Open Online Office Hours (OOOH!)

Adam Levick, Data Scientist

Launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) involves a lot of moving parts. The design and development of the content and the production make up the bulk of the process. After this hard work is done, it’s time to get the word out about a course, but what’s the best way to do this? The Marketing team at Academic Innovation will help develop communications strategies and promote MOOCs through a variety of approaches including press releases, blog posts, and social media. We also collaborate with and support faculty interested in connecting directly with potential learners by developing strategies for faculty to engage with potential learners in online communities, where their primary audiences are spending time.

Q&A on the Web

We recently started to help MOOC faculty engage with audiences through two websites, Reddit and Quora, with great results.


At the time of this post, Reddit is the 9th most visited site (daily) on the internet. Of the top 50 most visited sites online, Reddit users generally spend the highest amount of time per day and view the most pages on their site compared with other most visited sites. This means Reddit is extremely active. This site is made up of “subreddits,” which are user communities that are interested in a specific type of content, such as “r/science” where users mostly discuss new science, or “r/aww” where users post pictures of animals being adorable. “r/IAMA,” which stands for “ask me anything” and “I am a,” is a highly popular (16+ million subscribers) subreddit where scheduled guests come on to discuss their job and life while promoting content or a cause. Here are some examples of our faculty using Reddit:

Data Science Ethics

Dr. H.V. Jagadish, Bernard A Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the College of Engineering

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Data Science Ethics

61 comments, 104 upvotes

“Reddit User: Hi Professor, thank you for the AMA!
What would you say are some of the dangers of predictive analytics? How does the study of data ethics address some of those dangers and, also, who is responsible for conclusions made by a machine?

H.V. Jagadish: Predictions depend on the model, which reflects the worldview of the model-builder. Predictions depend on the training data, which may not be appropriately representative. Predictions depend on the input variables, which could have errors. Whoever is responsible for predictions (the human) has to take responsibility. We cannot simply say the machine did it.”

Applied Data Science with Python

Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information, and the faculty development team

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Applied Data Science with Python

58 comments, 110 upvotes

Reddit User: “How proficient does one need to be in Python going into the class to be successful?”

Applied Data Science with Python Team: “All of us chiming in: If you don’t know python but you have a programming background I think it’s very attainable – we provide some material in the first week which will help bridge the gap. If you don’t have a programming background or want a review, then we would recommend checking out Dr. Chuck’s MOOC, ‘programming for everybody.’”


Quora is a question and answer site, which is well positioned to support faculty engagement with learners. Questions are tagged with subjects, and users can follow those subjects in addition to specific authors. Quora also let’s experts set up Q&A “Sessions” in one of 8 different categories where they answer a series of questions from users all over the world. Unlike AMA’s which are scheduled multiple times in a day, Sessions in a given category are separated by at least a day (and sometimes weeks). Here are some examples of our faculty using Quora:

Web Design for Everybody 

Dr. Colleen Van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information in the School of Information

Screenshot of the Quora Q and A with Dr. Colleen Van Lent

Answered 15 questions, each receiving 400-1,500 views

Quora User’s Question: “I have 9 year old daughter that started programming in Scratch 2 years ago. Would you recommend JS as a next step? Which page/video/tool/program?”

Colleen van Lent: “The choice of next language depends a little bit on who is around to help out. Last year my 11yr old son struggled trying to learn JavaScript using traditional books. The problem is that the smallest typo in the book will derail him – at this age they are still typing the code more than coding themselves. The only reason it works for him is that I can check in when he gets stuck.

He had a lot of success with Snake Wrangling for Kids for learning Python. He is currently using Khan academy to learn JavaScript.

My 9yr old daughter uses Anybody can Learn to do general coding ideas rather than a specific language. She also learned HTML and CSS last year, with a little bit of JavaScript.

If you can, contact any local colleges or universities. Many student groups hold coding workshops for elementary and middle school children.”

Faculty who have used these platforms enjoy how this type of engagement gives potential learners a less-formal space to get to know them. We have also heard that these experiences are useful for supplying faculty and their teams with questions that are top of mind for potential learners in their subject areas:

“[Using Reddit] helped me connect with a group of keen learners who had a breadth of exposure with similar MOOC offerings, giving [our course team] an understanding of what students were looking for.” – Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information and Director of Learning Analytics and Research in the Office of Academic Innovation

Faculty interested in participating in future Q&A sessions are encouraged to speak with their program manager and connect with our marketing team to discuss their ideas.

