Workshopping Innovation: U-M edX Workshop Recap

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Three weeks ago, with over a hundred participants, we explored the world of MOOCs and the past, present and future of academic innovation at the U-M edX Workshop.

Faculty panelists

Our workshop kicked off with a panel discussion featuring faculty who have partnered with DEI to create MOOCs.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Du, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Krishna Garikipati, Professor, Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics
  • Dr. Gautam Kaul, Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration, Professor of Finance
  • Dr. Charles Severance, Clinical Associate Professor in Information
  • Dr. Colleen van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information
  • Dr. Margaret Wooldridge, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

As a part of the MOOC Experiences, Opportunities and Insights Panel, the faculty partners provided advice based on their experiences creating and teaching MOOCs. “Ignore the potentially massive numbers of learners in the MOOC and, instead, focus on creating a great class,” counseled Dr. Colleen van Lent. The panelists also all discussed the rewards of teaching a MOOC in terms of the impact on residential teaching. According to Dr. Gautam Kaul, the residential and MOOC teaching experiences have a symbiotic relationship. “I’m innovating on campus and providing more specialization in MOOCs through each iteration,” said Dr. Kaul. The focus on iteration in the MOOC process and its effect came across through several points of the panel discussion. Dr. Charles Severance pointed out that “With MOOCs you can deepen the course with each iteration and reach highly motivated students.” Additionally, the panelists discussed designing a MOOC for a wide range of learners as well as ways to enhance teaching styles in order to meet the diverse preferences of a global audience.

Room of attendees discussing

The MOOC Experiences, Opportunities and Insights Panel session was followed by the Xtroardinary MOOCs talk, led by our edX partners. At this session, attendees had the opportunity to hear directly from edX regarding various innovations and trends in the MOOC space. edX highlighted how learners seek out specific courses to develop skillsets to further their educations and careers, and how edX provides certificate programs that enable this specific skill-based learning, such as the first three MichiganX XSeries.This informative session was followed by talks and small group discussions related to MOOC design, the MOOC student experience and then a reception for attendees and presenters alike to exchange ideas in an open format.

Woman presenting

On the second day of the workshop, attendees gained even deeper insight into MOOCs with a session led by Nina Huntemann, Director of Academics and Research at edX and Christopher Brooks, Director of Learning Analytics and Research at DEI, that delved into research focused on knowledge acquisition, the changing faces of MOOC learners and MOOC programming. Additionally, Lldi Morris, Manager for Training and Partner Enabling at edX and Stacey Moyer, Partner Manager at edX, led a hands-on training for those interested in a thorough examination of the edX platform. For both of these available tracks, edX provided expertise that enabled the workshop attendees to discover the world of MOOCs and gain an understanding of the edX presentation through this hands-on experience.

Thank you to all who participated in the U-M edX Workshop. We are excited to continue exploring and experimenting in the MOOC space as we strengthen our commitment to making the resources of the University available to the broadest range of learners, advancing the vision of equitable and advanced education for all. By coming together to discover and learn more about the MOOC space, we are fostering an environment for further collaborative, academic innovations.  We invite you to continue moving forward with us by reviewing our Resources portal, our Learning with U-M Portal and/or connecting with our team. We look forward to further engagement with workshop participants through future opportunities for events and initiative collaborations.

To view the highlighted talks from the workshop:

Xtroardinary MOOCs: A Discussion with edX

Xpanding Our Knowledge Through MOOC Research


Incorporating Accessibility into the Development Process

Chris Teplovs, Lead DIG Developer

Scott Williams, U-M Web Accessibility Coordinator

Mike Wojan, DIG User Experience Designer

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

In honor of the fifth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), we are continuing our ongoing blog series that highlights the myriad of ways DEI incorporates accessibility into our ongoing endeavors. In the first blog post in this series, DEI Director of Policy and Operations, Mike Daniel, discussed how accessibility is at the core of DEI. Following up on this post, we as members of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) team, along with Scott Williams, Web Accessibility Coordinator for the University, came together to discuss the importance of incorporating accessibility into the design and development process in order build technology that is universally accessible and usable by all persons.

The DIG Team sat down with Scott, who has worked with DEI to conduct evaluations and has provided suggestions to increase the accessibility of DEI initiatives, to discuss how accessibility is incorporated into each step of the development process.

