A Deep Dive into Learning Analytics: LASI 2016 Conference Recap

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

From June 27-29 2016, over 100 individuals convened at U-M for the annual Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI). The three-day event focused on understanding and exploring learning analytics in higher education, from both a research and implementation perspective, in order to shape pedagogical practices and improve the learning experience for faculty and students. Stephanie Teasley, the 2016 co-chair of LASI and research professor at U-M, kicked off the conference and shared her expertise on learning analytics strategies and techniques with LASI participants.

Stephanie Teasley

Participants came together for morning sessions that featured talks, panel sessions and audience Q&A on a range of topics including altmetrics, gameful learning, and ethics and privacy to discuss how they intersect with and shape the field of learning analytics.

Chris Teplovs presenting on the Digital Innovation Greenhouse

The conference featured several team members from DEI who presented on ways to think about learning analytics and pedagogy. Chris Teplovs, Lead Developer for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG), presented on altmetrics research for higher education in collaboration with Cliff Lampe, Associate Professor of Information. “The work we do is informed by data we have available,” said Teplovs regarding the expansion and use of data ecology for personalized education. Rachel Niemer, Director of Digital Pedagogy & Learning Communities at DEI, and Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies, presented on how and what people are learning in order to discover approaches that encourage learners to take risks and to incorporate cognitive learning outcomes. “The most important thing in learning is taking a risk in order to go someplace new,” said Professor Fishman on supporting students to take intellectual risks to deepen their learning experience. Additionally, Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Education, presented on the Ethics and Privacy panel with Sol Berman, University Privacy Officer, and Paul Robinson, Associate Vice Provost and University Registrar, to discuss the balance of promoting transparency on an institutional level while protecting student privacy. “To build a really good class you need to understand where your students come from,” said Professor McKay on using learning analytics to improve the educational experience for students. Professor McKay added that student data collection assists educational institutions to pivot away from an industrialized 20th-century style of teaching that is designed for a generalized student profile and enables a 21st-century style focused on personalized learning at scale.

Participants watching presentation on projector

During afternoon sessions, workshops provided intensive and specific hands-on learning including the use of realistic datasets provided by U-M. Workshops focused on data visualization, multimodal learning, feature engineering, wearable and affective computing, topic modeling, at risk students, log analysis and social network analysis. From these workshops, groups came away with varying takeaways, which were presented to the entire conference during the closing reception. During these workshop presentations, groups covered how to leverage data to better understand the learning process (in both informal and formal settings), how to leverage theory and values to develop predictive values and how to gather and visualize contextual data in addition to the merging of different channels of data. Altogether, workshop participants came away with increased comprehension and a foundation for future exploration in learning analytics research.

Thank you to all who participated in this three-day conference focused on further progression within the field of learning analytics. With continued research and exploration of learning analytics, we can develop and leverage tools to form educational pathways for a diverse range of students through personalization at scale. We look forward to engaging and collaborating with conference attendees through future events and educational initiatives. Continue to stay informed of upcoming events and new learning analytics opportunities by following DEI on Twitter at @UMichDEI and subscribing for email updates.

To view the highlighted talks from the conference:  

LASI Day One Speakers

LASI Day Two Speakers

LASI Day 3 Speakers (1 of 2)

LASI Day 3 Speakers (2 of 2)


Media Specialists Provide Insider Perspective on the MOOC Making Process

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

What does it take to make a MOOC? Making a MOOC is a team effort that leverages the skills, talent and resources of the DEI team and brings together many components to construct a successful final project. Media Specialists play a key role at DEI’s Digital Education & Innovation Lab (DEIL) by creating, collecting and piecing together these components in order to form and deliver content that brings to life the faculty partner’s vision and provides an innovative online learning experience. Their expertise and creative talent helps enable DEI to leverage technology and targeted experimentation with digital programs to provide engaged, personalized and lifelong learning to the Michigan community and learners around the world.

Media specialists interviewed behind cameras

We sat down with DEI media specialists, Cy Abdelnour, André Barbour, Alex Hancook, Sean Patrick and Michael Skib to get their insider perspective on developing media content for over 60 initiatives, to date.


What role does teamwork and knowledge sharing play in project collaboration?

