Sharing Philosophies Across Institutions: 2015 EDUCAUSE Conference

We are excited to connect with innovators and discuss ideas for transforming higher education at the annual EDUCAUSE Conference this week. The conference is an opportunity for us to address community-wide issues, learn from diverse perspectives in higher education and collaborate on best practices in order to cultivate a shared future direction. James Hilton, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation, and Steven Lonn, Assistant Director of Assessment and Evaluation, will present at the conference and discuss the role of academic partnerships, learning engagement and learning analytics in higher education.

Hilton Accepting the AwardReclaiming Audacity through a shared academic vision will be the topic of James Hilton’s featured talk. Hilton will discuss how a shared academic vision across institutions will provide a collaborative environment to overcome constraints as we work towards a transformative future for higher education “that fosters the audacious vision of a differentiated, personalized, transformative education in the 21st century.” His talk will highlight how a key feature for future success in today’s complex higher education landscape will require multi-institutional collaboration.

In the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, public education was the pathway out of poverty. Education—basic research—produced transformative changes and developments like the Internet. That was an audacious vision. What is that vision now, in the 21st century? For me, it’s the notion that education can be tailored and customized for every single individual. There is not one single education that’s right for all people in the world,” said Hilton in an interview with EDUCAUSE regarding his vision for the future of academia. Hilton’s visionary leadership and advocacy of information technology, scholarly information and research in higher education will be recognized at the conference when he receives the 2015 EDUCAUSE Leadership Award, the association’s highest honor.

Lonn will present on a panel discussion about Learning Analytics, “Moving the Red Queen Forward: Maturing Learning Analytics Practices,” where he will address topics of foundational elements of effective and adaptive analytics tools and their future use in higher education. Lonn will also present during the Digital Badges for Co-Curricular Learning Engagement Poster Session, providing a comparison between U-M and Penn State on the implementation and development of digital badge technology and its ability to demonstrate the competencies and growth of learners.

EDUCAUSE 2015 sessions will be available for web streaming October 28-30.

The 3 Users Open Access Makes a Better World For in Online Courses

Adam Levick, Market Research and Analytics Analyst

Dave Malicke, Coordinator, Digital Learning Initiatives


Creating a MOOC requires shifts in pedagogy, structure, and content delivery. With Open Access (OA) week wrapping up, we wanted to highlight how important openly accessible content is for online learning, and how DEI is especially supporting the use of open access content for the benefit of three groups: learners, instructors, and researchers.


Lifelong learners in a MOOC take a course for a diverse range of reasons. They also come with diverse experiences and levels of education. The most obvious benefit of supplying these learners with Open Access materials is that they remove barriers of access and affordability, one of U-M President Schlissel’s top 6 priorities for this year.

Additionally, Open Access journal articles supplement what is being taught in the lecture videos and discussions within a MOOC, allowing for students to dive deeper into the materials and to learn from the same or similar sources as the instructors within their course. Students in MOOCs often ask for additional reading materials, and open articles are a great source of knowledge to meet their needs.


Instructors also benefit when choosing to use OA materials for their online courses. For example, since openly licensed journal articles are available for reuse and redistribution, they can be used within online courses without additional permission; a benefit of OA that helps to speed up the course creation process. Additionally, instructors that include OA materials within their online courses can rest assured that all of the students in the course will have access to the materials on the first day of class.

The added freedom provided by OA materials also allows instructors to more easily integrate materials into their own teaching and learning environments. Other faculty that access these courses are then able to learn from how the MOOC instructor structures their information and can easily build it into their own course. What may follow from this access to instructional knowledge are strong communities of practice for teaching within and even between different fields of study.


Many researchers have spoken to the challenges of scholarly communication, and how difficult it can be for the general public to access and contextualize information. By having OA journal articles included in MOOCs, the authors of the articles reach a broader and more diverse audience. Pairing this with the content’s ability to be altered, adapted, and combined with examples, public access and understanding can be greatly improved and new researchers interested in the field can be attracted.


By supporting OA in MOOCs we are supporting one of our core missions as a public research university: making research openly accessible to the public. As our momentum in creating online learning experiences with MOOCs increases, DEI will continue to support our faculty innovators in their use of OA materials for the good of learners, researchers, and faculty.


This blogpost is made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

James Hilton Receives Leadership Award

James HiltonOn October 27 James Hilton, Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation and the Dean of Libraries, will receive the 2015 Leadership Award for his visionary leadership in transforming higher education. The Leadership Award is the highest recognition of achievement given at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference and celebrates the exemplary leadership showcased by its recipients through their advocacy of information technology in higher education.