Calling Positive Problem Solvers to Join a Growing DIG Team

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Mike Daniel, Director of Policy and Operations

Ben Hayward, Lead Developer

As we soak in summer and prepare for a new academic year, we look at the themes emerging from our wide-ranging projects, the people that are needed to sustain momentum and drive our next stage of growth, and a culture of innovation in learning that keeps us thinking boldly about the future. We’re poised to expand our project portfolio. The Office of Academic Innovation is opening a newly designed collaborative space the first week of September. And now we’re looking for six new problem solvers to join our growing team.

Digital Innovation Greenhouse

Can you see yourself working with us to solve some of the most interesting problems in higher education today?

In 2015 we launched the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) within the Office of Academic Innovation with lofty aspirations. We began with the mission of advancing personalized education at Michigan. We have learned so much in the last two and a half years, and now we’re ready to raise the bar on helping Michigan create a permanent model for academic R&D.

At its core, DIG is where design, software development, behavioral insights, and data science come to meet. The result is a community of innovators with a shared commitment to transforming higher education. As we build new tools we are creating a new model for academic innovation that requires a team with a mix of expertise and skills new to higher education.

DIG is working with faculty innovators and academic units across campus on a wide range of projects. What has emerged is a clear set of themes. Our projects center primarily in three areas: personalizing education at scale, gameful learning, and engaged online education. Since establishing DIG we have made significant technological progress in the first two domains. We see an opportunity to dramatically expand our efforts in engaged online education through the creation of several new positions and strong collaborations with Academic Innovation’s Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL).

Already, there is much to be excited about.

Our tailored communication platform has grown to coach thousands of students each term on their personal experiences within their courses. With the commercial release of GradeCraft we’ve launched a new generation of gameful learning. With PolicyMaker we’re bringing the power of simulations to learning experiences ranging from preparing the pre-college learner to professional leadership training. M-Write is leveraging natural language processing to transform our ability to analyze essays and peer reviews at scale. In Problem Roulette we’re releasing a rebuilt practice tool for the modern area, pushing the boundaries of collaborative preparation.

By building new tools with our users as primary collaborators, we’ve designed products that delight faculty and learners. Yet, there is much more to do.

Three staff members collaborating around a white board with a view of campus in the backgroundAs we prioritize the many opportunities ahead we seek to further invest in design, developer, and behavioral science capabilities. Our team has seen a number of key additions in recent months. Oliver (Ollie) Saunders joined us from England by way of Silicon Valley. Ke Yu has kept his wardrobe Maize and Blue as a recent U-M graduate with a master’s degree in computer engineering. In Kristen Miller, we’ve added a talented graphic designer, vegetable critic and user interface developer to our design team. Carly Thanhouser brings to the team a passion for not only Bernese mountain dogs, but also applying behavior change principles, theory, communication techniques, and innovation strategy. And Kyle Schulz rounds out our excellent roster of new faces as a freshly minted data scientist with an analyst’s nose for the most economical daily food deals.

With our next stage of growth in mind, clarified by our own experiments and through Academic Innovation’s stewardship of the President’s Academic Innovation Initiative, we have created six new positions that we are looking to fill immediately.

  • Senior Developer — to play a key role in advancing our growing portfolio of digital applications.
  • Gameful Learning Developer — to help drive the design and development of new tools that will support gameful learning.
  • System Administrator — to support our rapidly evolving applications at scale.
  • Online Learning Developer — to help drive the design and develop digital applications aimed at enhancing online and residential education experiences and facilitating engaged and personalized learning, collaborating closely with Academic Innovations’s Digital Education and Innovation Lab on initiatives in the Lab’s portfolio of online courses for global and lifelong learners.
  • Online Learning Designer — to design and implement the visuals, interactions and experience for promising software applications and prototypes targeting online learning across a range of exciting new projects and technologies.
  • Online Learning Behavioral Scientist — to design, develop, and test behavioral interventions to enhance the impact of our online learning experiences and digital applications.

Together, the talented problem solvers that take on these new positions will join DIG and the Office of Academic Innovation to shape Michigan’s ground-breaking model for academic R&D. These positions represent the rapidly growing opportunities for collaboration across the Academic Innovation Labs: the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, the Gameful Learning Lab, and the Digital Education & Innovation Lab. Come change the future with us!

