Farewell to Ripened Fellows in the Digital Innovation Greenhouse

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Student Fellows serve as a conduit for energy and creativity supporting new innovation in our Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). Through these experiences, students work one-on-one with developers, user experience designers, behavioral scientists and data scientists to assist in translating digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure.

Several Fellows shared highlights of their work with the DIG team during a special “Student Fellows Showcase” last month. In their own words, Fellows articulated their unique approaches to enhancing digital tools at DIG through design, development, data science and more while also reflecting upon their personal growth throughout their experience.

In celebration of their great work, we would like to highlight a few of our student Fellows who recently graduated or have otherwise ended their fellowship with the DIG team this spring or will end their fellowship at the end of this summer.

Monica ChenMonica Chen

User Experience Design/QA Fellow Since September 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: ECoach, GradeCraft, MWrite, Problem Roulette

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the DIG Team?

“In general, I have always understood the importance of broad perspectives and multiple approaches to a problem, but my time with the DIG team truly exposed me to all of these facets in an optimal way through the simple physical layout of the office space as well as the overlapping nature of the tools DIG has taken on. I’ve gained confidence in the practice of articulating my ideas, presenting my work, and taking apart issues that come up. The people at DIG operate with a lot of transparency, and as a student Fellow I felt comfortable interacting with everyone. I felt empowered and free to explore any interests I developed, whether it was to ask for a task to strengthen a skill I was feeling weak in, or whether it was to occasionally assist with another tool so I could get a feel for other work that was being done. In addition, I have learned to keep consciously trying harder to detach myself from the initial versions of any work I do, because additional meaning and value are found through cycles of iteration. Constant feedback and open channels of communication within the DIG team helped me be more precise and, more importantly, take risks.”

What’s Next For You After Your Fellowship?

“This outstanding fellowship contributed to the extension of my time at Michigan to a full fifth year rather than only the first semester, and its impact continues to benefit me in positive ways. Therefore, when I discovered the summer internship opportunity offered at DIG, I was immediately interested in prolonging my time with the team. I will be staying on through Summer 2017, after which I am considering the possibility of graduate school or full-time work somewhere on the West Coast – where I am from.”

Dana DemskyDana Demsky

Graphic Design Fellow Since January 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0), GradeCraft, Policymaker, Student Explorer

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the DIG Team?

“Over the year and a half of my Fellowship, I learned so much about design that I would have never learned in a studio class. I got to collaborate with the other student Fellows and the full-time designers on web platforms that students use across campus. My work here had a real impact on not only DIG itself but the university at large – for example, it is so cool to think that the logo I designed for ART 2.0 is now seen by students everywhere at the University of Michigan.”

What’s Next For You After Your Fellowship?

“I feel confident in my design skills because of what I’ve learned at DIG. After graduation, I see myself as a successful graphic designer for the digital world, working at an innovative marketing agency. I can’t wait to see where the skills I’ve gained at DIG will take me!”

Yidi HongYidi Hong

User Experience Design Fellow Since September 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Policymaker

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the DIG Team?

“It was my first time to work closely with [Policymaker] and engineers and work on a real project where my design got to be built out. During the tons of meetings with my team, I learned how to present my ideas and justify my design decision, and most importantly, I gained confidence during the process. In terms of design, I learned to think more comprehensively about use cases and pay attention to details in design. I’m also glad that we have easy access to our users, students, and we do value students’ thoughts and feedback. I have the opportunity to talk to students and incorporate their thoughts into our design.”

What’s Next For You After Your Fellowship?

“I’m moving to the Bay Area after graduation. I’ll continue my passion in design, starting at a startup, Tile, as a UX designer.”

Rob TruexRob Truex

Data Science Fellow Since January 2017

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0), Transcript of the Future

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the DIG Team?

“During my time at DIG I learned a variety of techniques for unpacking meaning from complex datasets, particularly through data visualization. It also provided me with an opportunity to expand my skills in Python and R through coding collaboratively with my peers. One unexpected lesson I was able to take from DIG is the importance of reaching outside of my comfort zone. I worked on design mockups for the Transcript of the Future project without having any background in UX design, and it was incredibly rewarding.”

