Online Portal Helps Learners Find U-M Digital Learning Opportunities in One Place

Written by Laurel Thomas, Michigan News

ANN ARBOR—As the University of Michigan continues to expand its digital learning portfolio, the Office of Academic Innovation announces a new gateway for one-stop access to online courses and learning experiences created by Michigan faculty and instructional teams.

Called Michigan Online, the portal brings together more than 120 massive open online courses (MOOCs), teach-outs, specializations, MasterTrack certificates, XSeries, MicroMasters and professional certificate programs currently hosted on online platforms Coursera and edX. These learning experiences already have generated nearly 7 million enrollments, reaching learners in more than 190 countries around the world.

“Michigan continues to play a leadership role in shaping how the world learns from and with a great public research university,” said Martin Philbert, U-M provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Michigan Online provides new and important opportunities to broaden access to U-M and enhance participation in our flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning.”

U-M was a founding partner with Coursera in 2012 and since then that affiliation has produced some 68 MOOCs. Some of these are organized into specializations of multiple courses for those who want a deep dive into a topic.

The partnership expanded five years later to add teach-outs, free and open online learning events designed to bring together people from around the world to learn about and address the biggest topics in society.

More recently, U-M and Coursera announced online master’s degree programs in applied data science from the School of Information and in public health from the School of Public Health, as well as a MasterTrack Certificate in construction engineering and management from the College of Engineering.

In 2015, U-M joined edX as a charter member to offer a portfolio of more than 40 MOOCs and teach-outs, including several series of courses called XSeries, and MicroMasters, a collection of courses that give students a head start on a residential degree.

U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation was established in 2014 to create a culture of innovation in learning. Among its goals is to create opportunities for personal and engaged learning by positively impacting pre-college, residential, and global and lifelong learners, as well as support public engagement at U-M.

“When the first MOOCs were launched, no one knew how they would evolve. And then the amazing U-M faculty embraced the opportunity to experiment with online courses that were aimed at learners from across the lifespan and across the globe. And those experiments continue to be successful,” said James Hilton, U-M vice provost for academic innovation. “The launch of Michigan Online will make it easier for people on and off campus to navigate the rich and growing content that is Michigan.”

In 2016, U-M President Mark Schlissel announced the Academic Innovation Initiative to “leverage networked access to information, new modes of learning and the power of data analytics to strengthen the quality of a Michigan education and enhance our impact on society.”

A short time later, the president announced the Teach-out Series, modeled after the teach-ins U-M pioneered in the 1960s. The just-in-time learning experiences focused on important issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War. The success of the U-M teach-ins sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. In 1970, a U-M teach-in attracted thousands of participants in the first U.S. Earth Day, and the events continue today.

The relationships with all platform partners remain but the intent is to make the content more available and easier to navigate for a global community of Michigan learners.

“Michigan Online further extends U-M’s ability to provide high quality learning opportunities for learners at all levels,” said James DeVaney, U-M associate vice provost for academic innovation. “Michigan students will have even greater access to university expertise and resources, and learners around the world will discover new opportunities to acquire new skills, access global learning communities and explore new topics, at their own pace.”

Michigan Online offers users a chance to browse an extensive library of online experiences developed by faculty and instructional teams at U-M. Users can look for courses by subject, duration of the course and type (e.g., course or teach-out).

Course and teach-out subjects include biology and life sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences, business and finance, education and teacher training, physical science and engineering, data science, computer science, health and safety, and design. Among the offerings are applied data science, leadership, Python programming, sleep deprivation, and computer user experience and design.

Creators of the learning portal welcome audience feedback on the tool which may be submitted at

Showcasing the Contributions of Student Fellows, Interns and Collaborators

Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

Student fellows and interns offer a great deal of creativity, energy and support to the Office of Academic Innovation. They become valuable, contributing members of our team working closely with our staff and faculty innovators throughout their experience in our office.

