using contextual inquiry to provide recommendations on how to make the CA position more effective. But why use contextual inquiry?

Multicolored sticky notes placed in a hierarchy on a whiteboardBest-known for its use of the affinity diagram–more fondly known as an affinity wall by students and faculty at UMSI–contextual inquiry is a user-centered design method that utilizes inductive reasoning to organize, interpret and consolidate large quantities of information regarding complex systems and problems. By combining elements of ethnographic interviews and participant observation, this method produces rich qualitative data about daily work practices, culture and environment.


Selecting and Interviewing Participants

Before jumping in, I sat down with key stakeholders to clarify the goals and expectations for this project. Specifically, I was asked to focus on the training process for Course Advocates as well as how to increase their engagement levels. After selecting a group of 10 employees to interview, I began to research and observe the inner workings of DEIL in order to inform my own understanding of how the Lab typically operates.

The individuals selected for interviews contribute across the life-cycle of course development and included operations staff, Program/Project managers, Learning Experience Designers, faculty champions and Course Advocates. I wrote a unique set of questions for each employee, with the intention of learning about their job responsibilities and previous interactions with CAs.

To allow for candid discussion, each interview was held in a private location and all participants were invited to converse with me as if I knew absolutely nothing about DEIL. After each session, I studied my interview notes in order to distill key data points and generate follow-up questions; in total, around 500 key data points was transferred to individual post-it notes to be used during the wall building process.


Wall Building

A stack of yellow sticky notesInitially, affinity notes were sorted into large groups on whiteboards if they appeared to be related. They were reorganized numerous times until small hangings of one to five notes began to emerge. When a note did not fit into one of these hangings, they were added to a discard pile.

Eventually, the small clusters evolved to identify a total of 15 pressure points. These points formed six main findings and two additional areas for further exploration. When my affinity wall was complete, it spanned three 36” x 24” whiteboards and only 119 yellow notes remained.



My key findings were spread across four different themes–communication, productivity, engagement, and recruitment/hiring. In a final report, I outlined 11 recommendations which provided both short and long term solutions.

While some of my proposed recommendations were long term in scope, before my internship ended, I had the pleasure of enacting three smaller recommendations: renaming the initial on-boarding process “Orientation” and focusing on expectations and responsibilities; creating an internal-only course for new CAs to explore and learn their course platform; and creating a Slack channel for the course advocates to share knowledge and learn from one another.

I am hopeful the Digital Education and Innovation Lab will continue to implement my recommendations over the next year–I encourage you to keep an eye out for them!