Personalized Electronic Coaching: The Origin of ECoach

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Personalization is a popular concept in and outside of higher education, yet definitions vary, sometimes widely, about what it means to “personalize” educational experiences for students. ECoach, a tailored communication system, is using personalization backed by well-researched behavioral science, smart user experience design, and ongoing software development, to help students succeed in large courses. Professor Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education and founder of ECoach, explains what it was like for him to grapple with meaningfully and successfully reaching hundreds of students in his large introductory physics course. Listen as Professor McKay talks about the “a-ha” moments that motivated him to create a digital edutech solution to provide the right information, at the right time, and in the right way to his students. Hear Professor McKay examine how ECoach has evolved over time, and what the future may look like for ECoach and thoughtful, student-centered, and technology driven personalization as part of the future of higher education.


Take a listen by clicking below.



Rivalry Aside: Notre Dame and Michigan Come Together to Tell the Stories of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Recovery Efforts

Rivalry aside: U-M, Notre Dame come together to tell stories of Puerto Rico, encourage action

Rivalry Aside: U-M, Notre Dame Come Together to Tell Stories of Puerto Rico, Encourage Action

Michigan News

ANN ARBOR—After a four-year hiatus from play, fans can expect fierce competition when the University of Michigan and Notre Dame football teams hit the gridiron Sept. 1. But off the field the universities will put the rivalry aside in a collaboration to remind the world of those who battle daily to overcome the devastation wrought one year ago by a deadly hurricane.

Faculty and staff from U-M and Notre Dame have come together to present “Listening to Puerto Rico,” a free online global learning teach-out offered jointly by the two institutions.

“The University of Michigan’s public mission calls for us to advance human understanding and contribute to a better society,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “We are proud to partner with Notre Dame to examine a complex national tragedy, learn from the people of Puerto Rico, and discover new ways for our community to help with the ongoing recovery.”

The online learning opportunity features the voices of residents as well as a number of historians, educators, and civic and business leaders, who will focus on life on the island almost a year after Hurricane Maria made landfall Sept. 20, 2017.

The teach-out series is modeled after the first teach-in that began at U-M in the 1960s. Faculty that wanted to protest the Vietnam War decided an effective way to do so was through an intellectual pursuit, so they organized a marathon session featuring several speakers. The idea caught on and was replicated across the country at 35 other institutions.

The U-M Office of Academic Innovation created the teach-out series in 2017 as a way to engage a global audience in contemporary topics online. The series has featured a range of events that are free, short-form, self-paced learning opportunities on topics such as fake news, sleep deprivation, the opioid crisis, crisis at the border and extreme weather.

The current teach-out—the first to involve two universities—is focused on Puerto Rico’s resilience in the wake of Maria and the concern among residents that the U.S. territory, still in recovery, remains vulnerable as the current hurricane season is underway.

Along with this online event, each university is planning campus activities, including teach-ins, to encourage students, faculty and staff to engage in conversation around the social, political, economic, environmental and humanitarian issues represented by the crisis in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria caused more than 1,400 deaths, an estimated $90 billion in damage and left many of the island’s 3.3 million inhabitants without electricity, drinkable water and shelter for months after the storm.

Hurricane Maria’s devastation still evident one year later. Images courtesy U-M Office of Academic Innovation

Hurricane Maria’s devastation still evident one year later. Images courtesy U-M Office of Academic Innovation

In June, faculty, staff and students from U-M and Notre Dame traveled to the island to gather individual stories and learn how communities have banded together in response to environmental, economic and public health challenges.

U-M’s Will Potter talks with Puerto Rico resident Héctor Rodríguez.

U-M’s Will Potter talks with Puerto Rico resident Héctor Rodríguez.

More than 30 interviews with Puerto Rican community members throughout the island were conducted by Will Potter, U-M senior academic innovation fellow and a member of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts faculty; Marisel Moreno, associate professor of U.S. Latino/a Literature in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Notre Dame; and Thomas F. Anderson, the Dr. William M. Scholl Professor of Latin American Literature and chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Notre Dame.

These stories will be combined with expert videos from faculty who are involved in research, education and service with the island and its people.

“What I hope for the most is to help create awareness about Puerto Rico in terms of its past, present and future. At this point in history, when the island is facing a serious debt crisis and the devastating impact of a hurricane, Puerto Rico not only needs the help of its people, but also that of allies,” Moreno said. “What this process has demonstrated is the tremendous potential that we—our two great universities—have to promote awareness and justice. We can be a force for good together.”

