Interview with Professor August Evrard: ART 2.0 Launch Provides Students with Course Data  

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist


Professor August Evrard has led the development of the Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0 (ART 2.0) in the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) housed within the Office of Digital Education & Innovation as a data visualization tool to promote informed decisions by enabling access to U-M course data. Recently made available to students in time for class backpacking and registration, ART 2.0 will foster increased student engagement by giving students freedom to explore more information about the curriculum through an interactive, easy to use platform that provides data about courses and academic programs based on the experiences of and feedback from past students.

With the launch of ART 2.0, we reached out to  Professor Evrard to learn about his experiences developing the tool. He shared with us his perspective on how this newly launched initiative will contribute to the U-M community by leveraging data to enhance decision making and opportunities at U-M, ensuring the university continues to be a driving force for innovation.

What motivated you to develop the Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0 as a resource for students?

The Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0) project aims to reveal more details about the texture and coloration of the rich, complex tapestry we call the curriculum of the University of Michigan.  Why do this?  Because informed decisions are almost always better than uninformed ones (think health care) and because, as a public institution, the university should strive for transparency in its operations within the limits allowed by common sense, available resources, and the law.  

How does the Academic Reporting Toolkit leverage data?

Each year, a major public university like Michigan has tens of thousands of students and thousands of instructors woven within a dynamic curricular fabric of courses, service and field work, and other experiences. Like smart athletic wear, that fabric is instrumented with a growing variety of sensors that record activities and outcomes. Researchers in the emerging field of Learning Analytics are studying these data streams to improve understanding of how learning proceeds and how teaching practices may facilitate, impede, or otherwise affect the learning and critical thinking abilities of students.

What have been some challenges in developing and designing the Academic Reporting Toolkit to assist students with making decisions on courses and majors?

We have to expect occasional defects and design imperfections within the curricular fabric.  Inevitably, some courses and professors will be more appealing to students than others, and this popularity may or may not be based on reasons considered “right” by some observer.  Less inevitably, some student cohorts are not as successful as others.  But how can we improve their chances of success without knowing what state they’re actually in?

What do you envision for the future of the Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0?

A key issue before us is to shape our own views of what’s important and useful.  Making the best use of this opportunity will require significant discussions with and among campus stakeholders – faculty, students, and administrators – to determine appropriate levels of transparency and access, and to design services that are simple yet powerful in their utility.  

ART 2.0 is available. To learn more about the interactive platform; The Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0


August Evrard

August Evrard

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

University of Michigan

The Power of Finance Theory: An Interview with Professor Gautam Kaul

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Professor Gautam Kaul, an established proponent of MOOCs and a passionate ambassador of academic innovation at Michigan, has developed MOOCs and leveraged digital pedagogy and technology to teach finance to a wide range of pre-college, residential, and lifelong learners. In addition, Professor Kaul serves as the DEI Innovator in Residence and works, in collaboration with DEI, to help shape the future of learning and redefine public residential education at a 21st century research university by unlocking new opportunities and enabling personalized, engaged, and lifelong learning for the U-M community and learners around the world.

As the launch of his edx MOOC, Finance for Everyone: Smart Tools for Decision-Making, approaches on April 5, we sat down with Professor Kaul to discuss the unique aspects of this course, which opens up finance theory to new audiences.

Gautam Kaul

How has using digital technology impacted your teaching style?

“The digital world has, in fact, made me a better teacher. It has made me more structured, when needed, and given me the option to express myself in different ways. For me, this is the biggest advantage for going digital. Additionally, over the past three to four years I’ve been able to learn about which medium (digital or in person) is best for different student learning experiences.”

What sort of of new audiences do you aim to introduce finance theory to with this MOOC?

“This course is especially applicable for someone who feels like finance is too technical, not approachable and not for them. I want them to take this course and have designed it to feel very user friendly since the approach is very practical. The most important quality for them is to have an attitude that says “I can do this”. If you have that, everything else becomes almost irrelevant because I believe anyone can understand finance.”

How does the course structure for Finance for Everyone differentiate it from other finance courses and make it more accessible and user-friendly for new audiences?

“The standard way people have gotten into finance has been because they’re naturally attracted to numbers and math. But finance is also extremely usable from different perspectives. Whether you want to be a student and figure out what you’re doing, if you want to get into college or if you want to manage your expenses, investments and/or savings. You can come to finance from a use point of view and get excited about it. However, it’s never been taught that way. So with Finance for Everyone I’m going to focus on this application perspective.

The structure of the course is very different from previous courses I have taught. In Finance for Everyone, I define things a lot more since I recognize that the language of finance can seem foreign. Additionally, I provide varied and relatable examples, have shorter videos and include lots of smaller, relatively easier assessments since it’s extremely important for learners to receive feedback to understand what they’re doing throughout the course.”

What sort of real-life examples are in the course that highlight how the principles provided in Finance for Everyone can assist in making choices and tradeoffs in an array of scenarios?

“I provide numerous examples throughout the MOOC, such as what is the value of going to college or not going to college? A second example is if you want an iPad. We discuss the alternative options you have for buying it, whether it’s through a loan or purchasing it straight out. A third example is a car loan. I explain the mechanics of a loan, ways to consider which loan is best and what is the value of the car. All of my examples help learners to understand how to measure and make decisions using finance as a framework.”

What is the main outcome you want learners to have from taking Finance for Everyone?

“Everyone makes decisions and everyone has to assess alternatives. Finance is about decision-making and how to figure out alternatives. It’s not about money. It’s about actually understanding how different alternatives can be valued. That’s what I’m teaching.

The power of finance is that it is a decision-making tool. I would love if students came out of this course knowing how to understand finance and prepared to think of it as a tool for any decision.”


