Welcome to Origin Stories. A Podcast Series for Academic Innovation Digital Edtech Tools

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

When we started developing digital edtech in the Office of Academic Innovation in 2015, we could only just imagine the tremendous growth we would experience in two and a half years. As the use of our digital tools becomes more profuse throughout (and sometimes even beyond) the University of Michigan’s campuses, the stories we tell about our tools evolve as well. As we take stock of how much we’ve grown, and our motivations for building and scaling “homegrown” digital edtech at U-M, we think the time is ripe to look back at the beginning of our tools by interviewing the faculty, students, and staff who imagined them.

We are excited to announce the launch of our Origin Stories podcast series, which will feature each of Academic Innovation’s digital edtech tools, and examine them in more depth. This series will uncover early motivations for building software for teaching and learning at U-M. We will explore what motivated our faculty to take their burgeoning tools and seek out partnership with Academic Innovation to grow their software, and we will entertain what the future of our tools may look like with the folks who pioneered them.

GradeCraft, origin stories podcast series

Up first, GradeCraft with co-founders Dr. Barry Fishman, Professor of Information and Education and Director of the of Bachelor of Science in Information Program and Caitlin Holman, Lead GradeCraft Developer and PhD candidate in the School of Information. Listen to Barry and Cait talk about how they responded to student feedback in a course on video games by building what is now a learning management system centered on game theory–or the elements that make up great games. Hear from Barry and Cait as they discuss the history of Gradecraft and how far it has come from its first use in Barry’s class to what is now a commercial tool being employed in K-12 and higher education settings.



We are excited to showcase the interesting stories of how our tools came to be. Join us as we learn about the opportunities and implications of building edtech software in a university with a focus on personalization, and in an era when we are committed to scaling smart technology in parallel with effective pedagogy.

Academic Innovation Supports Local Community During Holiday Season

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

Engaging with and giving back to the local community is a part of the value system that helps guide the Office of Academic Innovation. The University of Michigan’s United Way Campaign, along with the United Way’s Holiday Card Making Program, offered up multiple opportunities for Academic Innovation to get involved around the holidays.

According to the organization’s website,, the United Way of Washtenaw County connects people, resources and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone. Their values include equity, inclusiveness, community, volunteerism, caring and integrity.

As part of the University of Michigan’s United Way Campaign, Academic Innovation organized an internal event to help generate donations, through which the Academic Innovation team was able to raise $400 to donate to United Way.

Academic Innovation staff members smiling for the camera standing behind a table of handmade holiday cardsAdditionally, a handful of Academic Innovation team members visited the United Way of Washtenaw County on Friday, November 17 to make holiday cards for homebound senior citizens and adults, veterans, families in shelter as well as local families and children. Reflecting on her experience, Megan Taylor, Research Associate for Academic Innovation, stated, “It was such a joy to volunteer with my co-workers at United Way. I appreciated how my co-workers challenged themselves to really think creatively about how to help spread holiday cheer in their cards.”

“This experience gave me both a fun and meaningful opportunity for camaraderie with my co-workers, the joy of the holidays, and giving back to the community I call home,” said Amy Homkes- Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate for Academic Innovation.

The Office of Academic Innovation is committed to U-M’s United Way Campaign and looks forward to participating again in the future.

Celebrate Innovation this Giving Blueday

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Giving Blueday 11-28-17Next week marks the University of Michigan’s fourth annual Giving Blueday, a university wide-day of giving building upon the Giving Tuesday global movement.

This year not only marks U-M’s Bicentennial, but an explosive year of innovation across the University catalyzed by the Academic Innovation Initiative, a charge to the Office of Academic Innovation by the President and Provost’s office “to consider how U-M will lead the way for higher education through the information age and further strengthen our impact on society.”

The U-M community has responded by ushering a new era of faculty public engagement with the launch of the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series. These just-in-time learning experiences have stimulated global conversations on some of the most critical issues facing society such as fake news, the future of the Affordable Care Act, sleep deprivation and more. We hope you will also join us for an examination of the opioid crisis in our next Teach-Out starting Monday, Dec. 4.