“James brings a deep understanding of the academy and broad and bold thinking to his work on some of the biggest and most difficult challenges and opportunities facing higher education and information technology. His visionary leadership and distinctive personal style serve as an inspiration for those he has worked with in the academic community.” – EDUCAUSE  

As the Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation, Hilton has helped usher in an age fueled by technology, connection, evidence and analytics at U-M. His leadership has helped centralize technology and digital programs residentially while guiding the department and the university, as a whole, to lead the way in transforming higher education through a diverse array of initiatives including experimentation with programs, technology, learning analytics, digital communities.

Through his work as University Librarian and Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost of Digital Education & Innovation at U-M, James Hilton spearheads the development of campus-wide strategies, policies and programs on educational technology. A nationally recognized leader in technology issues around higher education, he has led, championed and fostered technology initiatives that cross boundaries between institutions, and between academic and information technology units. His impact on higher education has spanned more than three decades, during which he co-founded the Sakai Project, a collaborative effort to create open software, provided early support to Internet2 NET+ and Duraspace, and helped spearhead the development of the Unizin Consortium, a partnership of universities of universities that is empowering participating institutions to exert greater control over the infrastructure, content, and data that both drive and emerge from the expanding digital learning landscape.

Throughout his career, Hilton has led the exploration and use of technology. He began his career at the University of Michigan as a faculty member within the Department of Psychology and held numerous leadership roles including Associate Provost for Academic, Information and Instructional Technology and Affairs and Interim University Librarian. Prior to his current roles at U-M, he was Vice President and Chief Information Officer at the University of Virginia. He serves on many boards, including Internet2, DuraSpace, DPN, and HathiTrust Board of Governors. His extensive published works encompass the topics of person perception, stereotypes, information technology policy and the psychology of suspicion.

At the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference 2015, Hilton will present a featured talk on Leading and Partnering Strategically Across the Academy that will address the importance of collaboration in higher education to achieve a transformative future through shared vision and actions.

Doubling Down on the Learning University and Personalization at Scale

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation

Election season is here so I suppose our expectations should be set for division, oversimplification and the fallacy of the excluded middle. When the road ahead gets complicated, as many innovative decisions and pathways tend to steer, we often force each other to reject complexity and any number of mid-range choices in favor of extreme positions. This black-and-white thinking may or may not be a feature of the modern two-party system. When applied to higher education, it is almost certainly a bug that can cause unintended behavior and scare away the very colorful innovation we aim to seed and scale.

Happily, it appears we are mostly done arguing about completion rates in massive open online courses (MOOCs), where public debate initially squeezed out all but two options, to complete or not to complete. Gradually, there was acceptance that all learners are not created equal and perhaps their motivations are in fact wonderfully varied when presented with unprecedented levels of choice. Unhappily, in its place there are rumblings of a new debate that smells like party politics. Inside Higher Ed is the latest to ask you, the digital innovator: do you hail from the house of Coursera or the house of edX?

Let us please squash this false alternative before it becomes a single issue that distracts us from positioning for the future. Not only do we risk excluding the middle, but we also obstruct our collective view of the outer bounds of discovery. The current evolution in learning – which we might remind ourselves is a great privilege to shape – is not about a choice between Coursera and edX. At Michigan we are harnessing a digital innovation strategy to understand the potential of personalization at scale in designing the learning university of the 21st century. We are thinking impractically before pragmatically layering in constraints to create learning environments that would make the resources of the university and the world available to the broadest possible range of learners. Our aim is to advance the vision of equitable and advanced education for all.

Along the way, we find great thought partners like Daphne Koller and Anant Agarwal, who share our vision of a world that harnesses technology and learning analytics to provide high quality personalization at scale. I repeat, this is not about a choice between Coursera and edX or movement from one MOOC platform to the next. There is no “one-way street” to navigate. A lateral shift is not the same thing as acceleration of experimentation. Nor is this “double dipping” which implies a risk mitigating hedge; we’re doubling down on what’s working and raising new questions as great research universities are built to do.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Daphne and Anant, two brilliant and passionate higher education leaders. They have more in common than not and maybe, just maybe, the magnitude of the opportunities and challenges facing higher education will require more than two choices.  

At the University of Michigan, we recently joined edX as a charter member, 3 years after becoming a founding partner in Coursera. As with Coursera, in edX we see a partner that is embracing some of the most difficult questions about higher education and learning. Has either organization figured it all out? Again, let’s not squeeze the middle or the outer bounds. This is the beauty of discovery and learning; figuring it out just means the arrival of a new set of even more interesting questions. We see in each partner and platform a different set of opportunities for experimentation where each set complements our digital innovation strategy to realize a new, lifelong approach to delivering a Michigan education.