Sean: Back here in the production area, exceptional teamwork has been the crucial element of our workflow. Each of us on the team excels in different areas and that always floats to the surface when we collaborate. They each teach me something new and assist me in honing my own skill set. I feel privileged to have the co-workers I do.

André: We all have different specializations and we use that to our advantage when we need to add an extra polish to certain projects or desire to improve in an area. When I was working on Dr. Colleen van Lent’s Academic Innovators video, everyone provided input based on their specialty. Michael spoke with me quite a bit about the sound cut and audio. Cy and Sean really worked with me in selecting the best clips for b-roll. Alex helped me work some effects that we added. It was a total team effort.


How else do you incorporate different types of media into DEI initiatives?

Michael: We use Google Hangouts to live stream online office hours with faculty partners. We have used dramatizations acted out by the U-M Medical School faculty, staff and students to facilitate self-reflection on individual clinical practices. We are using motion graphics and branching techniques to create an interactive application called Praktio, which teaches contract law. We will also be using musical performances and interviews with artists in the upcoming American Roots Music MOOC.

Alex: One example is that we incorporate animations and other types of visualizations to add to the learning experience for courses. For instance, the Using Hybrid Modular Courses to Scale Up Engaged Learning in Kinesiology initiative includes a module focused on gait analysis. For this module, we filmed someone walking on a treadmill in order to show a realistic gait for learner analysis. I keyed the background and put the subject on a 3D grid in order to showcase the gait analysis.

Media specialists discuss behind camera in a research laboratory

What has been one of the biggest ways you have improved your skills while working on media for initiatives at DEI?

Sean: My skill set has both grown and strengthened in my time here at DEI. Specifically, I would say the primary area I have grown is in understanding best practices for lighting a room and a subject. I haven’t ever worked in a place with so many options and diversity in equipment. To a certain degree, it is much like being back in school due to the amount of resources and expertise made available to us.

Michael: One of the greatest areas of growth for me has been learning to effectively collaborate with faculty during recording sessions. I see myself as being a faculty partner’s first audience and the first person to take the course. I want faculty to feel comfortable in the studio, to feel that they’ve put their best foot forward, and that all of the ideas they present in their lectures are clear and succinct.


What steps do you take to ensure media is accessible for a diverse audience?

Cy: We have to go over slides for courses and re-format them for legibility reasons, as well as accessibility reasons. We try our hardest to make sure everything is straightforward for our learners. Secondly, we work to ensure video content is accessible to a diverse and global audience through inclusive video and b-roll.

André: Our role in creating accessible media is really about nailing the basics of video production such as double checking audio and formatting content correctly. It’s about being attentive to these little things to ensure the content comes across clearly and concisely. This high level of focus to produce media assists in ensuring the final product is highly accessible for a diverse range of learners.

Media specialists discuss behind camera

What have been some of the unique initiatives you have worked on? Which ones are you most excited to work on?

Sean: I really enjoy the diversity of subjects we have as a catalogue and how it is ever expanding. One I am really looking forward to is the American Roots Music course, which will revolve around the history and current state of Folk and Bluegrass music. I am quite excited to lend a hand and see how it comes together.

Cy: I really enjoyed working on the Youth Civil Rights Academy with Barry Checkoway.  We met a lot of young and intelligent people, and developed a stronger understanding about the diversity of today’s youth. I’m most excited about the Mass Incarceration in the US: Towards Decarceration MOOC with Professor Richard Meisler, which will provide an in-depth study regarding America’s penal system for a global audience.


What has been one of the most memorable moments for you working with faculty on digital education resources and emerging practices at DEI?

Cy: The most memorable moment for me, was live streaming the U-M EdX Workshop: Exploring MOOCs and Academic Innovation. It was the first time we had live streamed an event so it was very exciting to work together as a team on an event in real time and gratifying to succeed with our first live streamed event.

Alex: One of my favorite shoots was recording activities for the Using Hybrid Modular Courses to Scale Up Engaged Learning in Kinesiology initiative. During this shoot, students wore wearable technology that tracked specific bodily functions like hydration. I recorded them running along the sidewalk, doing tests on a basketball court and, from this, created time lapse videos in addition to some really great footage to be leveraged for learning. It was really fun to work outdoors and to get different shots that highlighted all that the human body is capable of.