Transforming University Students from Consumers to Developers of Online Content

This article was originally posted on 7/12/2017 on the Coursera Blog

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

What would it look like for university students to be the content creators for a Coursera social impact campaign course? At the University of Michigan, Dr. Michaela Zint, Professor of Environmental Education & Communication in the University’s School for Environment and Sustainability and School of Education, and her students partnered with the Office of Academic Innovation and the University’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning to explore the idea of “an online course by students.” The goal of the initiative was to investigate how students could be transformed from consumers to developers of online content.

Dr. Michaela Zint, a noted proponent of environmental and sustainability education, explains:

“The students in our School for Environment and Sustainability are eager to learn how to educate others about climate change and how to do so effectively. In addition, research tells us that young adults from across the globe are looking for ways to best respond to this major societal challenge. Engaging students in the development of an action-oriented climate change online course therefore seemed like an appropriate way to merge these interests. Facilitating the co-creation of an online course also sounded like a lot more fun than developing an online course on my own. It was!”

Group photo of Dr. Michaela Zint and her students posing with their hands in the air in front of an academic building

Over the course of two semesters, the course team worked together to develop an online course that would become part of Coursera’s Social Impact campaign — Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action. A desired outcome of the course was that learners feel empowered to address and respond to climate change as individuals and in partnership with their communities and political leaders.

Dr. Zint’s students were motivated to sign-up for the experience by a variety of factors, including the chance to do something innovative beyond the scope of a regular class, the desire to make a difference and have a far-reaching impact, and the opportunity to learn more about online education.

Priscila Papias, master’s student at the University of Michigan, describes the factors that led to her involvement in the course:

“As someone who has been itching to find a tangible way to impact climate change widely, I quickly jumped on this opportunity to create content for an online course on climate action. In addition to helping fill in gaps in my own knowledge on climate change and climate action, this class gave me the opportunity to learn about what individuals and communities are doing throughout the nation and across the globe to respond to climate change.”

During the first semester, the class focused on topics such as online teaching and learning at scale, learner-centered course design, assessment and evaluation in online courses, universal design principles, and fostering community in online courses.

Dr. Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab within the Office of Academic Innovation, worked closely with Dr. Zint and the students during this first semester:

“We wanted to provide professional development for these future educators and practitioners that would both support the creation of this online course and provide a foundation for their future careers.”

Students seated around a large table with laptops in discussionDuring the second semester, the class concentrated on tasks such as identifying primary and secondary audiences, determining topics for the course, creating a high-level outline, designing assessments and activities for the course, interviewing experts, and locating relevant and timely resources. Through a process of ongoing discussion and iteration, the course team settled on a structure that was used to guide the sequencing of course materials and assessment across the topic modules.

Bryon Maxey, Project Manager within the Office of Academic Innovation, noted the benefits of including students in the course development process:

“In my experience, this approach to online course creation is unique and allowed for truly multi-directional learning, not only for learners who will take the online course, but for the students who were central to course creation process and for the entire course team.”

As a result of the course team’s work throughout two semesters, the course contains a variety of interesting elements, such as a pledge card that online learners are encouraged to complete at the start of the course to express their commitment level, case studies of grassroots organizations, accounts from students that describe their personal experiences with making personal change, and a series of practical recommendations of how online learners can take action at the personal, community, and national (and global) level.

Dr. Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer within the Office of Academic Innovation and member of the course design team, reflects:

“Now that the course elements have been finalized, we can see that there is incredible richness in the resources that the students have put together. What is even more exciting, is that the structure of the course will allow online learners to engage with materials in ways that speak to their personal areas of interest and desired levels of commitment.”

Dr. Michaela Zint,With the course set to launch, the course team is excited to see what the impact of their work will be. Dr. Zint explains:

“My students and I cannot wait so see what our [online] learners think and what impact they will have as individuals, members of their communities, and politically.”

The course’s innovative model was recognized by the University of Michigan’s Campus of the Future initiative and Dr. Zint’s students were invited to participate in a university-wide colloquium on how to reinvent the university in the 21st century.

Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action is part of the Social Impact campaign and is receiving new enrollments daily.

More Writing Through Automation

Digging Deep with a Group of Michigan Faculty and Staff

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

“How do faculty and staff find out about the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) and what you do?”

“What kind of policy implications arise from features in DIG tools?”

“How does DIG steward the data the tools it’s helping build collect?”