At the same time, our approach to designing the learning university stretches well beyond these two partnerships. As an example, we created at U-M the Digital Innovation Greenhouse to harvest educational software innovations from Michigan’s research community and to work with local user communities to grow them to maturity, and establish pathways to scale. Combined with the Learning, Education, & Design Lab, where we investigate the design and use of learning technologies in higher education, we are able to partner with faculty innovators to make the strongest possible connections between research and teaching as we reimagine the residential education experience.  We will continue to experiment with the best learning technologies developed here at Michigan and from a rapidly evolving higher education landscape as we AIM for personalization at scale.

There are many opportunities for a University like ours to approach innovation alone. There are many others where strong partnerships with organizations like Coursera and edX or university and industry partners will help us to push the boundaries of discovery even further. It is true that joining into partnership with an organization means “doing more than filling out a sign-up sheet”. Universities shouldn’t partner with any organization without first drawing a big circle around shared vision. Overlap can be minimal but there should be evidence of a commitment to enable each other to achieve each partner’s respective objectives. We found different models in Coursera and edX, respectively. Yet given the breadth and depth of experimentation at Michigan, we found no problem identifying overlap with each organization as we continue down an ambitious path to redefine residential education.

Universities will continue to experiment. Given the potential we’ve seen from today’s technology coupled with advancements in learning analytics, it would be nearly impossible to turn back. Universities will continue to seek opportunities to realize their visions and missions in new and interesting ways as new learners challenge our once firm beliefs about the characteristics of learning communities, modes of delivery, and personalized learning potential. These experiments will accelerate and evolve, changing dramatically the ways we work within and between universities and also with new kinds of partners.

The fallacy of the excluded middle and limiting exploration of the  outer bounds of discovery promotes a myopic view of what’s happening in higher education. It also ignores the new and increased opportunities available to learners and the broadening community of innovators committed to a better future. At a time when it is so important to articulate and differentiate the value of learning and higher education we must resist the tendency to oversimplify a beautifully complex world.

Reflections of a UX Design Fellow: How I Grew as a Professional at DEI

Jasmine Hentschel, DIG UX Design Fellow Alumni

UX researchWorking with the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) provided a very fitting way to wrap up my eight years in Ann Arbor. Having completed both my undergraduate and Master’s degrees as well as some full-time work for the university, I felt well-positioned to leverage my in-depth knowledge of the campus community as a User Experience (UX) Design Fellow.

With DIG, I gained experience working on several large-scale education technologies for use in a variety of settings on campus. My methods ranged from paper prototyping, wireframing, and icon design to interviews, focus groups, usability testing, and beyond. Being the first UX person at DIG, I was given freedom to tackle problems in a myriad of ways. I completed some projects using techniques I have significant experience with, but was also at liberty to challenge myself and use less familiar techniques when they were appropriate. At first it was difficult being the only UX professional in the organization, but I quickly grew into an outspoken advocate for and committed teacher of my methods. By introducing different ways to solve problems and innovate, I got people thinking and talking about new approaches for designing great products and also reflected deeply on their importance in my own work.

Results of a Wireframing session.

Results from a Wireframing session.

DIG provided me with several avenues for growth as a professional and an academic. I was constantly challenged to justify my approaches to people unfamiliar with best practices in UX, which helped me develop confidence and versatility as both a designer and researcher. Finding ways to communicate my and my colleagues’ ideas visually was very thrilling; it’s always motivating to watch people see thoughts and ideas come to life through design. Perhaps the best part of my summer at DIG was getting to interact with the greater U-M community. I’m always enthusiastic about getting out into the field and communicating directly with current or potential users, so having such a vast array of connections across campus through other members of DEI was immensely helpful for user research.

Jasmine presenting to DEI at the end of her fellowship.

Jasmine presenting to DEI at the end of her fellowship.

I’m grateful to have spent the summer surrounded by so many professionals knowledgeable about EdTech and the rapidly evolving higher education sphere. Many people in the office acted as mentors and often shared their invaluable experiences and expertise. I’m eager to continue following the work of DEI as I move on to other professional endeavors, and can’t wait to see the wonderful ways they continue to engage the campus community in the coming years and months.


The Digital Innovation Greenhouse within DEI is seeking a User Experience Designer. For additional information and/or to apply, please visit this job description.

U of Michigan expands MOOC presence to edX