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The Academic Innovation Initiative: What are Faculty Excited about this Term?

Sarah Moncada, Academic Innovation Initiative Project Coordinator

The Academic Innovation Initiative continues “full steam ahead” in 2017 as the university celebrates its bicentennial year. The Initiative’s faculty steering committee has been working to design projects and structures that enable ongoing academic innovation across the university.

In recent months, faculty design groups have hosted informal data-gathering and planning sessions with student, faculty, staff and community collaborators. Design groups convened conversations on the Transcript of the Future, Accessibility, Lifelong Learning Opportunities, Communities of Practice and Extracurricular Learning Experiences, with the goal of collecting feedback on the design of larger events and experiments.

The steering committee members are excited now to launch new projects based on the community input they gathered in the Fall. Here is what some of the faculty are focusing on this term:


Barry FishmanDr. Barry Fishman
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Education and Information in the School of Information and School of Education

Dr. Barry Fishman believes a large benefit of the initiative is that it will encourage more instructors to think about academic innovation and to experiment with new practices in their classrooms. He offers an example: “I’d like to see increasing numbers of faculty on campus consider the ideas behind gameful learning and think about how they can create learning environments that are more intrinsically engaging for learners.”

In May 2017, Fishman will co- facilitate a workshop on micro-credentials with Dr. Stephanie Teasley, Research Professor in the School of Information. The workshop will explore the use of digital badges and other alternative credentials as evidence for college admission. Fishman asks: “How might we expand access to a Michigan education using nontraditional measures of college readiness?”


Elisabeth GerberDr. Elisabeth R. Gerber
Jack L. Walker, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy in the Ford School of Public Policy

One of Dr. Elisabeth Gerber’s high-priority goals is to create opportunities for alumni and other outside stakeholders to engage with current residential students. She believes that when students and alumni work together on a project, both groups benefit from exposure to different perspectives and expertise. Such collaborations offer students valuable networking opportunities, and they allow alumni to meaningfully reconnect with their alma mater.

Gerber is co-designing an event where representatives from across the university will brainstorm additional ways for students to experience transformation and purpose in the classroom.


Anita GonzalezDr. Anita Gonzalez
Professor of Theatre and Drama within the School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Dr. Anita Gonzalez would like the initiative to generate interest in academic innovation with additional members of the U-M community, beyond the “usual players,” and she hopes this year’s events and activities will reach new faculty constituents.

For Gonzalez, a key goal of the initiative is to expand the university’s outreach to learners in rural Michigan and ethnically diverse communities within the state. She believes in a hybrid approach—with the growing number of online educational offerings, face-to-face connections are still important in reaching underrepresented populations and facilitating their access to the university’s resources.

Gonzalez is thrilled to develop her MOOC, “Storytelling for Social Change”, which introduces the power of storytelling and performance as mechanisms for promoting community dialogue and sharing cultural heritages.


Gautam KaulDr. Gautam Kaul
Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Finance in the Ross School of Business

Dr. Gautam Kaul is working with the Fostering Broad and Enduring Participation Design Group to build and launch a program for alumni education and engagement. They will gather community input for the project at a Fall 2017 design jam event during which diverse teams will work together to develop new ideas for alumni learning experiences.

Kaul believes online learning opportunities can facilitate more meaningful and sustained alumni engagement: “My passion, and most of my current work, is to use MOOCs to reimagine and change residential education. I feel that enables me to propose and create programs that can also serve our alumni.”


Tim McKayDr. Tim McKay
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Education in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

As the Initiative moves forward, Dr. Tim McKay reminds us that academic innovation is difficult to achieve: “Not only do we have to create successful, effective new things, but we have to do it in a system built with a conservative focus on sustaining the old things.”

He believes the Initiative’s steering committee must create three or four really substantial experimental opportunities by the end of this year-long effort. He adds, “These will be spaces, places, and organizational structures that actively encourage students, faculty, and staff to help us recreate the research university for the 21st century.”

McKay is particularly excited about the Initiative’s collaboration with the Office of the Registrar to reimagine the academic transcript: “It is time to explore completely new, very different ways of representing the college experience.”

The faculty steering committee welcomes collaborators as they help design the best academic environment for the third century of the University of Michigan.

There are many ways to get involved with the Academic Innovation Initiative:

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