These are just a sampling of questions we hear often in DIG from folks throughout the U-M community. This is understandable. While DIG prides itself on working with faculty and staff from a wide swath of the university, we are not immune to reaching some more swiftly and easily than others in both understanding our landscape of tools, or in seeking feedback on how we evolve our policies as our work expands. So, as we started to explore how to reach more faculty and staff, and use their input to help formulate guidelines for our educational technology tools, the DIG Policy Advisory Group idea was born.

X Marks the Spot

Digital Innovation Greenhouse

We formed the DIG Policy Advisory Group in the 2016-2017 academic year to grapple with ethical, legal, privacy, and other substantive issues as they relate to edutech in an age of big data, personalization, and learning analytics. As its title suggests, the DIG Policy Advisory Group brought together heterogenous U-M faculty and staff from throughout the institution representing groups like the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), a variety of schools and colleges and U-M experts on topics at the intersection of ethics, privacy and technology; and roles like academic advisers and the university’s chief privacy officer to counsel DIG on policy-related implications of the development of digital tools. Of equal importance, we sought to recruit faculty and staff who had previous limited engagement with the Office of Academic Innovation.

Grabbing our Shovels

The DIG Policy Advisory Group participants met several times throughout the academic year with members of the DIG team, Faculty Director (Dr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy) and some of our faculty innovators. When we started we set out objectives for our time together including:

  • Interact with and advise the DIG Team and faculty innovators on the policy-related implications of digital tool development, including both the creation of new features within those tools as well as the implications for access among various user groups within U-M and beyond.
  • Help communicate policy frameworks and recommend new features for digital education tools implemented by the DIG Team. This includes periodically sharing major feature development milestones and the related policy rationale behind those milestones to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) as well as key academic leadership as appropriate.

The DIG Policy Advisory Group helped us work through a series of complicated questions. For instance, how should student and instructor data be viewed in ART 2.0? What kind of self-populated student information should instructors have access to in ECoach? And what are the implications of using leaderboards in GradeCraft?

Hitting Pay Dirt

We learned a lot from members of the DIG Policy Advisory Group, many of whom came from pockets of the university we previously had limited access to. We took full advantage of their varying perspectives and expertise (as you can imagine many lively discussions were had). The group aided our efforts by helping us wrestle with questions both big and small on the implications of DIG tool developments for user groups of students, staff, and faculty. Examples include:

  • Incorporating a major and minor find in ART 2.0 so students can use course data to help inform their decision about their course of study;
  • Clarifying to students what the personal information they provide in DIG tools will be used for;
  • Establishing principles for what kind of data is made visible based on role (staff or faculty), while allowing flexibility for faculty with multiple functions (ex. faculty advisors);
  • Recommending ways to let faculty opt-in to using leaderboards while ensuring competition does not erode cooperation or other course learning objectives.

Of equal value, we shared more about our work with faculty and staff who were less familiar with DIG with the hope they spread their new found knowledge of DIG to their U-M communities. Given the success of our 2016-2017 Policy Advisory Group we are moving forward with re-convening the group again in the 2017-2018 academic year. We are adding some new members, keeping most of the old, and are looking forward to getting their feedback on new issues salient to DIG’s expanded portfolio.

As we look beyond this past year to future years and discover more ways to respond to questions like, “How do faculty and staff find out about DIG and what you do?” or “What kind of policy implications arise from features in DIG tools?,” we can’t think of too many better ways to spread DIG seeds than through developing strong campus relationships like the ones we formed, and will continue to strengthen, through the Policy Advisory Group.

Members of the 2016-2017 DIG Policy Advisory Group:

  • Michelle Aebersold, Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Director of Simulation and Educational Innovation in the Department of Systems, Populations and Leadership
  • Sol Bermann, Interim Chief Information Security Officer
  • John Carson, Associate Professor of History in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts,  Director of Undergraduate Studies in History, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Program in Science, Technology & Society
  • Rob Freidhoff, Director of the Engineering Advising Center
  • Rachel Goldman, Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Physics in the Colleges of Engineering and the Literature, Science, and the Arts, Associate Director, Applied Physics, Education Director, Center for Photonic and Multiscale Nanomaterials
  • Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering in the College of Engineering Director, University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society
  • Wallace Hopp, C.K. Prahalad Distinguished University Professor of Business and Engineering, Associate Dean for Part-Time MBA, Professor of Technology and Operations in the Ross School of Business, Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering in the College of Engineering
  • William Schultz, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in the College of Engineering, SACUA Senate Assembly Immediate Past Chair
  • Priti Shah, Professor of Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience and Educational Psychology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the School of Education