What Does ‘Personalization at Scale’ Mean?

Timothy McKay,  Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Director of the LSA Honors Program & DIG Principle Investigator


Here is an early answer extracted verbatim from the founding proposal for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, written in August 2014. It provides a good starting point for a longer discussion of personalization at scale. As our thinking on this topic evolves, we will follow up with additional posts.

When students feel their education is personalized – when it’s right for them, aware of and sensitive to their background, interests, and goals – they respond with engagement; engagement which emerges naturally as a result of relevance, attention, and a sense of belonging.

For nearly two centuries, University of Michigan faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to provide excellent, personal, appropriate educational experiences to all of our students. But today’s student body is larger and more diverse than ever. Too often our students experience the university as faceless, inattentive, and unaware. Communications they receive are plainly generic (“Welcome to Michigan!”). Faculty fail to relate the material they teach to student interests. Too many students find themselves alone in classes without a peer who understands their life experience, and too often no one notices when a student is in trouble and has stopped attending all their classes. In the 1980’s, it was difficult to do better. How could we keep track of and respond to the rich individuality of all these students? How could an overbooked advisor notice every student’s change of course? How could a faculty member know that one of their 250 students was skipping all of their classes?  Information technology, in this as in so many areas, opens new possibilities. It allows us to gather, with little additional effort, extensive data about every student’s background and experience, current state, and future goals.

This information can be made available in creative, appropriate ways to people: informing faculty, advisors, and the students themselves, allowing them to base their actions on rich data, rather than anecdote. By providing access to evidence useful for decision-making, it can allow each person to learn from the experience of all, rather than just the few who they happen to talk to. Information technology allows us to use this information directly as well, but still in precise, and personal ways. It allows us to coach each student toward success in ways which are aware of their current state, sensitive to their goals and identity, and delivered in the voices of faculty, staff, and prior students. Eventually, it will allow us to adapt the work we ask students to do, recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and focusing effort on areas in need of growth.

Over the last three years, the University of Michigan has taken important steps toward using data to personalize education and more deeply engage students. Using extensive external support and targeted internal funding, faculty-led research teams have built and tested technologies which present students, faculty, and advisors with rich data to inform their choices, applications which provide effective electronic coaching to thousands of students, and systems which allow students greater flexibility in the work they do and help them to understand the consequences of their choices. These ideas are not vapor-ware; they have all been realized in significant trials.

It is time to find a way to make these experimental innovations everyday practice. To claim and retain leadership in the use of digital engagement technology on our campus, we have to develop efficient, attractive ways to take the promising sprouts which emerge from research groups and grow them to maturity. This proposal seeks support to pilot a Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). This three year DIG pilot will grow a series of existing digital engagement innovations from the research labs they have outgrown, carry them across the innovation ‘valley of death’, and deliver them to ITS as infrastructural tools which can be used campus-wide. In doing this, we will achieve both the immediate goal of making existing research tools much more widely available and the longer term goal of demonstrating the importance of this greenhouse approach to the development of 21st century digital engagement tools.

New Specialization Intro to Finance: Valuation and Investing

Professor Gautam Kaul at the Ross School of Business has created a new series of online courses called Introduction to Finance: Valuation and Investing.

This series of online courses (Specialization) will consist of 4 integrated courses that build up to a capstone project, all with an applied nature, which enable learners to understand and apply the principles of valuation to many of the personal and professional decisions we confront on a daily basis. Topics include time value of money and decision making, risk-return, bonds, stocks, alternative methods for valuation, as well as valuing projects and companies.

This Specialization builds upon Gautam’s experience leading the Introduction to Finance online course (which has reached over 800K students since 2012), teaching an innovative Global Finance course in the Executive Education program, and development of digital assets for the Master of Business Administration program’s Fast Track in Finance curriculum.