What’s Next For You After Your Fellowship?

“I am currently looking for learning analytics positions, as my overarching career goal is to improve education through technology. In addition to my time at DIG, I have worked with digital libraries in order to work toward this goal. Specifically, I hope to use data analytics to improve student access to educational materials.”

*Rob recently accepted a position as a Data Scientist working on the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science (IRIS) project.

Marisa XhekaMarisa Xheka

Personalization/User Experience Design Fellow Since June 2015

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: ECoach

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the DIG Team?

“In my time at DIG I had the opportunity to work on different aspects of the ECoach project and learn what kind of career I wanted to build for myself. And importantly as I gained confidence in myself, I learned how to take ownership of my work and how to be able to advocate for my ideas. As I’m leaving DIG I know what part of the UX field I want to work in and I have the experiences to prove I can do it.”

What’s Next For You After Your Fellowship?

“I’m going to be working as a UX researcher. I’m currently looking for a full time position on the west coast.”

We would like to wish a fond farewell to all Fellows who have recently departed, or will soon depart, from the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, including the following:

  • Jaee Apte – User Experience Design Fellow
  • Jessa Bartley-Matthews – User Experience Design Fellow
  • Wake Coulter – Graphic Design Fellow
  • Mikaela Gonzales – Content Management Fellow
  • Jianming Sang – Software Development Fellow
  • Pavithra Vetriselvan – Software Development Fellow
  • Denny Walsh – Data Science Fellow
  • Jun Wang – Data Science Fellow

The Office of Academic Innovation offers a variety of fellowship and internship opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates at our Digital Innovation Greenhouse as well as our Digital Education and Innovation Lab. Please visit our Student Opportunities page to learn more and apply!

The Future of Learning

U-M Students Inform Structures, Processes, Products and Tools at U-M and Beyond

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Students have played an active role in reimagining the transcript of the future, informing product development for edX and brainstorming new functionality for Problem Roulette – and that was just in the last month.

Throughout the month of March, the Office of Academic Innovation hosted three Student Design Jams inviting students to share their insight and expertise in the design and development process. Each design jam is a unique opportunity for students to apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to develop solutions to improve structures, processes, products and tools at the University and beyond. Students participating in these events learn new skills as well as network and partner with their peers.

In the last three weeks, students worked with representatives from the Registrar’s Office to build prototypes that visualize student transcript data in new and useful ways, shared their thoughts on credentialing and social learning with edX and presented their prototypes for new functionality in the exam study tool, Problem Roulette.

Compete or Collaborate? New functionality in Problem Roulette

Working in three separate teams, students collaborated with the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) to discuss, design and present their ideas for new functionality in Problem Roulette, a web-based practice tool that offers random-within-topic access to a large library of past exam-like problems.

Mike Wojan, User Experience Designer at DIG, and Jaee Apte, School of Information graduate student and DIG Fellow, framed the design jam with an overview of DIG, Problem Roulette and the opportunity for students to shape the tool for future learners.

“It’s really important to get in touch with the user community, like you guys, about how we can improve it,” Wojan said.

Apte set the agenda for the event and prompted the open-ended design questions central to the design jam:

  1. Imagine Problem Roulette is being used in a study group. How can you make Problem Roulette a collaborative platform where students work with each other to solve problems? Assume these students may not always be in the same physical space.
  2. Alternatively, how can you make Problem Roulette a competitive platform where students work against each other to solve problems? Assume these students may not always be in the same physical space.

She urged students to consider how new functionality would impact the user experience for students using Problem Roulette both collaboratively and competitively.

“What will a competition look like?,” Apte asked. “Are [Problem Roulette Users] challenging themselves, are they challenging their classmates?”

Students standing in front of a white board in discussion

Working with members of the DIG team, the student teams spent 90 minutes brainstorming, transferring their ideas to sticky notes, drawing wireframes and iterating on their design ideas. After their ideas for collaborative and/or competitive features in Problem Roulette were solidified, teams prepared a brief presentation to showcase their prototypes to their fellow students as well as faculty and staff interested in their design solutions.

