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

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab
@rkniemer

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator
@scsutter

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 academicinnovation@umich.edu. 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
@devaneygoblue

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.

Spotlight on the Simulations Community of Practice

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator
@scsutter

The Simulations Community of Practice is an interdisciplinary group of U-M staff and faculty who meet regularly to discuss the development and implementation of simulation-based teaching tools. Participants explore the benefits and challenges of simulation activities, as well as share experiences and resources.

This community of practice developed out of an open, informal conversation on simulation pedagogies hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation in March 2017. The conversation generated an abundance of questions, concerns and recommendations about the use of simulations in teaching, and participants expressed interested in having ongoing, more in-depth discussions. Since then, the group has met several times to examine a range of topics, including simulation types, facilitation best practices, learning goals and debrief techniques.

Meetings will continue in the 2017-2018 academic year. The Simulations Community of Practice is kicking off the semester with a session on Wednesday, September 27 from 1 – 2 p.m. at the Office of Academic Innovation (8th Floor, Hatcher Graduate Library South). At this gathering, participants will discuss the special considerations needed for planning, facilitating and debriefing simulation activities that involve sensitive topics or contexts.

We welcome all instructors and staff who create and/or facilitate simulation activities for the classroom, or who are interested in doing so, to join our group. Please email me, Sarah Moncada (scsutter@umich.edu), if you would like to be added to the email list.

Here is a brief overview of the group’s activities to date:

Initial Gathering at Innovation Hour

Three individuals in discussion at a high table with other small group discussions in the background.Faculty and staff from a range of units, including Public Policy, Nursing, Medicine, Education, Information, Engineering, ITS and Academic Innovation, convened for an informal conversation about simulation activities and pedagogies. Participants gained a sense of the tremendous range of simulations that take place at U-M, from the use of chicken skin as a simulation for cutaneous surgery to a customized digital platform for simulating multi-role government policy decisions.

Despite the diversity of activities, disciplines and technologies, attendees agreed on what drives their use of simulations. Several noted the value of simulations as safe spaces where students can make and learn from mistakes. Students can experiment with their decisions and approaches in hands-on environments. Learners’ active engagement–especially when combined with post-simulation debrief or reflection activities–leads to a deeper understanding of systems, processes and skills.

There was also consensus among practitioners about the challenges of education-based simulation activities. Many commented on the special difficulties of evaluating student learning in these instructional contexts, as well as the challenge of managing the open-endedness or variability inherent to many simulations. Attendees expressed a desire to develop a greater understanding of simulation-related tools and activities from other disciplines, noting that U-M simulation designers and facilitators ought to come together to discuss best practices and necessary skills for conducting simulations responsibly and effectively.

Community of Practice: First Steps

Several individuals seated around a large conference room table.At the first meeting of the Community of Practice, attendees began by compiling a list of simulation activities that take place at U-M. Again there was a wide range, from small-group lean manufacturing paper-cutting simulations in the College of Engineering to large-scale empathy-building poverty simulations hosted by the Sociology Department and the School of Public Health.

In an attempt to assign these activities to categories or types, it became clear that individuals from different fields use different terminology to describe simulations and have contrasting understandings of what constitutes a simulation. The group then discussed distinctions, posing questions to each other such as, “What differentiates a simulation from a case study?” and “Do simulations always involve role-playing?” Several agreed that simulations involve collective decision-making of some kind, and that there must be a variable outcome–participants’ decisions within the simulation will change the experience and results.

Demo of PolicyMaker

Elisabeth Gerber standing in front of a computer lab pointing to a projector screen.At the community’s June gathering, Dr. Elisabeth Gerber , Jack L. Walker, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy in the Ford School of Public Policy, facilitated a demo of PolicyMaker, a digital platform for creating and implementing customized, interactive role-playing simulations. Gerber walked through the different functionalities of the tool from an instructor perspective, including how to create and manage a simulation scenario, assign roles to participants, and navigate within the platform.

Attendees of the demo were assigned participant roles within one of Gerber’s public policy scenarios to get a feel for how students might use the tool in an educational context. PolicyMaker is designed to facilitate and enhance an in-person simulation experience. The platform contains profile pages for students to learn about their roles, messaging  functions to communicate with other participants, calendars and voting tools to organize actions and decisions within the simulation, and a “news feed” to view outcomes and updates. All these features support the engaged, face-to-face interactions that take place in the classroom during a simulation.