University of Notre Dame faculty, Marisel Moreno and Thomas Anderson, speak with two Puerto Rican men about their experiences with Hurricane Maria.

University of Notre Dame faculty, Marisel Moreno and Thomas Anderson, speak with two Puerto Rican men about their experiences with Hurricane Maria.

Almost a year after Maria, emergency management leaders say power is restored, many houses have been rebuilt and essential services largely are intact in more populous areas, but the team found a different story in remote communities.

U-M School of Public Health doctoral student and Puerto Rico native Amilcar Matos-Moreno tells about an elderly couple living in the mountainous area of Orocovis, 40 miles outside of San Juan. The couple had just gotten power back two weeks before Matos-Moreno and his team traveled the two hours up the mountain in June to put up a roof and install a safe front door and appliances in the home. Following the hurricane, the elderly man had patched the house back together with scraps that had blown into the area.

“The owner had actually grabbed whatever was lying around. The doors they had were not safe at all,” Matos-Moreno said. “The couple did not receive government help with rebuilding because they were so far from any center. The government told them that.”

They did receive funding for the building materials and appliances, he said.

Among the interviews is one with a Federal Emergency Management Act official who explained what has taken place to restore essential services and facilities on the island. He acknowledged additional work could take another five to 10 years to fix an infrastructure that has been put back together with “Band-Aids.”

Amilcar Matos-Moreno, PhD candidate at the School of Public Health, gives directions to a group of students from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University as they work to rebuild a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Amilcar Matos-Moreno, PhD candidate at the School of Public Health, gives directions to a group of students from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University as they work to rebuild a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, associate professor of Spanish and American culture at U-M and a member of the team, called the situation there a “different normal.”

He talks about going down a few days after Maria to take his 88-year-old mother away from her badly damaged home, and his surprise upon returning three months later to find little change.

“There are still people who have no electricity, who are homeless, who have lost their jobs. The hurricane came to intensify a crisis that had already been going on for at least 12 years and possibly for more time,” La Fountain-Stokes said in reference to the ongoing economic struggle in Puerto Rico.

Among the stories, the team heard from a physician who chose to stay when many health care professionals left, a journalist who kept questioning official accounts of the death toll, a faculty member from the University of Puerto Rico who explained the compounding economic toll caused by the hurricane, an entrepreneur whose online business was disrupted by the power outage, and several other residents who organized grassroots efforts to help others.

The teach-out team says what comes through the interviews is a story of great resilience.

“This, for the most part, is not a place where people base their happiness on economic stability or well-being,” Anderson said. “Instead, Puerto Ricans have managed to weather many storms, so to speak—Spanish colonization, U.S. imperialism, several major economic crisis, devastating hurricanes—by maintaining a positive outlook, placing great importance on family and friends, loving and embracing their island and its culture, and sticking together when times are tough.”

Participants can register for the free teach-out online beginning Aug. 27. “Listening to Puerto Rico” will be available until Sept. 24.

Other events include:

  • Notre Dame teach-in (4:30 p.m. Aug. 31, Eck Visitors Center)
    This will be a panel discussion featuring Moreno, Anderson and other Notre Dame faculty from Puerto Rico, discussing the current state of affairs on the island and offer commentary on next steps and future solutions.
  • Student event, live-streamed webshow (5 p.m. Sept. 12)
    Notre Dame students from Puerto Rico will join Anderson and Moreno for a discussion on how Hurricane Maria impacted them, their families and their communities.
  • University of Michigan teach-in (6 p.m. Sept. 20, Pierpont Commons East Room, 2101 Bonisteel Blvd.)
    On the anniversary of Hurricane Maria there will be a mini-documentary screening followed by a panel discussion about the current situation in Puerto Rico, moderated by Will Potter and featuring La Fountain-Stokes, as well as other U-M faculty and partners from Puerto Rico.

Listening to Puerto Rico

Steve Welsh, Learning Experience Designer

Earlier this May, the University of Michigan hosted the first Teach-Out Academy,  where ten universities came together to explore how online Teach-Out events might be utilized to engage communities in discussion around important topics of our time. Among the Academy participants was Notre Dame’s Office of Digital Learning. Over the course of the Academy, an exciting collaboration emerged between University of Michigan and Notre Dame around the topic of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. We decided to co-develop a Teach-Out entitled “Listening to Puerto Rico,” which would prominently feature the voices of Puerto Ricans from diverse backgrounds telling their own stories.

