Accelerating Digital Innovation and Transforming 200 Courses

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation


Accelerating our Digital Education & Innovation Strategy

The University of Michigan is accelerating its digital education and innovation strategy to shape the future of learning.  Aligned with President Schlissel’s priorities to enhance U-M excellence, we aim to provide U-M’s lifelong learning community with the best and most forward looking education available. By harnessing technology and learning analytics to make the resources of the university available to the broadest possible range of learners we are focused on a vision of equitable and advanced education for all.

At the center of our digital education and innovation strategy is a collaborative partnership model designed to enable faculty-led innovation. This model, which President Schlissel recently described as the ‘best in the academy’ focuses resources on innovative experiments designed to transform residential learning by creating inclusive learning environments and driving toward personalization at scale.

As part of our commitment to shaping the future of learning and redefining residential education, we are pleased to join in the celebration of the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial with a commitment to transform at least 200 courses by 2017 for pre-college, residential, and lifelong learners. We are reimagining what it means to serve the people of Michigan and the world through public residential education at a preeminent research university by harnessing digital learning pedagogy and tools and learning analytics to provide high quality personalization at scale for the 21st century. We invite proposals from faculty across all 19 colleges and schools.

Personalization at scale is a major opportunity of our time. We understand the benefits of the Oxford tutorial method and the reach of massive open online courses. We are beginning to understand the potential of gameful design, learning analytics, blended learning, personalized communication, modularized content, and instruction as a team sport. We know that diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to academic excellence at U-M. We know that the strongest possible connections between research and teaching help our students to think creatively about solving global challenges. To celebrate our Bicentennial, we aim to transform at least 200 courses to create personalized, engaged, and lifelong learning experiences for our growing community.


Unlocking New Opportunities in 2015-16

While there is much to look forward to in our Bicentennial year, the 2015-16 academic year is off to a fast start.  Through support from our DEI Academic Innovation Fund, and leveraging expertise from our three labs, we have increased our scope of experimentation in order to test new methods of harnessing digital learning and learning analytics and find pathways to scaling the most promising innovation.

To date the DEI Academic Innovation Fund has seeded more than 50 faculty-led initiatives in partnership with 16 of our 19 schools and colleges, and those partnerships have helped U-M to reach over 3.7 million global lifelong learners. As a result, we have already produced a wide range of experiments designed to engage pre-college learners, personalize learning for residential learners, and reach and engage lifelong learners including our alumni.

With each new initiative U-M strengthens our understanding of what is possible in a world where personalization at scale is within reach. With a first wave of experimentation and evaluation well underway, we look to give more shape to the future of learning at Michigan. We have launched several new efforts in order to increase the number, range, and impact of faculty-led innovations designed to provide the best and most forward-looking education to pre-college, residential and lifelong learners. In particular, we have:

  1. Set a goal for our Academic Innovation Fund to transform 200 U-M courses by 2017 by harnessing technology and learning analytics to provide high quality personalization at scale.
  2. Launched a faculty-led initiative spearheaded by the Digital Innovation Advisory Group (DIAG) to develop a proposal for a new model for residential learning that leverages all we are learning from experimentation at the intersection of digital learning and learning analytics.
  3. Launched the Academic Innovation at Michigan (AIM) series of discussions and activities to explore, debate, design, and realize a transformed residential experience.
  4. Expanded our experimentation with digital learning and learning analytics by forming a strategic partnership with edX, a global nonprofit online learning destination. Along with our partnerships with Coursera and NovoEd and as a founding member of Unizin, U-M is able to extend its reach and ability to shape the future of higher education.
  5. Accelerated the translation of digital engagement tools from innovation to adoption and infrastructure through the launch of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

There are many ways to get involved. Please join us in shaping the future of learning at U-M and beyond.

Giving Blueday

The Digital Education & Innovation Team


This Tuesday we are excited to participate in the second annual Giving Blueday, a university-wide event that provides the opportunity for anyone to show their support for the University of Michigan. Giving Blueday coincides with Giving Tuesday, the national movement to kick off the giving season. As a participant in this university-wide endeavor we are launching online giving to further the resources for exploring and redefining higher education.