Enrollment is currently open for the first course in the specialization, which will begin on September 15. For additional information and/or to enroll, please visit https://www.coursera.org/course/timevalueofmoney. We also invite you to join the conversation for the course by using the course hashtag #UMFIE (Finance Is Everywhere).


Professor Gautam Kaul
Professor of Finance & Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration
Ross School of Business
University of Michigan

Qin Lie
Ross School of Business
University of Michigan

Design Based Research

The Digital Education & Innovation Team


“When you begin thinking about design, from the very beginning you should think about designing for scalability and sustainability. A lot of times we use our classroom-based or context-based or design-based research to learn important things about learning and teaching, but we aren’t really thinking what will happen when the project ends…Design-based research is a way forward, a way to take research in a very practical sense from the laboratory to the real world and create things of meaning and value that will live in the real world and inform the work that we have to do as academics building better futures.” – Barry Fishman – Professor, School of Information & School of Education

Through our work with faculty, administrators, faculty and students at U-M, we’re often asked about how work that starts in the DEI Lab, the LED Lab, and/or the Digital Innovation Greenhouse can translate into making an impact at U-M and within the world. Our partners are often curious about how to design projects in the earliest stages to ensure this successful transition later on. We asked Barry Fishman, Chair of the Digital Innovation Advisory Group and creator of GradeCraft, to share his perspectives on these questions, including how he approaches these challenges within digital education and innovation at U-M.

View this video for more insights from Barry Fishman:

U-M’s Medical School: Digital Experimentation

The Digital Education & Innovation Team

“We’ve been increasingly trying to change the idea of what a class is.” Ted Hanss, Medical School Chief Information Officer

Given the typical structure of Medical School curriculums, which includes fourth year students spread around the country, colocated classrooms can be a difficult proposition. With this challenge in mind the Medical School at U-M has been rethinking the classroom, including experimenting with modular content and video conferencing to bring students together in one place. Simultaneously, many faculty are experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by taking content from the classroom and exploring how it can be enriched by sharing with broader audiences. Four of these courses are being offered on October 5 and are currently open for enrollment:

Instructional Methods in Health Professions Education – Opens teaching and instructional resources surrounding human care up for health professionals to re-mix and reuse.

Teaching and Assessing Clinical Skills – Improves feedback, clinical teaching, and assessment of clinical skills.

Introduction to Cataract Surgery – Prepares students with the skills they need for the OR, from preoperative evaluation to postoperative care.

Sleep: Neurobiology, Medicine, and Society – Provides personally and professionally relevant up-to-the-date information on the biological, personal, and societal relevance of sleep.

Interested in learning more about how Michigan’s Medical School is experimenting with digital education? Hear more from Ted Hanss:

Bringing a Global Community to Michigan

The Digital Education & Innovation Team

Margaret Wooldridge, Professor of Chemical Engineering, created a MOOC in 2013 called Introduction to Thermodynamics: Transferring Energy from Here to There that has generated a significant amount of global exposure over the five sessions that it has run. Much like the subtitle of her course, Wooldridge has been able to transfer a University of Michigan experience from here on campus to a global audience while at the same time gathering experience and examples to bring back to U-M.

A major benefit Wooldridge sees from offering these virtual experiences is a path for learners from around the world to become more involved with the University. An alumnus of the course highlighted how experiencing this course may lead him to get a degree U-M:

“Thanks a lot for this wonderful course by Prof.Woolridge and also to University of Michigan for this wonderful opportunity to refresh my knowledge in Thermodynamics during my free time . As I have finished my Bachelor’s degree recently , this course helped me in various aspect and hope I can plan to save energy in near future. And also I am planning to do my Masters degree (M.S.E in Chemical Engineering) in University of Michigan (Ann Arbor campus ) as well 🙂 “

– Winter 2015 Thermodynamics Student

Learn more about how Wooldridge was able to develop material for a global audience, highlight work being done at U-M, and create a more globally aware environment on campus.

Interested in taking this course? The next session begins Oct. 5th: Sign up here.