Last month, the University of Michigan community was treated to an exploration of the amazing work of our talented student interns and fellows at the Academic Innovation Student Showcase. This event highlighted the amazing contributions of these student innovators and their impact in the areas of user experience design, behavioral science, accessibility, graphic design, research and more through 15-minute lightning talks and a poster session illustrating the tangible impact of their work.

In celebration of their outstanding contributions , we would like to highlight students who have completed their fellowship,internship or other work with our office and will take the next step in their promising careers.

Ann Burke

Personalization Fellow Since September 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: ECoach

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“While I was hired on to write messages for ECoach, I learned quickly that writing material for this learning tool does not happen in a vacuum, but requires constant collaboration and feedback. Ultimately, working at Academic Innovation has allowed me to draw on my expertise as a teacher and researcher, but also learn new ways of supporting students in their learning experiences through content generation, user testing, and working with the Academic Innovation team, students, and faculty across contexts.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“I graduated from my PhD program in April and transition into a new career. I’m not quite sure what that career will be yet, but I’m grateful to have had the experience I did at Academic Innovation as it has further shaped my career goals, which revolve around supporting students in their learning experiences.”

Kathryn Gabriele pointing to a poster while speaking to an event attendeeKathryn Gabriele

Graduate Student Research Assistant for the School of Education MicroMasters Since September 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“This project was my first in the MOOC space and has helped me learn how to design interactive, collaborative learning experiences in this space. In collaborating with our lead designer and our Academic Innovation team, I had the opportunity to co-design course content and partake in thinking through how to best present that content to our learners in ways that motivated both self-directed and community-supported learning. Through my experiences working with our School of Education/Academic Innovation team, I have come to understand the importance of collaborative reflection about course design to improve the user experience.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“I hope to continue working on this project while finishing my studies. Then, I plan to continue to use my design skills in varying ways to support teacher learning and collaboration in the online space.”

Cathy HearnCathy Hearn

Course Advocate and Research Assistant Since June 2017

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“My colleagues at Academic Innovation and at the School of Education have a fantastic approach to work with respect to professional and organizational growth. They embody the idea that you shouldn’t just go to work to complete tasks. Rather, in completing your work you learn more about the task at hand, and about yourself as a professional, and in that way work to constantly improve yourself and your work. We’ve not simply been designing and facilitating a learning experience, we’ve been learning about what we need to do in order to design and facilitate a learning experience, how to share our learning with others, and how to do it better next time.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“I’m looking for further opportunities to apply my training in educational design and improvement in ways that reflect my passion for social justice causes.”

Yu LiuYu Liu

User Experience Design Fellow Since September 2016

Worked on the Following Digital Tools:  GradeCraft, ViewPoint

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“During the past two years at Academic Innovation, I have taken a lot of ownership on three projects. I improved my skills to present my design and collaborate with other stakeholders. Also, Academic Innovation gave me plenty of opportunities to explore new techniques, such as front-end development and some trendy design. The most precious experience here was that I have the chance to learn about our users (students) behaviors and thoughts, which is super helpful for my career.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“I am moving to the bay area and starting my career as a Product Designer at Yahoo (Oath).”

Michelle Peng

Michelle Peng

Marketing Graphic Design Intern Since July 2017

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Rather than focusing on a specific tool, I assisted the marketing team with design deliverables and social assets regarding all of Academic Innovation’s initiatives.

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“During my time here, I was able to tremendously develop my collaboration and project management skills. I learned how to work effectively and professionally in cross-disciplinary groups beyond what class group projects taught me. I also grew to understand how to manage a variety of projects with different timelines.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“After graduating, I will be traveling around Southeast Asia for an indefinite time before continuing my career in graphic design and marketing.”