“DEI is a stellar example of a department implementing accessibility top-down in the organization,” Scott said. “I met with them only a few times to get the ball rolling, and, I was overjoyed to learn that with their policies, such as captioning of MOOC content, DEI continues to serve as a great guide for the rest of the University community, as well as higher education, in regards to accessibility.”

Recently, Mike Wojan joined our team as the DIG User Experience Designer to help us deliver products that are accessible to everyone on the U-M campus through universal design. Mike engages with the user community as well as a diverse community of user experience professionals in order to continue to better understand people’s needs for design. “Implementing universal design in the earliest stages of development ensures you are creating a product flexible enough to work for everyone and that you don’t have to return to the product and make accommodations later on,” Mike said. He recently attended the week-long AccessCyberlearning Capacity Building Institute in Seattle, where he studied the role of accessible technologies in cyberlearning. “At the conference I learned about the technology used to access products by people with varying needs. It’s important for us to review the accessibility of our products with those same tools to better understand and design online experiences that meet the accessibility needs of a wide range of diverse users. I’m excited to take this valuable insight and apply it to DIG projects.”

Website CSS Code

One of the projects that we have focused on implementing accessibility into the development process is ART 2.0.  ART 2.0 aims to provide robust data on courses and programs from past academic terms in a user-friendly format to further enable personalized and engaged learning on campus. During the development cycle for ART 2.0, we focused on ensuring the process was consistent with DIG’s guiding principles, which include a commitment to the creation of a minimum viable product coupled with rapid iteration. The first versions of ART 2.0 were made available to a small group of users within six months of the start of the development phase. These early iterations showed the range of possibilities for the product but were not particularly accessible. Throughout the iteration process, we made a concerted effort towards an accessible product, moving from using highly interactive charts to present data and complex network visualizations to more accessible implementations. For example, where possible we presented numerical values and shaded cells in a table to simulate histograms rather than using less accessible approaches, like interactive charts. We also tried to adhere to the Accessible Rich Internet Applications guidelines when creating the ART 2.0 application.

Additionally, we recently reached out to Scott to evaluate the global accessibility of the application,  who had met with DEI during the inception of ART 2.0 to discuss implementing accessibility in its production process. While evaluating ART 2.0, Scott used a variety of stand-alone accessibility tools, including assistive technology, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as the standard to determine the accessibility of the ART 2.0 interface. He evaluated how the code was written and also observed how the content of ART 2.0  was revealed to different forms of assistive technology.

“It’s important to scrutinize the accessibility of the software during each iteration of the production cycle,” Scott emphasized. “Accessibility can’t be left as an add-on task at the end of production—which is extremely inefficient and costly. Platforms need to be designed and developed with accessibility in mind from the outset, and this is what DEI is doing.”

The DIG team, as a whole, was impressed with Scott’s thorough review of the ART 2.0 interface. His report included clear, actionable items that the team incorporated into the next iteration of the product. In some cases the suggested changes were surprising: not all icons, for example, should have “alt-text”, particularly when the information provided by the icons is repeated in the surrounding text. Through additional components that make resultant data accessible, such as increasing the accessibility of highly interactive charts that enable users to sort and filter data in ART 2.0, we strive towards greater accessibility. These Web Accessibility resources at the University are a valuable asset for software development teams to leverage while developing applications and programs.

By utilizing resources, like Scott’s expertise via the Office of Institutional Equity, on accessibility as well as following our Software Development Guiding Principles we are able to work together to integrate accessibility into the design and development of software and other initiatives. In doing so, the initiatives that we seed and scale up are able to impact a wide range of users with varying usability and accessibility needs, thereby continuing our commitment to creatively use technology and targeted experimentation with digital programs in order to enable engaged, personalized and lifelong learning for the entire Michigan community and learners around the world. To learn more about how we are helping to translate digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure, check out the DIG portal, or learn about our paid fellowship opportunities.


MOOC Launches to Improve Awareness and Understanding of Veteran Healthcare

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

This month, the Service Transformed – Lessons in Veteran-Centered Care for Health Professionals MOOC launched with the goal to teach health professionals about providing veteran-centered care. This MOOC focuses on two components for providing healthcare for veterans: increasing awareness regarding patient veteran history and lessening the generalizations surrounding veterans and their healthcare needs. Professors Monica Lypson and Paula T. Ross developed this course  in order to instruct civilian providers on the unique physical, mental and emotional needs related to military service and assist them in understanding veteran-centered care. The MOOC provides learners with a comprehensive overview of veteran-centered care while helping them develop skills in military cultural competency, empathy, assessment and triage of several mental health conditions.