Both institutions organized teams comprised of faculty and media producers to travel to Puerto Rico to listen and learn from people on the island. Days before leaving in late-June, we convened a two-day design jam in South Bend to coordinate our design approach and interview strategies, and then our teams were off.

The Michigan team was led by Will Potter, U-M faculty and investigative journalist, who conducted interviews with Puerto Ricans from all walks of life. We heard powerful stories of loss and recovery, abandonment and resilience, disappointment and hope. What follows is a sneak peak of what we heard from Puerto Rican residents who lived through the hurricane and its aftermath.

Will Potter interviewing on a bench

Before dawn on a rainy morning, our team left San Juan to drive high into the lush, remote mountain landscape of Orocovis, where we joined a group of volunteers (led by Michigan School of Public Health student and Puerto Rican native Amilcar Matos-Moreno, along with several fellow SPH students) who were pitching in to rebuild a mountainside house that had been devastated in the hurricane. Our team came hoping to assist in the rebuilding, but the rain threw a wrench in our intentions. This gave us an opportunity to talk to the residents and get a sense of the extent to which the hurricane impacted them. What our team heard from them, and so many of those we spoke to, was that the solidarity within their communities was what really rescued Puerto Ricans in the weeks and months following Maria. There was such willful, undeniable resilience evident in many of the people we talked to, alongside a heavy-hearted acknowledgment of the shortcomings of the local and federal government’s response. We left Orocovis inspired by the work that Amilcar and so many community members are contributing to get their neighbors’ households back to a livable state.

Orocovis Mountains with Amilcar and SPH students

Orocovis Mountains with Amilcar and SPH students

Near San Juan, in the Central medical district, we visited the office of Dr. Ivan Figueroa Diaz, a family practitioner. In the weeks and months following Maria, when his entire area was without power and most with the means to do so fled the country, Dr. Figueroa stayed and dedicated himself to helping his community through the very dire crisis. He took us for a ride-along tour of the neighborhood, during which he pointed out areas of the town that were hit particularly hard, and he described the scope of the public health disaster as it affected his community. The gravity of what you will see in the interview hit us in a way none of us could have anticipated.

Will Potter and Dr. Figueroa talking in a car

Will Potter and Dr. Figueroa

The next day, our team secured an on-the-record interview with a Deputy Field Coordinator from FEMA. We were granted a 15 minute window with their spokesperson Justo Hernandez, a native Puerto Rican with over 20 years of FEMA service. Having researched some of his previous interviews, we knew to expect a success story of swift recovery and efficient bureaucracy. We asked the spokesman some hard questions about the disconnect between the official narrative and what we were seeing on the ground, and the resulting interview was quite compelling.

Will Potter interviews FEMA Deputy Field Coordinator

Will Potter interviews FEMA Deputy Field Coordinator

Puerto Rico is a famously Catholic island, and it celebrates many of the faith’s holidays with its own particular flair. La Noche de San Juan, for instance, is a celebration of St. John the Baptist celebrated by Catholic communities throughout the world. In Puerto Rico, it’s a festive night where faithful and secular alike recognize the occasion with a midnight baptism as a cleansing ritual to wash the previous year away. This year, there’s a lot to wash away for the residents of the island. We trekked to a San Juan beach known to be the gathering place for locals, and talked to whomever we could persuade to speak on camera about what this year’s ritual meant to them. We heard stories about hardship and resilience, about young people weighing their options in a tough job economy, often choosing to stay to support their family. Shortly after midnight, we joined them in washing away the previous year by diving backwards into the ocean. It was a joyous, but bittersweet night.

Noche de San Juan

Noche de San Juan

Much progress has been made to restore life in Puerto Rico back to what it was before September 20th, 2017, but there is still much to be done. We left indelibly inspired by the resilience of the island’s residents, and now we want to share their stories with you. We encourage you to join us in listening to Puerto Rico.

A building aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico

Join the University of Michigan and University of Notre Dame as we listen to Puerto Ricans discuss, in their own words, how communities have banded together in the wake of the storm to overcome enormous challenges, how the realities of the long-term recovery on the ground contrast from official reports and what everyday people like you, can do to help.

Join the discussion HERE when the Listening to Puerto Rico Teach-Out launches on Monday, August 27.