The demo closed with a conversation about the potential use cases for PolicyMaker and the flexibility of the tool to work with a variety of scenarios and learning goals. Gerber encouraged participants to think about how the digital platform might operate in different academic domains and contexts. For more details, check out Michigan Daily reporter Nisa Khan’s feature on the PolicyMaker demo session.

Learning Goals and Debrief Techniques

Rachel Niemer pointing to a hand-drawn diagram on a whiteboard.By the final meeting of the summer, the Simulations Community of Practice had grown to include representatives from U-M Libraries, the LSA National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Ross School of Business, as well as faculty and staff from U-M’s Dearborn campus and Michigan State University.

The meeting opened with acknowledgement that a well-facilitated debrief session is the most instructive part of a simulation. It is important for students to have an opportunity to review, discuss, and reflect upon the simulation experience after it is over. In order to design effective debrief activities, facilitators must have a grasp of their learning goals and expectations for the simulation.

Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, noted that learning goals for simulations can vary widely. For example, the learning goals of a healthcare simulation, in which medical students are acting as doctors and performing simulated versions of tasks they will carry out in their professional lives are quite different from those of a poverty simulation, participants are intentionally placed in unfamiliar positions and situations as they navigate low-income challenges. These simulations would therefore require different debrief activities.

Others in attendance agreed, adding that it is important to identify whether the simulation has learning goals related to mastery learning and skill development or whether the primary focus is on empathy-building or social experience. In mastery-based healthcare simulations, the debrief may need to be immediate and action-oriented, whereas with empathy-building social simulations the participants may need time to “cool down” and process before an open-ended debrief conversation about participants’ reactions and key takeaways.

What’s Next?

The Simulations Community of Practice will be starting the school year with the September 27 discussion of special considerations for simulations involving sensitive topics or contexts.

Additional meetings this fall will focus on topics such as ways to effectively describe expectations to students and consideration of participants’ social identities when assigning roles and facilitating role-playing simulations. Be sure to check out our events page for details about upcoming gatherings of the Simulations Community of Practice.

The Office of Academic Innovation Gives Back to the Ann Arbor Community

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

The Office of Academic Innovation values innovating, creating new opportunities, and engaging with the local community. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for the Academic Innovation staff to volunteer with Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor, it seemed like a natural fit.

Giving back to the community is an area in which the Academic Innovation team feels strongly. All members of the team were surveyed earlier this year to gauge their interest in volunteering within the Ann Arbor community and the responses were overwhelmingly supportive. “I feel fortunate to be a part of an office that values service and an office that creates opportunities for us to serve together,” said Megan Taylor, Research Associate within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

Food Gatherers, Michigan’s first food rescue program, is a not-for-profit organization established in 1988 founded by Zingerman’s Delicatessen. 30 staff members, along with more than 7,000 volunteers help to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste from more than 300 local sources including food retailers, restaurants, and food wholesalers. Volunteer opportunities are very hands-on. Food Gatherers operates a working warehouse, moving an average of 9 tons of food each day as well as a busy kitchen cooking and serving hot meals seven days a week.

Groups of 17 and 8 volunteered on Thursday, July 20 and Tuesday, August 8 respectively. Each group was made up of members of all three Academic Innovation labs: the Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL), the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) and the Gameful Learning Lab (GLL).

During their time at the Food Gatherers warehouse, Academic Innovation staff members packaged dry goods to be shipped out to food pantries and sorted through donated produce. Staff members were also given a tour of the facility and briefed on the history of the organization prior to volunteering. Mike Daniel, Director of Policy and Operations for the Office of Academic Innovation added, “Having an opportunity to learn more about and contribute to the great work being done at Food Gatherers was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget.”

Multiple men and women of the Academic Innovation team posing humorously while holding volunteer supplies. Mike Wojan, UX Designer within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse had some excellent things to say about his experience. “I was very impressed with the Food Gatherers operation and the great people who work there. It felt good to spend a couple hours giving back to the community in a meaningful, tangible way. Seeing how much food we were able to save and repackage for others in the community was really rewarding.”

The Office of Academic Innovation plans to lend a helping hand to other not-for-profit organizations in the future, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Amy Homkes- Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse summed up the volunteer experience by saying, “What struck me about volunteering at Food Gatherers was the wonderful intersection of giving and getting. We gave our time to a discrete project where real progress was made. We gained an opportunity to build team while enjoying each other’s company.”