Sean: I love working with faculty. It is one of the original reasons I wanted to work at a university. I learn so much about everyone and their specific disciplines. Everyone I have come into contact with is always so gracious and always expanding my mind. I can’t really thank them enough for that!

André : I cannot remember a particular moment or interaction that stands out above the others, but during shoots, professors tend to show their personality a lot. Drs. Gautam Kaul and Colleen van Lent tell jokes during their recordings. Dr. Chuck Severance tries to show off his tattoo whenever he gets the chance to talk about expressions in Python. So, I would have to say that these behind the scenes moments that students don’t often get to see are always memorable.

Michael: One of the most memorable experiences was when I was working on Dr. Dragomir Radev’s Natural Language Processing MOOC. During this process, it dawned on me that by working on his MOOC I was learning things I never expected I’d want to know about: IBM’s Watson, the question­-answering supercomputer that beat the Jeopardy human champions, semantic parsing and the ambiguities of language…many of which were a part of my daily life without my awareness. These are subjects I would have loved to have learned about growing up. Realizing this reignited within me a curiosity about the world that I hadn’t felt since my college days.


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U-M Launches Two Specializations for New Generation of Data Scientists

Recognizing that new career pathways require new approaches to education and training, the University of Michigan is launching two new series of courses on Coursera as part of its commitment to developing curricula and lifelong learning opportunities for a new generation of data science students.

“Learners who engage in these skills-based specializations will become data storytellers,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for digital education & innovation. “An increasing number and range of organizations across sectors of the global economy want to engage talented individuals who bring structure to complex problems and see possibilities in a world of messy data.”

These specializations, Applied Data Science with Python and Data Collection and Analysis, will help learners thrive in data science roles by equipping them with the skills to collect, mine and analyze big data. These series of courses provide learners around the world with paths to learn and apply data science and survey methodologies, whether they explore individual courses or complete all courses sequentially.

Since joining Coursera as a founding partner in 2012, U-M has reached more than 4 million learners throughout the world. These data science specializations mark the next phase of the partnership, building upon the success of four specializations U-M launched in September 2015 including Python for Everybody.

“As one of Coursera’s original four partners, the University of Michigan continues to be at the leading edge of innovation in open education,” said Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera. “In a little over four years, over 4 million people have enrolled in Michigan’s online Coursera courses and watched over 240 years of Michigan lecture video. Beyond those impressive statistics, the University of Michigan has continually demonstrated its understanding of the skills that learners need in today’s world by offering courses and specializations in areas like data science and technology where job demand is growing fastest.”

The Applied Data Science with Python Specialization, developed by School of Information faculty Christopher Brooks, Kevyn Collins-Thompson, Daniel Romero and V.G. Vinod Vydiswaran, delves into the techniques and skills to manipulate and gain insight into data through the Python programming language. This specialization introduces learners to data science through Python and is intended for those with a basic Python or programming background and want to apply statistical, machine learning, information visualization and/or text analysis techniques to gain new insight into their data. The courses are all focused on data science methods, techniques and skills within the Python domain, building on existing MOOC specializations offered by U-M.

“The goal of this specialization is to merge core intellectual data science skills — critical, skeptical and scientific thinking — with applied technology skills,” said Brooks, research assistant professor and director of learning analytics and research, digital education & innovation. “This specialization is very much aligned with the University of Michigan’s commitment to preeminence and excellence in data science, as evidenced by the $100 million investment made last October.”

The Survey Data Collection and Analytics Specialization, created by U-M professors Frederick Conrad and James Lepkowski with professors Frauke Kreuter and Richard Valliant from the University of Maryland, teaches the tools and techniques to collect and analyze diverse types of data to make strategic decisions. This specialization builds on the success of the Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys MOOC, which has reached more than 65,000 global learners and helps establish a framework for creating well-designed surveys. The seed for this collaborative endeavor can be sourced to the faculty partners’ involvement with the U-M Institute for Social Research, the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization.

“The Survey Data Collection and Analytics Specialization will provide learners with broad knowledge of what is required to conduct and interpret scientifically sound, cutting edge survey research,” said Conrad, research professor and director of the Michigan Program in Survey Methodology. “The capstone project will draw on, integrate, and solidify the material presented in the six courses. Learners who complete the specialization will contribute to the survey research enterprise in new and productive ways.”