Benjamin Morse, Will Potter, and Sean Patrick packing up a car

A Look Back at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer

About a month ago, I shared  some thoughts previewing the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute (GLSI) . One of the key things I took away from this year’s keynote, Erin Baumann, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Pedagogy for the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, was the importance of debriefing and reflection in simulations. Active engagement can be absorptive, overloading all of our immediate resources. Without a debrief, we risk reinforcing the wrong information, highlighting experiences that may have been taken for granted or chalking something up to “fun” without meaning. So now that the lunch boxes have been cleared away and all the quarters have been spent at the arcade, it is time to time to reflect.

For me, part of that reflection has been taking in the photos and reading the comments from participants. Viewing these highlights through the lens of my colleagues surfaced some of the truly amazing things that took place that I might have missed otherwise. Below you will see some of the captured moments from the Institute. One thing that struck me – most of the attendees were strangers when this event started. Yet, the sense of community, collegiality and smiles on the faces of our attendees comes through in these pictures (even if one is participating remotely). We believe that learning is hard work, but can also be enjoyable!

Erin Baumann speaking from podium


“Failure is no longer viewed as failure.  It is still progress towards a goal”


“The practical applications of gamifying [courses] – the “this is how we did it and it worked” was powerful.  Not just theory – actual ways they accomplished it.”



Attendees engaged in discussion


“The last two days have encouraged me that a lot of higher education professionals are creatively and critically thinking of new ways to engage students and inspire learning.  I also met a lot of colleagues that are doing a lot of unique things to get students thinking about new ways to learn”




Virtual and in-person attendees interacting



“It was a delightful experience to meet folks who have a passion for learning, sharing and helping us all succeed.  I will miss everyone!”




Attendees gathered outside conference room



“I appreciated the variety of activities throughout the conference.  Starting with the improv and storytelling really helped activate creativity and openness to all other discussions”




Attendees working on Gradecraft


“Once upon a time I used a fixed syllabus that told students what to do and when.  Then I went to the Gameful Learning conference which reinforced my belief that students need to own their education and make their own learning choices to make the most of their education”



Student panelists laughing


“My favorite was the Student’s view of gameful – I enjoyed soliciting feedback from students!”




Attendees playing pinball together


“I had a huge fear of going to a conference by myself – then I did it!  And made friends and colleagues! I learned that pinball can be multiplayer, there are so many ways to encourage play in our classes and life”




The 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute continues to grow and serve as an opportunity for educators to expand their network while gaining knowledge around all things gameful. We look forward to continuing this event in the Summer of 2019 and hope to see you there. Stay tuned!

Learn more and register for the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute! 

Infographic: Growth and Adoption of ECoach Across the University of Michigan

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

ECoach is a digital platform that was originally developed by a research team led by Professor Timothy McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education, to create a tailored communication system for introductory large-scale courses at the University of Michigan. Currently implemented in courses such as statistics, chemistry, economics and biology, ECoach provides personalized and timely feedback to students on how to succeed. ECoach content is informed by behavioral science techniques such as motivational affirmation and multiple data streams, including input submitted by students themselves. This digital tool helps learners navigate big (and sometimes overwhelming classes) by providing tailored communication, insights into their progress and ways to approach common obstacles. By making information more transparent and personalized to each student the hope is to increase student motivation and engagement with the course. In the past few years, this electronic personal coaching platform has grown immensely and its use continues to expand.

Since ECoach’s inception, the personal coaching platform has grown to support more than 24,000 students at the University of Michigan and continues to grow with potential future uses in admissions, student orientation, student life and career counseling. Total number of U-M students who have used ECoach: 24,136. A bar graph with four data points describing the number of U-M students using ECoach: 2,055 in 2015, 8,953 in 2016, 19,313 in 2017, 24,136 in Winter 2018. 44 unique U-M instructors are using or have used ECoach. Types of courses using ECoach: Statistics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Engineering, Biology, Physics, Applied Liberal Arts, Economics. Percent of current enrolled undergraduates who have used ECoach at some point in their academic careers is 56%.Student testimonial. "I think ECoach is directly responsible for my success in the course…Probably the hardest part of traversing from high school to college was knowing what to do and when, and ECoach really set that up for you. It’s really helped and I feel like as a student who uses it over students who don’t, I definitely had an advantage." - ECoach Student. Academic Innovation logo.