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U-M Students Inform Structures, Processes, Products and Tools at U-M and Beyond

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Students have played an active role in reimagining the transcript of the future, informing product development for edX and brainstorming new functionality for Problem Roulette – and that was just in the last month.

Throughout the month of March, the Office of Academic Innovation hosted three Student Design Jams inviting students to share their insight and expertise in the design and development process. Each design jam is a unique opportunity for students to apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to develop solutions to improve structures, processes, products and tools at the University and beyond. Students participating in these events learn new skills as well as network and partner with their peers.

In the last three weeks, students worked with representatives from the Registrar’s Office to build prototypes that visualize student transcript data in new and useful ways, shared their thoughts on credentialing and social learning with edX and presented their prototypes for new functionality in the exam study tool, Problem Roulette.

Compete or Collaborate? New functionality in Problem Roulette

Working in three separate teams, students collaborated with the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) to discuss, design and present their ideas for new functionality in Problem Roulette, a web-based practice tool that offers random-within-topic access to a large library of past exam-like problems.

Mike Wojan, User Experience Designer at DIG, and Jaee Apte, School of Information graduate student and DIG Fellow, framed the design jam with an overview of DIG, Problem Roulette and the opportunity for students to shape the tool for future learners.

“It’s really important to get in touch with the user community, like you guys, about how we can improve it,” Wojan said.

Apte set the agenda for the event and prompted the open-ended design questions central to the design jam:

  1. Imagine Problem Roulette is being used in a study group. How can you make Problem Roulette a collaborative platform where students work with each other to solve problems? Assume these students may not always be in the same physical space.
  2. Alternatively, how can you make Problem Roulette a competitive platform where students work against each other to solve problems? Assume these students may not always be in the same physical space.

She urged students to consider how new functionality would impact the user experience for students using Problem Roulette both collaboratively and competitively.

“What will a competition look like?,” Apte asked. “Are [Problem Roulette Users] challenging themselves, are they challenging their classmates?”

Students standing in front of a white board in discussion

Working with members of the DIG team, the student teams spent 90 minutes brainstorming, transferring their ideas to sticky notes, drawing wireframes and iterating on their design ideas. After their ideas for collaborative and/or competitive features in Problem Roulette were solidified, teams prepared a brief presentation to showcase their prototypes to their fellow students as well as faculty and staff interested in their design solutions.

Ideas shared by the teams included developing student profiles and collaborative study groups, real-time chat functionality, videos and competitive leaderboards. One group incorporated gamification in their design by representing student progress by various forms of transportation including by foot, bike, car and airplane. In this team’s prototype, “bus stops” represented opportunities for students to help their peers who are “stuck” on various questions in the platform.

“We want to demonstrate a competition in a collaborative way,” one student said.

Three students presenting to a large group in front of a screen with an image titled "PR Tennis"In the spirit of competition, students who developed “Problem Roulette Tennis” were named the “winning” team with their idea to let students accumulate points by “serving” questions to other students. Students who receive a “serve” are challenged to provide the correct answer and counter with a question of their own. Students said this question volley would continue until a player answers incorrectly and a winner is determined.

“We think that if this is a game, it will make students want to practice and study more,” one of the student presenters said.

Interactivity, Social Learning and Digital Credentials in edX

Earlier in the month, students had a chance to work directly with members of the edX product development team to share their perspectives on social learning and digital credentialing.

The design jam took place one day after the Academic Innovation Forum to Broaden the University of Michigan where President Schlissel announced the new Teach-Out Series and Dr. Anant Agarwal, edX CEO, shared a keynote on the digital transformation of higher education.

Iain Kennedy, Vice President of Product Development at edX, shared the five-year history of the online learning platform and its partnership with leading institutions to provide “the best education in the world available to everyone in the world.”

“We looking to get any insights you have,” he said. “These are wide-open questions that are important to solve in order to satisfy our mission:”

  1. How can online education platforms increase interactivity and communication among learners? How can they better facilitate social learning opportunities and/or online learning communities?
  2. How might we record online learning differently? What makes a digital credential – like a badge or certificate – meaningful and useful to a learner? How can we maximize the utility and value of digital credentials?

Students sitting around a table in discussion with edX and Academic Innovation representatives

Students shared their insight directly with representatives from edX and Academic Innovation staff to guide future product development in edX. Prior to these individual discussions, Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab, said the design jam was an opportunity to bring new voices into the design process for edX.

Transcripts for the Future

How should student transcripts evolve in the digital age? Do transcripts accurately reflect a student’s journey throughout the University?

These were a few of the questions posed at another Student Design Jam lead by Paul Robinson, Associate Vice Provost and University Registrar, and Lisa Emery, Associate Registrar for Faculty and Staff Services, from the U-M Office of the Registrar.

Robinson said he was “passionate about making these documents better” and was looking for student input about ways the to improve traditional, paper transcripts.

“It certainly does not reflect enough, the good work and experiences students have,” he said.

Emery provided an overview and examples of current transcripts at U-M noting its lack of depth in its current form.

“It shows what classes did you take, what grades did you get and what’s your [grade point average],” she said.

Three students sitting in discussion with Dr. Tim McKayDr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Principal Investigator for DIG , said the student transcript is often thought of as the “permanent record” for a student’s time at the university. He said the the transcript reflects the “story” of student’s experience that is largely focused on a student’s final grades rather than their extracurricular experiences.

He later called grades a “bad measure of learning” and a student’s grade point average is a measure of performance, suggesting transcripts should better reflect the intellectual breadth, disciplinary depth, effort, engagement and range of experiences throughout a student’s time at the University.

“We measure lots of different things, but we choose a very limited subset of those right now,” McKay said.

To help students get started, Dr. Chris Teplovs, Lead Developer for DIG and Adjunct Lecturer at the U-M School of Information, asked students to rethink the layout of a student transcript beyond a chronological list of courses.

“Maybe there’s room for a deeper analysis of your entire course experience,” he said.

He proposed alternatives such as grouping a student’s course history by subject, scaling by performance or organizing courses to assess the disciplinary diversity of a student’s academic history.

Dr. Benjamin Koester, Learning Analytics Research Specialist Senior at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, also shared an alternative visualization of the student transcript as a timeline highlighting changes in a student’s grade point average.

“The metric isn’t how well did I do at the end, but how much did I improve throughout my time here,” he said.

Students were then asked to brainstorm explore the following design questions:

  1. What kinds of data do students need in order to make informed choices about their enrollment in future courses or programs?
  2. How can course data and student performance be represented differently to optimize for accessibility, relevance, user experience, etc.?
  3. How might we break away from the restrictions of a paper document (i.e., linear, static) to produce an interactive, dynamic visualization of transcript data?

The insights students shared individually within small groups will guide ongoing discussions at the Office of the Registrar to modernize and transform the transcript of the future. In addition, the DIG team will soon pilot new visualizations to reflect student learning in Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0), a digital tool to help students, faculty and administration make more informed decisions by presenting U-M course and academic program data in an intuitive visual format.

These valuable insights will shape the design and development process at the both the University of Michigan and edX to better help students review class material, craft a social learning environment for learners around the world and visualize transcript data in new and more useful ways. We encourage students to join us at future Academic Innovation events by checking our event page at

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