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!

More Writing Through Automation

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

Civil Rights, Elusive Sleep, Technology are Next Teach-Out Topics

Four new Teach-Outs in August and September will focus on technological advances that have changed the way we live, civil rights and civil liberties in the current political environment, and sleep deprivation.

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.