Through this effort, we hope to increase opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to experiment with digital learning and learning analytics to redefine public residential education at a 21st century research university. DEI initiatives are designed to unlock and enable personalized, engaged, and lifelong learning opportunities for the U-M community and learners around the world. We are deeply committed to positioning U-M for the future by harnessing digital learning and learning analytics to redefine residential education, create inclusive learning environments, and personalize education at scale.

By participating in Giving Blueday we hope to increase funding for more opportunities as we continue to advance a vision of equitable and advanced education by harnessing the power of 19 schools on campus while leveraging data analytics and innovative technology to scale up the educational experience through flipped classrooms, enabling faculty experimentation and continuing to pioneer digital education by developing MOOCs that have reached over 3.7 million global learners since 2012.

We’ve also taken this opportunity to learn more from students about the impact DEI has had on their educational experiences, as well as hear from members of the DEI team. Here are some of the many ways DEI is helping to shape the future of learning at U-M:

We are inspired on a daily basis to provide high quality learning experiences for residential learners, extend high quality content and learning experiences to a diverse community of global learners while continuously experimenting on ways to remove barriers and challenge assumptions about teaching and learning. For Giving Blueday, we are committing 24 hours as a time to raise support and awareness for the continued innovation and exploration that position the University to provide a truly differentiated educational experience for pre-college, residential, and global lifelong learners. We encourage everyone to join us in our continued endeavors to explore, test, and innovate as we continue to redefine higher education. Join DEI in making an impact: DEI Online Giving



Prometheus and the Pendulum: Why the University of Michigan Joined edX

This article was originally posted on 11/23/2015 on EvoLLLution

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation

Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences

Last week I had the opportunity to represent the University of Michigan at the edX Global Forum in Washington DC.  The multi-day forum opened at a reception in the awe-inspiring Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences. More than four hundred higher education leaders representing many of the world’s greatest universities gathered beneath the dome.

A month earlier we strengthened the University of Michigan’s commitment to shaping the future of learning in the digital era when we announced our new strategic partnership with edX. Michigan has been a pioneer in digital learning and learning analytics and has reached more than 3.6 million lifelong learners through our massive open online courses (MOOCs) since joining Coursera as a founding partner in 2012. Given the success of our partnership with Coursera, several Forum participants wanted to know what led the University of Michigan to decide to partner with edX, what we hope to gain from the partnership and how students and global learners ultimately benefit.

As I described our commitment to redefining residential education, providing personalized learning at scale and creating inclusive learning environments, I couldn’t help but notice Prometheus and the pendulum, two great symbols of transformative learning.

I imagine anyone who enters the Great Hall at the National Academy of the Sciences might quickly find a source of inspiration. I was born and raised in a university town and have spent my career working with institutions committed to discovery. So for me such an engrossing space, decorated with an illustrated history of science and trumpeting the advent of reason, is sacred.

A mural painting on the north wall of the Great Hall shows Prometheus lighting his torch at the chariot of the sun god Helios to bring fire to Earth for the benefit of mankind. Below Albert Herter’s mural is a quote from Aeschylus’s play Prometheus Bound describing the transformative effect of science and learning.  As the reception carried on, I looked often at Prometheus whose fire provided a warm reminder that the current digital era in higher education can be truly transformative if we have the foresight and confidence to act audaciously.

The mythological story of Prometheus and his gift to mankind is fairly well known. I looked at the outstretched arm of this Greek god, who taught humankind to “discern the risings of the stars and their settings” and continued to exchange stories with edX partners who share Michigan’s commitment to shaping the future of learning. But perhaps it is a lesser known deity that helps to complete the metaphor. While Prometheus is typically interpreted as foresight, history has been less kind to his brother Epimetheus, traditionally interpreted as hindsight. Will university leaders identify the underlying conditions that call most for our attention and extend the outstretched arms of the academy to transform learning around the world?