Enrollment is open for Finance for Everyone, which will launch on April 5. To learn more and/or to enroll visit Finance for Everyone: Smart Tools for Decision-Making.

Gautam Kaul

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

Student Fellows Share Their First-Hand Experiences in the DIG Student Fellow Program

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Last summer we launched the Student Fellows Program in order to facilitate continued partnership with U-M students while providing additional resources and support for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). After a successful inaugural year, we interviewed three Student Fellows to gain a first-hand perspective and illuminate the experience for students interested in applying for summer Student Fellow positions at DEI.

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews, Weikai Zhang and Heidi Wong shared their experiences partnering with DIG developers to help translate digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure. Read on to learn about their first-hand perspective and then check out the current openings in the Student Fellows Program.

What impact did you have on the DIG tools you worked on?

Jessamine: I have been working on ECoach since starting as a UX Fellow with DIG, and one of my main contributions from last semester was the redesign of the grade calculator tool. For the redesign, I incorporated student feedback from user interviews to streamline the interface and provide students with a more user-friendly tool that provides them with meaningful, actionable data. My future impact involves redesigning the UX and visual experience of ECoach as a whole.

Weikai: During the summer 2015, I did my internship as a Software Developer Intern in DIG. At that time, I worked with Chris, Indu, and Jasmine (Student Fellow) on redesigning and rebuilding the Academic Reporting Toolkit (ART) project. We came up with different design ideas and realized them with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to see if those ideas worked well, which gradually formed the basis of the next version of the ART website.

During the Fall 2015, I continued my work as a Student Fellow in DIG on the Student Explorer project. We have already created the fundamental structure of the website and linked students’ data to it, and we are working on creating multiple visualizations for better understanding and usability right now.

What piece of advice or encouragement would you give to incoming student fellows?

Jessamine: DIG is an incredibly collaborative environment, and there are always people from all facets of the University that are willing to engage in conversation or provide Fellows with new insights or feedback on their designs. I would encourage all new Fellows to get to know the other people working in the DEI collaborative space, and use their diverse skills and expertise to gain insights and new perspectives into their design choices.

Weikai: People in DIG are working on many interesting and meaningful projects now, and they are really kind and ready to help you at any time. If you’d like to make contributions to our University, joining the Student Fellows Program in DIG would be a great way.

Heidi: Take advantage of the opportunity to apply some of the methods you learn in your classes into real projects that could make a difference across the University.

What new skills did you develop?

Jessamine: I have definitely benefited from being able to apply everything that I’m learning in the classroom to a real-world project that I care about. Through my work with ECoach, I have developed my sketching, wireframing, and prototyping skills, as well as my ability to communicate design ideas to a diverse team. Ben has been incredibly supportive of my desire to grow into new areas, such as graphic design and development, and has provided me with challenging projects that let me test my wings while still offering feedback and support.

Weikai: The most important skill I have developed is the programming skill. I learned many useful and popular frameworks that are currently being used by many big companies, which would definitely help me a lot in the future.

Heidi: Last semester, I had the opportunity to practice some front-end development skills. I was also given a chance to drive some of the user research going into ECoach.

How did working with DIG enhance your overall experience at U-M and what was your favorite aspect from your experience as a Student Fellow for DIG?

Jessamine: I mentioned this a little before, but one of the things that makes me so excited to come into work every day is the level of trust that DIG developers and designers have in the Student Fellows. It’s easy to feel like an imposter when you’re learning a new skill or changing careers, but at DIG I have always felt like I have something important to contribute to the mix, and that my opinions are valuable. Being engaged with the amazing people working on ECoach has helped me to find my voice as a designer, and this confidence has carried through to my classes.

Weikai: I think working with DIG was a great chance for me to see how staff at U-M were working, and by making contributions to the projects, my sense of belonging was significantly promoted. My favorite part was participating in the interviews with faculty members and advisors in our university. It was really interesting to see that different users had different limitations,  requirements, and expectations for the websites, and figuring out how to solve all the problems with one combined solution was meaningful for making people’s work more efficient.

Heidi: Working at DIG has helped me feel like I’m a part of a smaller community within the University. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and get lost in all of the interesting things happening on campus. I’m happy to have found a place that I feel a part of, and that has impactful projects that I can participate in. My favorite aspect of this experience is the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in some of my classes and see how they can drive and make an impact on real projects. I also appreciate having the level of autonomy that I’ve been given on the projects I’ve worked on so far. As a UX fellow, I’ve been given a lot of say in the directions we take at certain stages of the design, and this has been a refreshing experience.

How did the office environment assist and support your learning and working experience?

Jessamine: When you’re surrounded by enthusiastic people and whiteboards, it’s hard not to want to collaborate and explore.

Weikai: Since this was the first time that I actually worked in an “office”, it’s really meaningful for me to understand what “work” really means.

Heidi: It has been nice being surrounded by so many knowledgeable and kind people who share similar ideals around education. I’ve enjoyed learning about the pedagogy around learning technologies and how that ties into some of the initiatives being spearheaded within the office and the University.

About the DIG Student Fellows

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews (Twitter: @jessaminnne) is a first year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design. Her past experience includes a Bachelor of Arts in English from Boston University, which preceded her work in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Agriculture and Food Security Volunteer.

Weikai Zhang (Twitter: @zwkhr) is a second year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on software development. He earned a Bachelors of Management from Peking University.

Heidi Wong is a second year master’s student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design. She has worked at IBM as a Software Design Intern and has a Bachelors of Arts in Cognitive Science from Swarthmore College.

Learn more about the Digital Innovation Greenhouse here and discover student opportunities to collaborate with DEI here.

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