Yuanru TanYuanru Tan

Learning Design and Accessibility Fellow Since January 2017

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: Accessibility design of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“In the context of online courses, accessibility means that it is possible for all learners, regardless of physical or developmental impairment, to use all course materials and tools. By collaborating with the course design team and communicating from the accessibility experts on campus, I learned both technical and pedagogical strategies to ensure the accessibility of online courses, such as document formats that are friendly to screen reader users.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“Because of the rich opportunities to participate in online course design and researchers, I am interested in further pursuing a degree about online learning after my fellowship ends.”

Stephanie YenStephanie Yen

User Experience Design Fellow Since May 2017

Worked on the Following Digital Tools: ECoach

What Have You Learned During Your Time with the Academic Innovation Team?

“I have experienced various types of interface design and engaged with users to get feedback and iterate the design. Through the work experience in Academic Innovation, I now understand how to tackle design problems from ideation to front-end development and learned how to articulate design with cross-functional teams.”

What’s Next For You After Your Experience with Academic Innovation?

“I am seeking a full-time UX Designer job.”

We would like to wish a fond farewell to all Academic Innovation interns and fellows who are completing their experience with us this spring:

Ann Burke, Behavioral Science Fellow
Cathy Hearn, Course Advocate for Designing and Leading Learning Systems and Improvement Science in Education
Yu Liu, UX Design Fellow
Kayla Mandel, Teach-Out Course Advocate
Michelle Peng, Marketing Graphic Design Intern
George Perrett, Behavioral Science Fellow
Samantha Silveria, Software Development Fellow
Yuan Tian, Software Development Fellow
Ning Wang, Innovation Advocacy Fellow
Stephanie Yen, UX Design Fellow

The Office of Academic Innovation offers a variety of fellowship and internship opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates. Please visit our Student Opportunities page to learn more and apply!

A Conversation with Sarah Dysart, New Director for Online and Hybrid Programs

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Sarah Dysart standing in front of a painted wall with the Academic Innovation logo

In March 2018, U-M announced the intent to design three new innovative online and hybrid programs – one in the growing field of applied data science, a first of its kind in public health, and the first MasterTrack Certificate program, an advanced program in construction engineering and management. The Office of Academic Innovation also recently launched three MicroMasters programs, with the School of Information, School of Education, and School of Social Work, respectively.

As many of U-M’s colleges and schools seek to develop new online and hybrid credentials, we are adding to our capabilities and experience in this arena. I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah Dysart home to Ann Arbor as the new Director for Online and Hybrid Programs at the Office of Academic Innovation. Sarah is a graduate of the College of Engineering and the School of Education at the University of Michigan and spent the last 11 years at Loyola University Chicago, most recently as the Director of Online Learning.

Sarah brings a wealth of experience to our team as we accelerate our design of leading online and hybrid programs and create a flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning that embraces the evolution of a more permeable university. Sarah shares our team’s passion and commitment to broadening access to high quality learning at U-M.

Sarah and I connected as she heads into her first week at the Office of Academic Innovation and discussed faculty development, student learning, and the joy of solving educational problems.

1. You are stepping into a new role with the Academic Innovation team as Director for Online and Hybrid Programs. What excites you about this next step in your career and what motivates you to solve problems at the intersection of teaching, learning, and technology?

I earned both my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from U-M, and I started my career working as a web programmer in the School of Dentistry, so this is somewhat of a homecoming for me. It’s exciting to be able to do work that I love and am really passionate about at the institution where I started my academic and professional career. I know how transformative my education at the University was for me personally; I’m excited to work with AI and academic units to provide broader access to the outstanding learning experiences created by U-M faculty.

Regarding what motivates me, my Bachelor’s degree is in engineering, and I’ve always loved problem-solving. Transitioning to the field of education as a graduate student was challenging because problems in education don’t have laws and formulas to help find precise solutions; educational problems are more messy, unpredictable, and complex than any engineering problem I’ve worked on. Berliner (2002) talks about educational research being “the hardest science of all,” and I couldn’t agree more. Contextual and individual student differences create constantly moving targets that make it hard to generalize results and determine what “works” for individual student learning. My job is awesome in that I get to attempt to solve these incredibly complex and complicated problems every day. No two situations are exactly the same, and every challenge is a fresh opportunity to figure out what works with a different set of variables.