Ideas shared by the teams included developing student profiles and collaborative study groups, real-time chat functionality, videos and competitive leaderboards. One group incorporated gamification in their design by representing student progress by various forms of transportation including by foot, bike, car and airplane. In this team’s prototype, “bus stops” represented opportunities for students to help their peers who are “stuck” on various questions in the platform.

“We want to demonstrate a competition in a collaborative way,” one student said.

Three students presenting to a large group in front of a screen with an image titled "PR Tennis"In the spirit of competition, students who developed “Problem Roulette Tennis” were named the “winning” team with their idea to let students accumulate points by “serving” questions to other students. Students who receive a “serve” are challenged to provide the correct answer and counter with a question of their own. Students said this question volley would continue until a player answers incorrectly and a winner is determined.

“We think that if this is a game, it will make students want to practice and study more,” one of the student presenters said.

Interactivity, Social Learning and Digital Credentials in edX

Earlier in the month, students had a chance to work directly with members of the edX product development team to share their perspectives on social learning and digital credentialing.

The design jam took place one day after the Academic Innovation Forum to Broaden the University of Michigan where President Schlissel announced the new Teach-Out Series and Dr. Anant Agarwal, edX CEO, shared a keynote on the digital transformation of higher education.

Iain Kennedy, Vice President of Product Development at edX, shared the five-year history of the online learning platform and its partnership with leading institutions to provide “the best education in the world available to everyone in the world.”

“We looking to get any insights you have,” he said. “These are wide-open questions that are important to solve in order to satisfy our mission:”

  1. How can online education platforms increase interactivity and communication among learners? How can they better facilitate social learning opportunities and/or online learning communities?
  2. How might we record online learning differently? What makes a digital credential – like a badge or certificate – meaningful and useful to a learner? How can we maximize the utility and value of digital credentials?

Students sitting around a table in discussion with edX and Academic Innovation representatives

Students shared their insight directly with representatives from edX and Academic Innovation staff to guide future product development in edX. Prior to these individual discussions, Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, said the design jam was an opportunity to bring new voices into the design process for edX.

Transcripts for the Future

How should student transcripts evolve in the digital age? Do transcripts accurately reflect a student’s journey throughout the University?

These were a few of the questions posed at another Student Design Jam lead by Paul Robinson, Associate Vice Provost and University Registrar, and Lisa Emery, Associate Registrar for Faculty and Staff Services, from the U-M Office of the Registrar.

Robinson said he was “passionate about making these documents better” and was looking for student input about ways the to improve traditional, paper transcripts.

“It certainly does not reflect enough, the good work and experiences students have,” he said.

Emery provided an overview and examples of current transcripts at U-M noting its lack of depth in its current form.

“It shows what classes did you take, what grades did you get and what’s your [grade point average],” she said.

Three students sitting in discussion with Dr. Tim McKayDr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Principal Investigator for DIG , said the student transcript is often thought of as the “permanent record” for a student’s time at the university. He said the the transcript reflects the “story” of student’s experience that is largely focused on a student’s final grades rather than their extracurricular experiences.

He later called grades a “bad measure of learning” and a student’s grade point average is a measure of performance, suggesting transcripts should better reflect the intellectual breadth, disciplinary depth, effort, engagement and range of experiences throughout a student’s time at the University.

“We measure lots of different things, but we choose a very limited subset of those right now,” McKay said.

To help students get started, Dr. Chris Teplovs, Lead Developer for DIG and Adjunct Lecturer at the U-M School of Information, asked students to rethink the layout of a student transcript beyond a chronological list of courses.

“Maybe there’s room for a deeper analysis of your entire course experience,” he said.

He proposed alternatives such as grouping a student’s course history by subject, scaling by performance or organizing courses to assess the disciplinary diversity of a student’s academic history.

Dr. Benjamin Koester, Learning Analytics Research Specialist Senior at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, also shared an alternative visualization of the student transcript as a timeline highlighting changes in a student’s grade point average.

“The metric isn’t how well did I do at the end, but how much did I improve throughout my time here,” he said.

Students were then asked to brainstorm explore the following design questions:

  1. What kinds of data do students need in order to make informed choices about their enrollment in future courses or programs?
  2. How can course data and student performance be represented differently to optimize for accessibility, relevance, user experience, etc.?
  3. How might we break away from the restrictions of a paper document (i.e., linear, static) to produce an interactive, dynamic visualization of transcript data?