Later in the Forum edX CEO Anant Agarwal exclaimed that today’s higher education community is now “operating in internet time.” There is no question that today’s technology provides new light with which to view, explore and impact the world. It is also clear that there are many paths forward. With foresight Prometheus is a hero to mankind. With hindsight Epimetheus is depicted as foolish. A great challenge for higher education today is to balance foresight and a willingness to act against the cost of moving slowly.  Today’s stakes are high. We look carefully at partners to make certain that they share our commitment to unlocking the talent and passion of learners.

At the center of the Great Hall a sixty-foot Foucault pendulum is suspended from the eye of the dome. Originally conceived as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth, the pendulum reminds us of the tools we need to push the boundaries of discovery.

At Michigan we’ve embraced a digital innovation strategy that harnesses all we are learning from experimentation at the intersection of digital learning and learning analytics in order to redesign the residential education experience for this century and for this crowded and connected world. We see our partnership with edX as an opportunity to strengthen our ability to design and create far more inclusive environments for learning. Such environments will make the resources of the university available to the broadest possible range of learners, advancing the vision of equitable and advanced education for all.  As United States Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith addressed the Forum she succinctly described this potential for MOOCs and other digital learning innovations: “Inclusion is innovation.”

Any good strategy needs a north star. For the University of Michigan, digital innovation is about reimagining residential learning and developing inclusive learning environments to enable student choice, catalyze personalization at scale, and ultimately to enable lifelong learners to change the world.

In October, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel challenged our community to make the strongest possible connections between research and teaching and to think creatively about solving global challenges by bringing to bear the intellectual power of 19 outstanding schools and colleges to approach problems from every angle and every perspective. At the Forum, Agarwal and Smith encouraged partner institutions to “become more porous.” Academic excellence and innovation together enable inclusive learning environments and high-quality personalization at scale.

For Michigan, becoming more porous means unlocking personalized pathways to lifelong learning for the U-M community and learners around the world. We must have the foresight to harness technology and learning analytics to create more inclusive learning environments and share the torch with humankind. Our strategic partnerships with edX and Coursera align closely with these values. To choose the path of Prometheus is consistent with the Michigan saga. We celebrate the past, question the present, and position for the future. As with the pendulum, we must understand and utilize the tools and platforms that help us make sense of a complex world as we continue to deliver an uncommon education for humankind.

I returned to Ann Arbor later in the week to visit with Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera, who spoke about the future of MOOCs with U-M faculty, students and staff as part of our Academic Innovation at Michigan (AIM) series. Similar to Agarwal and Smith, Koller reminded us that there is much still to do. As a higher education community we have already reached millions of global learners. This first major wave of experimentation has revealed the magnitude of opportunity to transform lives and push the bounds of discovery.

We believe edX and Coursera provide very different models with different sweet spots for experimentation with digital learning and learning analytics. In edX we have identified a partner committed to open source, enhancing teaching and learning on campus, partnering to build new learning tools, and advancing teaching and learning through research. Both edX and Coursera are deeply committed to increasing access to high-quality education for global learners. Our own university commitment to academic excellence, innovation and inclusion requires that we continue to expand the sandbox for faculty-led experimentation in order to understand and realize the potential of personalization at scale.

The first few years of MOOCs led us to rethink the way we teach, to develop courses with global reach, and to meet the needs of global and largely self-directed learners. We have entered a MOOC 2.0 world. As we further expand our experimentation with digital learning and learning analytics, we aim to accelerate the adoption of new digital pedagogy, develop courses that go beyond global reach to provide global perspective, and to create far more inclusive learning environments to meet the needs of diverse global learners.

Now that MOOCs are here to stay we can begin to answer a question of mythological proportions: Can we leverage MOOCs to solve some of the most challenging global problems of our time? The torch is ready. Do we have the foresight to fully extend our reach?

This is the conclusion of James DeVaney’s two-part series discussing the University of Michigan’s partnership with both edX and Coursera. To read the first installment, please click here.