2. How does your experience with faculty development inform the way you approach the design of new online programs?

Faculty are perhaps the most critical stakeholders when it comes to designing and developing new online programs. Their self-efficacy for teaching with technology and the factors that motivate them to engage in teaching online can be critical factors for the success of an online program. With that in mind, I like to emphasize building instructors’ self-efficacy for teaching online and reducing motivational barriers as high priorities when designing new online programs. Building self-efficacy can be achieved by creating opportunities to instructors to have their own successful experiences teaching with technology, or by observing what colleagues are doing successfully when teaching in online or blended environments (or vicarious experiences). To reduce motivational barriers, you first have to listen to and empathize with instructors’ concerns regarding teaching online. I often find that instructors’ motivation is tied to self-efficacy, but there are also frequently concerns regarding the time commitment required and how that will compete with other priorities.

3. As more universities engage in online education, which topics and questions aren’t getting enough attention?

Proponents of online education often talk as if it’s a panacea in terms of creating access to educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education, but research suggests that underrepresented populations such as low-income and minority students are actually less likely to engage with online learning opportunities (Jaggars, 2012; Ortagus, 2017). We need to better understand why this is the case and how we can meaningfully support these students so they engage and persist with opportunities to learn online.

There’s also the really messy question of how we’re defining success in online education. Much of the literature focuses on student satisfaction as the key metric for success, and I think we’re somewhat missing the mark by not centering our definition of success around student learning.

4. What questions and activities do you hope to explore through your new role? How do you hope to work with faculty, staff, and student innovators?

In my work with faculty, I’ve seen evidence that teaching online can help facilitate the transformation of pedagogical approaches, but it’s not something that happens consistently. My research looks at how and why affordances and constraints created by the online environment can help instructors think differently about the way they teach; I’m interested in exploring how that impacts not only their online teaching, but also how it can improve the practices they use in the face-to-face environment.

I’m also really excited to work with faculty, staff, and students to create robust frameworks for providing online student support. The learning experience isn’t just about the curricular opportunities and coursework that’s offered online; participation in co-curricular learning experiences such as research opportunities or departmental programming (e.g. seminars and brown bags) and access to student services (e.g. mental health services and career counseling) can be critical factors for student success and learning. I’m excited to see how we can reimagine the total Michigan learning experience—beyond just the curriculum—for our online and hybrid students.

5. You have roots in Ann Arbor. What is the first thing you plan to do upon your return?

I always loved running the trails in the metroparks and state parks near Ann Arbor. I’m looking forward to exploring them again (especially the Potawatomi Trail) with my family. And of course, we already had sandwiches at Zingerman’s.

6. What else should academic innovation affiliated faculty, staff, and students ask you about?

I love finding ways to frame contemporary educational problems, such as those we find in online learning, with the theories that have been established and the research that’s been done in the fields of ed psych and ed tech. So feel free to pitch practical problems to me and I’ll think about ways it might be framed by literature I’ve read. Finding ways to bridge the research-to-practice gap is something I’m really passionate about, and I think it’s important to draw upon what we already know about learning; it can easily be applied to the new problems we’re encountering.

I also have a six-month old who makes the best facial expressions. If you ask for photos I will be happy to oblige.


Berliner, D. C. (2002). Educational Research: The Hardest Science of All. Educational Researcher, 31(8), 18.

Jaggars, S. (2012). Online learning in community colleges. In M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of  distance education (3rd ed ). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ortagus, J. C. (2017). From the periphery to prominence: An examination of the changing profile of online students in American higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 32, 47–57.

Heads Up! Collecting Data on Everything from Attendance and Quiz Scores to Library Visits, Schools Bolster At-Risk Students Long before they Stumble

Teach-In. Teach-Out. Teach Each Other.