In addition to these two specializations, U-M continues to build upon its track record as a pioneer in digital education with additional courses on the Coursera platform. Three Pillars of Business Decisions, developed by Professor George Siedel, provides a global business framework to help learners make sound business and legal decisions regarding risk management, value creation and ethical management. Veteran Centered Care, created by professors Monica Lypson and Paula T. Ross, provides learners with a comprehensive overview for healthcare practitioners to meet the unique physical, mental and emotional needs of veterans.

Also, U-M is relaunching three popular MOOCs in an on-demand format: Introduction to Thermodynamics developed by Professor Margaret Wooldridge, Introduction to Cataract Surgery developed by Dr. Elizabeth Du, and Instructional Methods in Health Professions Education developed by Dr. Caren Stalburg.

Developing the Future Leaders and Advocates: The Youth Civil Rights Academy

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

In 2014, the State of Michigan received a failing grade from the Southern Poverty Law Center on its guidance for teaching students about civil rights in its major documents and support resources. This assessment served as a call to action for civil rights education, which is the same cause that ignited the creation of the Youth Civil Rights Academy. Led by Professor Barry Checkoway, this Academy aims to promote the formation of the next generation of civil rights leaders by developing young people in Michigan through educational and advocacy resources, experiences and tools.

Harmony Rhodes

“I really would love to change the systematic injustices in the education system.”
Harmony Rhodes, in her featured story about social justice

Through its programming, resources and curriculum, the Academy serves as a portal that bridges residential boundaries and expands access to education. In addition to developing civil rights leaders and advocates, participating students will learn to view higher education as a civil rights issue and receive information to enable their own path for continued learning including: an understanding of the admissions process, financial aid and other support services. They will also have an opportunity to receive acknowledgment for demonstrating their understanding of and dedication for civil rights in today’s context as well as how to create change through collaboration, dialogue and action.

“We at the University of Michigan have stepped forward to create an academy that will have online courses, it will have face to face meetings in schools and it will have summits at the University of Michigan where we can bring future civil rights leaders around the state to Ann Arbor to meet each other. I think it’s a great role for a public university to play.”
– Barry Checkoway

The Youth Civil Rights Academy focuses on addressing the challenges and opportunities related to civil rights in today’s society through inter-institutional collaboration, as well as the provision of educational and advocacy resources. As a part of this, the academy has formed partnerships between the University of Michigan and schools and communities throughout the state. Additionally, the Academy partners with the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Michigan Department of Civil Rights and Google Apps for Education, as well as other educational technology providers, in order to produce and share resources for furthered civil rights education for young people and adult allies.

“When our young people participate on issues of civil rights, it strengthens their personal and social development. It has an effect on their knowledge and skills, it contributes to their civic competencies and it can have a lasting effect on the larger society of which we’re all a part.”
Barry Checkoway in the Detroit Free Press

Through these partnerships, the Academy will provide resources, such as a teacher curriculum and online courses offered through the Youth Civil Rights Academy website, to serve as a portal for engaged learning and integrated content and/or activities. Through the combination of online and face-to-face educational experiences, young people will learn more about how to promote and defend their rights, and the rights of others, as well as how to create changes in their schools and communities.

In addition to these resources, the Youth Civil Rights Academy employs several pathways to create an integrated experience for learning about and/or advocating for civil rights.

  • Campus Programs: U-M welcomes students to the campus to attend sessions focused on building leadership skills and relationships for pre-college and university students
  • School and Community Organizing: The Academy provides resources on civil rights issues for students and teachers to integrate into courses and activities.
  • Digital Stories and Courses: The online courses and website, together, address modern civil rights issues and provide a platform for young people to converse on these topics with their peers.

Combined, these partnerships and resources aim to inspire Academy participants to become more thoughtful, engaged participants in the civil rights issues by providing them with the practical skills to increase dialogue and action.

“I can’t wait for the next person to make change so at the end of the day I am holding myself accountable and I’m going to do anything I can and that I have to do to make the world more socially just.”
Harmony Rhodes, in her featured story about social justice

To stay informed on upcoming initiatives, news and events, subscribe for DEI email updates.