Highlights from our office throughout 2017 include the launch of a new community of innovators across higher education with HAILStorm; a re-launch of Problem Roulette, expansion of ECoach, new developments in M-Write, and the addition of Problem Roulette, WILD and Healthy Minds to the Digital Innovation Greenhouse portfolio; the first MOOC co-created by students for students; as well as the first Gameful Learning Summer Institute, the public release of GradeCraft and a new MOOC supporting gameful learning in schools from our Gameful Learning Lab.

Your gift this Giving Blueday will support the Office of Academic Innovation’s work to connect faculty experts from across the university to scale personalized residential learning with digital tools, motivate learners in new ways with gameful pedagogy and expand access to U-M content for lifelong learners around the world through massive open online courses and Teach-Outs. Contributions on this day of giving will also enable multidisciplinary instructional teams of faculty, staff and students to continue to pioneer academic R&D and further Michigan’s reach beyond 6 million global learners.

Gifts may support our top priorities or a specific area of focus:

Engaged Learning – 326407
Gifts will be used to explore innovation in the residential experience to enhance learning for U-M students on campus through new technology-enhanced initiatives fostering broad and enduring participation at U-M.

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Lifelong Learning – 326408
Gifts will be used to support new modes of learning, from flipped classrooms to residential MOOCs to interdisciplinary programs, to accelerate lifelong learning and reach diverse communities of learners around the globe.

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Personalized Learning & Learning Analytics – 326409
Gifts will be used to support faculty and student research to create customized data driven, learner-centric experiences informed by learning analytics to improve student outcomes.

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Teach-Out Series – 329467
Gifts will be used to fund the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series, which provides just-in-time opportunities for learners around the world to come together with our campus community in conversation on a topic of widespread interest.

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Gifts this Giving Blueday will continue to enable faculty, staff and students to experiment with digital learning tools and platforms to enrich the residential experience for U-M students and enable new pathways for continued educational growth for more than a half a million Michigan alumni worldwide. Faculty innovators and Academic Innovation’s creative team of developers, behavioral scientists, media specialists, learning experience designers and more will continue to investigate new learning technologies to enhance and evolve the learning landscape while assessing the impact of these innovations along the way.

Your generous gift, no matter the size, will help unlock new opportunities to further faculty public engagement, support personalized, engaged and lifelong learning for the U-M community, and ultimately shape the future of higher education for the 21st century. Give to Academic Innovation.

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New ART 2.0 Features Just in Time for Course Backpacking

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


A Brief History

The ART 2.0 dashboard with a collect of bar graphsAcademic Reporting Tools, known as ART 2.0, was brought into the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) by faculty champion, Dr. August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy. ART 2.0 provides the Michigan community with views of the University’s curricular history manifested in several ways. In other words, we like to think of ART 2.0 as housing virtual decks of cards: one for courses, another for instructors, and so on. Since March 2016, CourseProfile has enabled students to view course history on things like enrollment by school or college, majors of students who took the course, pre/concurrent/post course selections, a subset of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) questions on topics like the perceived workload of the course, and how much the course increased interest in the subject. Starting in November 2016, the InstructorInfo deck has enabled students to view a subset of SET questions on topics like preparedness and clarity.

Since course cards are linked to several school and college course guides, accessible via Wolverine Access, and through the ART 2.0 homepage (, it makes it easy for students to use ART 2.0 when backpacking and registering for courses. ART 2.0 provides access to information U-M students may use to help explore what kind of courses to take, discover useful data on courses and instructors, and help decide, ultimately, what classes to enroll in based on their academic, personal, and professional goals.

Exciting New ART 2.0 Developments

The ART 2.0 search interfaceAs we continue to iterate on features for ART 2.0, we think about, and seek feedback on, what additional “card decks” would aid student course exploration and decision making. It’s with this frame in mind that we are excited to announce the next iteration in ART 2.0, MajorMetrics. MajorMetrics is a milestone for ART 2.0 by offering undergraduate major and minor information to the U-M community. Each MajorMetrics card includes a timeline of how many students have graduated with a particular degree (referred to as majors for undergraduate students) spanning the past 10 years. We have also included statistics on joint degrees (co-majors) and minors. We hope, like CourseProfile and InstructorInfo, MajorMetrics will enable students to conduct research on majors and minors they are interested in, or have already declared, using a rich data set.