An Open Welcome Letter to the Participants of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Dear Teach-Out Academy Participants:

This is an invitation to change the future. You are invited to create positive social impact through teaching and learning. You are invited to discover new ways to foster dialogue by combining scholarly expertise with communities of engaged citizens and thought leaders outside the academy. You are invited to democratize discussions around timely topics of widespread interest. You are invited challenge our collective thinking about where expertise resides and how problems could and should be solved.

We’re thrilled to welcome you to springtime in Ann Arbor for the first ever University of Michigan Teach-Out Academy. We couldn’t be more excited about the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants who will join us from Brown University, Davidson College, Emory University, MIT, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, University of Colorado, University of Illinois, University of Notre Dame, and University of Pennsylvania. What a terrific group!

On May 14, this group of ten like-minded institutions will convene to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: teach-outs are free and open online learning events intended to activate public concern around timely social issues. Participants from all corners of the world come together to learn, engage, and create change around some of the most pressing issues today. We were inspired by your proposals to create new teach-outs and trust that you will help us build upon this new model and share ideas for reimagining public engagement.

Elyse Aurbach, public engagement lead at the Office of Academic Innovation (AI), provides a great summary of the opportunity ahead of us, “Teach-Outs are uniquely able to harness the intellectual depth and scholarship at the university and to mobilize experts to address a timely topic. But they’re also an opportunity for us to break down the walls of the University and elevate other voices, adding rich breadth and scope of perspectives and ideas to the scholarly conversation.”

U-M created it’s first Teach-Out in March 2017. Yet the story goes much deeper as U-M has a long history of innovation in public engagement and just-in-time learning. It was on my own campus tour as a prospective Michigan student that I first heard the story of the polio vaccine being announced by Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk in 1955. I’ve heard the story a hundred times since. The U-M community is understandably proud of this moment and also sees it as a critical illustration of the important role that research universities play. But it was only recently that I learned how the announcement was shared.

I knew that Francis Jr., Salk, and 500 others gathered in the Rackham building on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus to share an incredible public announcement, which followed Salk’s field trials involving more than 1.8 million children. The breakthrough was of course remarkable. But so was our institution’s commitment to knowledge dissemination and public engagement. As many gathered on campus, the announcement was simultaneously broadcasted on closed-circuit to 54,000 physicians watching in movie theaters across the country. In 1955. The world was listening in as Francis Jr. declared the vaccine “safe, effective, and potent”.

Almost exactly 10 years later, on March 24th, 1965, the Teach-In was born in Ann Arbor. In response to President Johnson’s escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, faculty were set to strike. The world was messy. They wanted answers.

Rather than strike, they saw power in their collective knowledge. Faculty and students staged a Teach-In, the first of its kind, that started at 8pm on the 24th and lasted until 8am the next morning. More than 3,000 faculty, students, and community members participated. They sought to activate public concern, and elevate public discourse.

A couple days before the first Teach-In, the Michigan Daily, our student newspaper, ran an article titled “New Faculty Strategy More Constructive, Effective”. It prepared our campus community for a new kind of event. The piece opined, “If the faculty group gets representatives to present both sides of the fence, in debate form in addition to individual speeches, the “teach-in” would attract many people who want to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in Southeast Asia.”

Learners wanted to understand complex problems and knew that true understanding would require diverse perspectives.

As is the case today, there was no shortage of similarly important topics to explore in the later half of the 1960s. Michigan launched more Teach-Ins. Becoming more informed and participating in positive problem solving events turned out to be contagious. Within the same year, 1965, the original Teach-In event sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. Campuses well beyond Ann Arbor saw power in collective knowledge and sought perspectives and solutions to the problems of the day.

In 1970, we filled our basketball arena for a new Teach-In that became the first Earth Day. Eight-thousand people gathered to elevate public discourse and problem solve around societal issues that matter most. Eight-thousand! There were MOOCs before there were MOOCs!

I talked to several members of the Academic Innovation team about the upcoming Teach-Out Academy. Their collective wisdom is worth sharing as we gear up for the working sessions ahead.