Image by Another Believer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Launching the DIG Student Fellows Program

Mike Daniel, Director, Policy and Operations for Digital Education & Innovation

As the Summer of 2015 approached, the newly formed Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) —  one of three labs housed in U-M’s Office of Digital Education & Innovation identified a need for additional resources that could support several of the team’s key functions, including software development, user experience design and user community mobilization and refinement.  These core functions are needed to help DIG achieve its charge of fostering educational software innovations from the University’s research community, working with their user communities to grow them to maturity, and establishing pathways to scale through collaboration across U-M’s digital ecosystem.

DIG Fellows sharing information with eachotherIn order to find people with these skills, the DIG team decided to put out a call for U-M students who would work directly in the Greenhouse over the summer.  Ultimately bringing two U-M students and one recent U-M graduate on board for the summer, the DIG team quickly realized the power of partnering U-M students with its existing team of full-time developers who help translate digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure.  The success of the summer program led DIG to create a Student Fellows Program to facilitate continued partnering with U-M students on its various initiatives over the course of the academic year.

The Program includes part-time student jobs centered around user experience design, software development, and innovation advocacy.  Fellows are typically appointed for an entire academic term, with the option to continue on for multiple terms.  Each fellow is assigned a formal mentor within DIG who helps oversee the fellow’s experience in the Greenhouse and facilitates connections for that fellow to the larger student community within DIG.

For the Fall 2015 Academic Term, there are currently ten U-M Student Fellows in the Program.  They are:

  • Jessamine Bartley-Matthews – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Lena Carew – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Education focusing on communities of practice
  • Indu Ghandikota – 3rd Year Undergraduate in the College of Engineering focusing on software development
  • Samarth Gulati – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design and software development
  • Niyati Gupta – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Christanna Hemmingway – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Akshay Potnis – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on software development and user experience design
  • Heidi Wong – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Jeff Zhang – 4th Year Undergraduate in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Weikai Zhang – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on software development

As tools supported by the Greenhouse aim to have a direct impact on student success and will often include direct application by students, the DIG Leadership team views the Student Fellows Program as an integral component to the ultimate success of DIG in achieving its mission.  Students who are interested in becoming a fellow in the Greenhouse should contact the DIG team (

Are You Ready for Gameful? Sign Up for Winter 2016

This article was originally posted on 11/04/2015 on the GradeCraft Blog

Marie Hooper, Coordinator, Digital Learning Initiatives

As we approach the end of the Fall 2015 semester, we are gearing up to bring GradeCraft to more courses on the University of Michigan campus. We have begun to schedule a first round of consultations with instructors who are interested in making their courses gameful and are looking to add more courses to our list for the Winter 2016 semester.

When considering using a tool like GradeCraft in your classroom, it is important to first examine some of your key philosophies to determine whether or not a gameful course design will work for you and your students.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the gameful environment is allowing students to take the focus off of grades by building up their score from zero points rather than through the traditional system where student grades start at 100% and can only decrease. Our experience and data indicate that the point-based system  encourages students to take more risks in their learning by allowing them to fail with fewer consequences than the traditional system. This does not mean, however, that courses are easier. Rather, the intent is to create an environment where students are more engaged with the course material and become more self-motivated and resilient to failure.

Another key feature of gameful design is providing multiple pathways to success. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways –  offering an array of assignments or tracks for students to choose from, enabling students to select different modes of completing the same assignment (for instance writing a paper versus creating a video), or even designing their own assignments.

GradeCraft helps to support the logistical issues that come from giving students choices over their assignments and more transparency in the grading scheme. It also allows students to visualize their progress in a course and strategize about their choices in order to plan for their future. If you are still not sure you are “ready” for gameful course design, we have put together a short guide with questions to ask yourself which can be viewed here.

Our goal is to build a campus-wide community dedicated to reimagining course design to support autonomy, belongingness and competence. If you are a University of Michigan professor and are interested in what it may take to make your class gameful, we would love to meet with you! Please sign up here and we will be in touch with you to schedule a meeting.