In addition to MajorMetrics, we have substantially improved the search feature for ART 2.0. We now offer separate searching options by course, instructor, or degree, and the results are now presented in a more user-friendly fashion. We know giving students multiple pathways for searching courses, faculty, and majors contributes to their use of the tool, and we expect students will take advantage of these new search features as they backpack and register for Winter 2018 courses and beyond.

Like all our tools in DIG, ART 2.0 continues to evolve. Each production cycle brings fresh and innovative ways for students, faculty, and staff to view and use University data to enhance the experience and informed decision-making of curricular choices here at the University of Michigan.

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.

Inaugural Multidisciplinary Student Design Jam a Success

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


What happens when you bring together students from diverse disciplines like public health, law, and information to tackle a real-world medical policy and regulation challenge? Turns out great ideas emerge from multidisciplinary teams working under a tight timeframe (just 4 hours) on a pressing design challenge. Recently, the Office of Academic Innovation partnered with the U-M School of Public Health, School of Information, and Law School to host a multidisciplinary student design jam.

Students were put into interdisciplinary teams to ensure a diverse and well-rounded approach to tackling our design challenge. Speaking of design challenges, our event served to be both timely and relevant in partnering with Michigan Medicine faculty Jodyn Platt, MPH, Ph.D. and the Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services (MiHIN), a State of Michigan non-profit organization focused on how health information is exchanged both within and beyond states throughout the U.S. As Professor Platt and her MiHIN colleagues explained, some states opt into sharing health information, while others opt out. Relatedly, currently there is no effective infrastructure for hospitals, clinics, and other patient serving entities to easily, efficiently, and securely share health records between them. As a result, most often hospitals rely on more labor and time intensive methods like fax to share records. As people like Professor Platt and organizations like MiHIN grapple with these challenges, designing better systems for granting permission to and share health data are timely.

Professor Platt and MiHIN challenged our teams to create a tool or a policy that effectively helped manage the sharing of health records and data within and beyond the State of Michigan. Our students quickly responded to the challenge and delved thoroughly into the five major steps of the design thinking process:

Iteration: Our teams brainstormed lots of ideas in response to the design challenge first as individuals, and then as groups. They grappled with questions on how existing, and highly variable, state laws and regulations informed their design process. They communicated with one another across difference as they clarified ideas and refined ideas.

Prototyping: Once our teams settled on an idea or framework they started prototyping designs. Some of our teams envisioned creating a system for patients and healthcare providers to access and update permissions for sharing health data. Others thought about existing healthcare infrastructure like medical records systems, insurance systems, and others to add permissions and information to. Student teams received feedback and guidance from Digital Innovation Greenhouse full-time user experience, behavioral science, and data science staff on things to consider and ways to build mock-ups and wireframes.

User Feedback and Prototyping (again): Each team met with with Professor Platt, her PhD student, Gracie Trinidad, and MiHIN leadership to get feedback and implement on their prototypes.

Pitch: Student teams were given four minutes each to pitch their final prototypes to Professor Platt and MiHIN. As you can imagine four minutes is not a lot of time to thoroughly explain your process and product, however our student teams did a great job of crafting concise presentations on their prototypes and their competitive advantages.

In the end, both Professor Platt and MiHIN indicated they were thoroughly impressed with the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and overall responsiveness of each design. Professor Platt and MiHIN also offered the winning student team the opportunity to present their prototype at the Michigan Medicine sponsored Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Learning Health Systems Symposium on November 14th, 2017, and both Professor Platt and MiHIN indicated a sincere interest in continuing to work with the winning team on their idea. Events like these demonstrate the value of tackling complex challenges relying on various backgrounds, experiences, identities, and skill sets.

As students indicated as they left for the evening, they appreciated learning from and being partners with students from other schools who they would otherwise may have never met. They remarked at how worthwhile it was to iterate for a real client with a pressing problem where their designs may make a real impact, and where they were able to deeply engage researchers and professionals dealing with these exact same problems in the field.