Steve Welsh, the lead learning experience designer for the U-M Teach-Out Series, connects our present efforts to our history of innovation, ”Following the model and spirit of the Teach-Ins, we have an obligation to use the knowledge and expertise we’re fortunate to have on our campus to further the discussion and engage with a broader public. And in 2018, we have the ability to hold that discussion with a global community.”

How then do we engage diverse audience at all levels and provide new gateways to lifelong learning? Sean Patrick, design media lead at the Office of Academic Innovation, calls this the “Milton-Bradley Model: For Ages 8 to 88”. Teach-Outs are an open invitation to all. How do we create meaningful opportunities for learning for communities that reflect the diversity of our society? This as a considerable design challenge but one worth our highest attention.

Like the Teach-In before, we hope institutions around the country (and the globe) will strengthen dialogue around timely topics and facilitate compassionate interactions between participants inside and well beyond academy.

We will gather in Ann Arbor to take a deep dive into the pedagogy and design of Teach-Outs, discuss production processes for just-in-time content, develop calls to action, and explore promotion and engagement strategies. We have designed a workshop for a small, focused cohort of like-minded institutions who seek to construct and disseminate new knowledge through public dialogue.

There is so much we can learn together. Cait Holman, Associate Director for R&D at AI sees opportunity to better understand how people learn and wants, “to understand what critical conversations look like – how people present their arguments, how the ‘other side’ responds, and how people represent processing new information in real time in text.”

The U-M team has thought long and hard about the awesome potential and numerous challenges related to developing high quality short-form learning experiences. Will Potter, a senior academic innovation fellow for digital storytelling puts it this way, “Teach-Outs have built-in restrictions on the amount of material that’s presented, and how quickly it will be produced. You have to think very deliberately about what material makes the cut, how it can be accomplished in a tight timeframe, and why a diverse audience will care. That process really forces you to think differently about your areas of expertise, and in my experience it has also prompted me to reflect upon my research in new ways.”

Lauren Atkins Budde, associate director of design management, sees a creative challenge in designing each new teach-out, “there is a lot of joy in meeting the challenge of creating a comprehensive learning opportunity with very scaled down parameters. I think of it like producing a short film – you have to be much more efficient and thoughtful with the limited time and resources that you have and as a result, you’re often much more creative because you have to be.”

Benjamin Morse, a lead design manager for the Teach-Out Series, reminds us that constructing Teach-Outs is inherently different from other teaching and learning innovations, “This “just-in-time” model lends itself to short timelines and agile design principles. We recognize that each project and each Teach-Out team will be uniquely different and our model has to be flexible enough to bend without breaking, and if it does break, we have to learn how to expand the model to fit that situation.”

We can’t wait to have you with us on campus. The U-M Teach-Out Series is part of our institution’s deep commitment to engage the public in exploring and understanding the problems, events, and phenomena most important to society.

Will Potter, speaks for many of us when he highlights our obligations to innovate in this space, “I teach my journalism students that reporting and research means little if we are unable to communicate what we have learned; we have a responsibility to explain our work in a way that is accessible, and meaningful, to our audiences. I view the Teach-Outs as fulfilling a parallel responsibility for educators.”

Morse paints a picture of what may result from our collaborations together, “I hope the Teach-Out philosophy becomes a ubiquitous model for public engagement in the online learning space. I hope that we create something that others replicate in their own context and iterate on to meet their organizational teaching and learning aspirations. I hope we can help redefine the scope of public engagement within institutions of higher education by providing recognized, viable channels of distribution with opportunities for dialogical interaction.”

We are proud to contribute to U-M’s long history of leadership at the intersection of public engagement and academic innovation. We know that through collaboration with all of you, we are far more likely to create a world where everyone can participate – a compassionate public square for the information age.

This is an official invitation to change the future. Let’s teach-in, teach-out, and teach each other.

James DeVaney
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan