Expanding Access and Increasing Diversity through Strategic Partnerships

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Founding Executive Director, Center for Academic Innovation

We live in a world on fire.

Now more than ever we need to model discourse and democratize discovery. With a bright flame, the better we shall see impediments to scientific progress and barriers to human connection. We illuminate pathways to problem solving. Yet we also see clearly that we cannot be a world class university, nor can we solve the problems that matter most to society, if the individuals that comprise our learning community fail to reflect the diversity of the world around us.

As we invest in new strategic partnerships at the Center for Academic Innovation — in the service of developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future — we are mindful of these goals to expand access and increase diversity. Beyond expanding access and attracting more diverse learners to our community, we must also do all we can to connect them with one another. For this we need partners that share our commitment to transform access to higher education and invest in inclusivity.

Combining a powerful engine for innovation with a fundamental commitment to our public purpose, we have seen more than 8 million enrollments from more than 190 countries in our massive open online courses launched since 2012. Through partnerships with Coursera and edX, we have promoted our belief in the interconnectedness of diversity and excellence. With passionate faculty partners and a growing team of talented higher educational professionals, the Center is making strides toward designing the future of learning through research, innovation, experimentation, and iteration.

Today, we expand our model further by forming a new partnership with UK-based social learning platform, FutureLearn. There is a lot to be excited about.

We are motivated by FutureLearn’s diverse community of nearly 10 million learners of which about 60% are women. We are encouraged by FutureLearn’s social learning focus and the organization’s deep expertise with open education at scale through its connection with the Open University. We are eager to expand our connections to a broader academic innovation network by engaging with FutureLearn’s partner institutions around the globe.

Our campus community aims to examine how teaching and learning can be enhanced by unprecedented access to digital content, ubiquitous opportunities for connection, and an explosion of data about learners, educators, and their interactions. We see in FutureLearn’s approach a strong desire to reinvent for a new age, one of humankind’s most ancient abilities. Storytelling is at the core of FutureLearn’s pedagogy. In a world where we need to learn from — and with — each other, we are eager to explore new pedagogical innovations that advance learning, facilitate problem solving, foster equity and inclusivity, and increase access and affordability. With FutureLearn, we aim to expand our community of engaged global citizens seeking to understand each other and the world around us.

We need to learn to talk to strangers.

We need to pursue new perspectives.

We need to engage each other in discovery.

Only at a place like the University of Michigan, uniquely situated amongst all institutions at the intersection of very big and very good, is it possible to dream at once wildly and pragmatically about creating an uncommon education for the common person, mobilizing and sustaining massive teaching and learning communities, and solving for the world’s most important and complex problems.

We live in a world on fire.

For a community committed to the discovery of what’s next, this may always be true. In his 1852 inaugural address as U-M’s President, Henry Tappan pointed toward our mission to understand the past, question the present, and shape the future: “Is it not rather our doctrine, that a free people cannot know too much, and that the more we know, the more strongly shall we lay hold upon freedom? The clearer, the more perfect the element of light, the better we shall see.”

We are proud of the many accomplishments and opportunities for growth resulting from our strategic partnerships with Coursera and edX, respectively. We are keen to launch a new partnership with FutureLearn and to shine a light on new opportunities to engage learners around the world to learn with and from each other.

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