“As educators, we have to do better at preparing our learners for this increasing population both inside and outside of the VA healthcare system.”
– Dr. Lypson in U of M Health Blog

Person standing next to military backpack and boots

Considering that 30 percent of veterans receive their care outside of the Veterans Health Administration system, providing civilian healthcare providers with the knowledge base and skills to be aware of and address the specific needs of veterans is essential for improving the healthcare that veterans receive.

“Participants [in the MOOC] learn how to use and apply principles from the course to improve assessment and triage for patients with PTSD, MST, TBI, anxiety and depression – all the conditions that are more prevalent in the military population than in the general civilian one”
– Dr. Lypson and Dr. Ross in The Conversation US

Dr. Lypson and Dr. Ross also incorporate multimedia content, such as podcasts, video clips from the acclaimed documentary, Where Soldiers Come From, and a photo gallery that juxtaposes photos of veterans in military and civilian settings. This content helps to individualize the veteran voice, combat veteran stereotypes and showcase the diverse range of veterans within the healthcare system.

These photos help medical students and physicians in our course visualize the trajectory of US service members from soldier to civilian. We challenge learners to think deeply about the experiences, concerns and perspectives of U.S. military veterans, and to reshape previously held unconscious biases, stereotypes or attitudes toward veterans.”
– Dr. Lypson and Dr. Ross in The Conversation US

The photo gallery serves as a tool to help health professionals dismantle preconceived biases around veterans by showcasing the mix of ages, ethnicities and gender within the veteran population. The photos highlight the increased number of women serving in conflict areas and the number of minorities that serve. By doing so, these photos serve as a visual stimuli for healthcare professionals to address and dismantle biases towards veteran stereotypes and ensure health professionals actively assess their own bias when confronted with the photos.

“Healthcare providers often make clinical diagnoses or develop treatment plans based on visible characteristics or societal norms. The art of history taking may be the best defense against unconscious bias and misdiagnosis by providers”
– Dr. Lypson, Kathryn Goldrath, Chiu Yueh Yao and Dr. Ross in Service Transformed: Illustrations of Women Veterans Past and Present

This exercise leverages veteran photos to enable healthcare professionals to actively consider personal bias, acknowledge the diverse range of veterans within the health system and foster empathy for the individual patient’s experiences, concerns and perspective. By doing so, healthcare professionals can improve care for veterans by inquiring, addressing and provide healthcare for veterans and their unique needs.

We are excited about this collaboration with Dr. Lypson and Dr. Ross and the University of Michigan Medical School, which harnesses digital technology to recognize, address and dismantle biases surrounding veterans while highlighting the unique needs of veterans in the healthcare system. Service Transformed – Lessons in Veteran-Centered Care for Health Professionals provides yet another example of how faculty, in partnership with DEI, are enabling engaged, personalized and lifelong learning for the entire Michigan community and learners around the world.

For more information on this MOOC: Service Transformed – Lessons in Veteran-Centered Care for Health Professionals

Thanks to Her Mom, Colleen van Lent Was Inspired to Help Others Through MOOCs

Colleen van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information, School of Information

Last March I wrote a blog post about my thoughts on how to encourage more women to go into Computer Science. The underlying theme was the need for a robust support system that can encourage people at a young age. What I didn’t clearly articulate though was who can make up that support system. In that post, a lot of the emphasis was on my father. He is a lifelong academic who has been able to provide a great deal of guidance and mentorship. However, I want to make sure my mom gets her proper recognition too!!

I don’t know if it is because she was a nurse, an affect of her Southern upbringing, or just her natural disposition, but Mom is and has always been helping someone. My siblings and I learned from her example that there are a lot of different people in the world and they all have something to offer. She was constantly talking to strangers; which became increasingly embarrassing to me as a teen. Luckily, my embarrassment (and that of my brothers and sisters) was not going to change Mom. Now, I embarrass my children by talking to strangers, and thanks to the Internet I have been able to take it up a notch!!