The insights students shared individually within small groups will guide ongoing discussions at the Office of the Registrar to modernize and transform the transcript of the future. In addition, the DIG team will soon pilot new visualizations to reflect student learning in Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0), a digital tool to help students, faculty and administration make more informed decisions by presenting U-M course and academic program data in an intuitive visual format.

These valuable insights will shape the design and development process at the both the University of Michigan and edX to better help students review class material, craft a social learning environment for learners around the world and visualize transcript data in new and more useful ways. We encourage students to join us at future Academic Innovation events by checking our event page at

Education Now – Just-In-Time Teaching and Learning at U-M

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

How can the University of Michigan community develop “just-in-time,” rapid response models for teaching and learning in the online, residential and hybrid spaces?

Earlier this year, faculty and staff explored this topic during a recent “Innovation Hour,” a gathering hosted twice a month by the Office of Academic Innovation featuring a different theme each session. These events are one component of the Academic Innovation Initiative, a charge by the President’s office to to engage in a University-wide conversation to “consider how U-M will lead the way for higher education through the information age and further strengthen our impact on society.”

The discussion surrounded questions about changes to systems and structures to support just-in-time teaching and learning models and ways the University can leverage technology to create timely, interactive learning experiences that deliberately bring outside learners into the experience.

University of Michigan Teach-Out SeriesPart of the answer came quickly, as President Schlissel announced the new University of Michigan Teach-Out Series during the Academic Innovation Forum on Broadening the University of Michigan Community on March 13. Modeled after “Teach-Ins” first introduced by Michigan in 1965, the Teach-Out Series are just-in-time learning opportunities inviting learners from around the world to join a community discussion about a topic of widespread interest. The first of four Teach-Outs examines the shifting political systems in many countries around the world and launches on March 31. More information about the new Teach-Out Series is available at

Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, framed the discussion during the Innovation Hour by asking how best to enable faculty to experiment with teaching outside of the traditional curricular process.

“What are ways we can create new credit bearing or non-credit bearing experiences that can have the impact we want to see?,” Niemer asked.

Participants identified common barriers to just-in-time residential offerings due to the curricular approval process as well as the physical space and time constraints. The inherent interdisciplinary nature of just-in-time teaching models further compounds these challenges according to the group.

Two groups of faculty and staff sitting in circlesIn response, the group expressed a need to develop teaching models to increase the University’s agility in responding to current issues. This involves a willingness to create impromptu teaching experiences to share the intellectual breadth and depth of the university in an accelerated and timely way.

“There are so many experts at the University in current topics that we really want to share with the world,” said Dr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Principal Investigator for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

Participants divided into small groups to brainstorm new ideas to build pathways from impromptu teaching experiences into more formalized teaching experiences. One group examined “just-in-time” teaching models in residential courses while another group discussed ways to engage the external community with hybrid models.

Paper handout titled "Just-in-time Teaching and Learning Opportunities"In a conversation about mechanisms to connect to the external community with online and hybrid teaching models, Dr. Melissa Gross Arthur F Thurnau Professor, discussed a current gap in pre-program training for students in graduate-level Kinesiology programs. This lead to the identification of two potential modes of just-in-time teaching: “just-in-time for all of us” and “just-in-time for me.”

McKay defined “just-in-time for all” as learning experiences that examine timely issues important to many individuals, similar to the Teach-Out Series. Alternatively, “just-in-time for me” reflects the individual needs of learners, and might involve preparation for the college experience, or advanced training for an upcoming course or a first job.

“It’s about practicing and preparing yourself for something that you are going to need or do,” he said.

Ideas posed by the faculty innovators and staff included:

  • a buy out of 10 to 25 percent of a graduate student’s time to allow them to explore interdisciplinary campus experiences
  • post-credentialing large events by tying them to other learning experiences
  • integrating just-in-time models as a component of the course preparation process

“If we think about just-in-time teaching as part of course development, it might fit better into our system,” McKay said.

Join us during the next Innovation Hour! View our list of upcoming events to learn about future Innovation Hour discussions.