I share my Mom’s spirit for helping others by teaching learners from all over the world through MOOCs. As an instructor, I see that it takes a community of people to help others succeed. I provide that same type of academic experience my dad shared with me, but I am only part of a community of people. The community is comprised of learners and teachers from various backgrounds, and no matter their profession, age, education or background, everyone has something to add. By creating a welcoming space for learning and mentoring individual growth, we can create a community committed to lifelong and personalized learning. The common thread is that this community shares my mom’s spirit for helping others and are committed to building an open and welcoming space for learning.

So, in honor of my mom on this Mother’s Day I would like to give a big shout out to everyone who has ever posted on an online forum to support someone else, done a few extra peer-graded assignments, or just had a nice word for someone. These mentors and peers  are on the front lines supporting learners every single day. And why are they doing it? Because that is just what they do.   

Colleen van Lent





Colleen van Lent
Lecturer IV in Information
School of Information
University of Michigan

U-M Launches First 3 XSeries on edX Platform

The University of Michigan is launching three new certificate programs on the online edX platform that are designed to help global lifelong  learners keep pace with their careers and prepare for the rigor of academic programs at the university.

The three series, which are 15 courses in total, are: The User Experience Research XSeries; the User Experience Design XSeries; and the Corporate Financial Analysis XSeries.

The launch of these XSeries Programs marks the next phase of the U-M edX partnership, which began in October 2015. In March, U-M announced its first four massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the edX platform. The audience for U-M’s programs already exceeds 4 million.

Human-computer interaction is a rapidly growing field that addresses human needs with technology. Learners in the UX Research XSeries will develop skills to conduct research to understand these needs, and those in the UX Design XSeries will learn principles of design in order to create prototypes that delight users.

The corporate finance XSeries focuses on quantitative and analytical aspects of finance. Learners will understand the building blocks of finance, human behavior and how to make sound financial decisions and structure sustainable deals.

“Leaders at many of our schools like the U-M School of Information and the Ross School of Business have seen the potential in pursuing mission-aligned innovation and are proactively identifying new opportunities to transform higher education,” said Martha Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Leaders say each MichiganX XSeries Program, developed within the Office of Digital Education & Innovation, will engage learners in flexible, outcome-based sequences that equip them with tools to harness data and conduct sophisticated analyses.

“This marks another important step in Michigan’s long history of innovation and experimentation in the academic space,” said James Hilton, dean of Libraries, vice provost for digital education & innovation. “These sequences will allow us to deepen our engagements with lifelong and global learners while also helping us improve and differentiate our residential programs.”

The XSeries was created by edX to allow learners to “develop a deep understanding of exciting and in-demand fields.”

“We are honored to deliver University of Michigan’s high-quality education to our seven million global learners,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and MIT professor. “These XSeries Programs meet the growing demand for education in the fields of UX and finance, and provide learners with meaningful and actionable knowledge to enrich their lives and accelerate their careers.”

The series also will move DEI toward its goal to transform 200 courses by the end of its bicentennial year in 2017, including the launch of nearly 100 MOOCs by December 2016. U-M faculty will explore new opportunities for digital and academic innovation this week in Ann Arbor at the U-M edX Workshop.

“As many of the constraints imposed by time and space erode, we are building bridges to share the vast resources of U-M with learners around the world while simultaneously leveraging our global reach to enrich the learning experiences of our students in Ann Arbor, said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for digital education & innovation. We see elegance in the design of these offerings as we strike a balance between openness, innovation, and inclusivity.

Mark Newman, associate professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science, developed the User Experience Design XSeries and User Experience Research XSeries. The courses equip learners with the skillset, knowledge base and tools to leverage creativity to research and understand user needs, in order to design products that users love.

“UMSI is harnessing the transformational potential of digital and blended learning to equip global learners to understand and solve complex issues that lie at the intersection of people, information and technology,” said Thomas Finholt, professor of information and dean, School of Information.

Gautam Kaul, the Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration and professor of finance, Amiyatosh Purnanandam, professor of finance, and Qin Lei, lecturer II, developed the Corporate Finance Analysis XSeries to provide an essential toolkit on project evaluation, risk assessment, financial markets and corporate financial policy.

“This X-Series builds upon what I’ve learned from the past several years of MOOC experimentation with global learners,” Kaul said. “Through these courses, I look forward to helping learners use finance and analytical thinking to enhance decision making in our increasingly complex world, and providing a natural bridge for learners interested in pursuing higher education at our great university.”

For additional information or to enroll visit MichiganX.