Welcoming Group Study to the Problem Roulette Platform

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


Since Problem Roulette’s launch as an Office of Academic Innovation tool, students have attempted 1.7 million multiple choice exam prep problems across 10 University of Michigan courses. These impressive numbers speak to the utility value of a tool created by August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, to help prepare students for exams in a low-stakes, easy to use test prep application. In examining the future of Problem Roulette, we are committed, not only to examine ways in which we can continue to grow the volume of problems solved, but equally the efficacy with which we prepare University of Michigan Students for multiple choice exams.

Study Alone, and now…Study in Groups!

In that spirit we have introduced an exciting and significant new feature in Problem Roulette: Group Study. Group Study enables University of Michigan students the opportunity to form groups and study for midterm and final exams using Problem Roulette. Admittingly, students have told us that they were using the platform to study in groups in the past; however they were only using one student’s Problem Roulette account to work on answering problems huddled around a shared computer screen. We figured there was a better way, and wanted to give students the opportunity to study in groups either in-person (as they had been), and virtually (to accommodate, say, if some of your studymates are different parts of campus).

Group Study enables students to use Problem Roulette to set-up and execute group study sessions. New features include:

  • Invite anyone in the University of Michigan community to join a study group.
  • Everyone within the study group gets the same practice problem in real time. The answer is not revealed until everyone has submitted one.
  • Chat with your group mates using the chat feature built within Problem Roulette to help discern why people answered the way they did, and where folks are getting stuck.
  • Add practice problems to your Notebook to refer back to at a later time, or to bring to a Study Group Leader, Tutor, GSI, or Faculty.
  • Leave a group if you need to, knowing that the group study session will go on.
  • Finish a session. Each study group member gets access to analytics about their performance including accuracy by topic, and number of correct and incorrect answers.

We, on the Problem Roulette team, are eager for students to use Group Study mode, and benefit from collaborating with peers as they prepare for multiple choice exams in large courses, while adding to the over one million Problem Roulette problem attempts.


Take a Look at the ART 2.0 Academic Spotlight

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


The Academic Reporting Tools (ART 2.0) serve the University of Michigan community by exposing historical academic data including information about courses, instructors, and majors. Faculty champion and founder of ART 2.0, August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and the ART 2.0 team in the Office of Academic Innovation ideate, in regular intervals, on what kinds of and in what ways to show relevant data to our community. Of course, we also respond to what our stakeholders ask for. Grade distributions, for example, are something University of Michigan students requested we show for quite some time. Fortunately, we were able to do so. Given the success of recent ART 2.0 improvements including the aforementioned grade distributions, the most common co-majors and minors for undergraduate degrees, and the terms to completion for undergraduate degrees, the ART 2.0 team is eager to show more and, importantly meaningful, data to aid University of Michigan students in making informed academic decisions.

Introducing, Academic Spotlight

In service of meeting this objective ART 2.0 has recently added a new feature called “Academic Spotlight”. The ART 2.0 Academic Spotlight takes unique and significant kinds of University of Michigan data, and puts them into relevant categories and lists for our community. Already, we have six spotlights we are eager for students, faculty, and staff to peruse. These include:  

  • The 10 largest undergraduate University of Michigan courses. Interestingly, but not surprisingly given its size, all are offered by the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts.
  • All Arthur F. Thurnau faculty. The Thurnau designation is awarded to University of Michigan faculty for outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching. ART 2.0 lists all Thurnau faculty in reverse chronological order, and link to their InstructorInfo pages from this list.
  • The 10 fastest growing degrees by percentage increase over the last three years. Some of these degrees include the Bachelor of Information Science and Bachelor of Physics.
  • Center for Entrepreneurship courses. We give students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to look at all of the Center for Entrepreneurship courses at a glance, and link each one to their CourseProfile page.
  • 100 courses where students reported their desire to take the course was low, but that their increased interest in the subject was high after taking the course. These courses are worth taking a look at, proving that a good course is not always one students had a high desire to take.
  • The Wild Card feature. Gain access to 10 courses at random. Given that ART 2.0 contains over 11,000 University of Michigan courses, the wildcard feature is sure to help expose students to courses they may not otherwise know.

The Academic Spotlight feature will continue to expand as the ART 2.0 team responds to the University of Michigan community’s wants and needs in how we smartly and pertinently visualize institutional data. In the meantime take a look at the Academic Spotlight, “roll the dice” in the Wild Card feature, and enjoy getting to know University of Michigan data in new and exciting ways.

Convening Communities of Practice in the Office of Academic Innovation

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


How does the Office of Academic Innovation bring together faculty and staff to participate in reciprocal learning experiences? While we offer faculty and staff a myriad of ways to learn from us and one another, one principal way we convene faculty and staff is in communities of practice. Communities of practice enable the Office of Academic Innovation the opportunity to bring together faculty and staff from across the University to engage in deep learning experiences on salient teaching and learning topics. But before we dig deeper into the advantages of partaking in a community of practice, let’s define one.

What is a Community of Practice?

The Office of Academic Innovation, like many, borrows inspiration for – and guidance from – convening and running its communities of practices based on the seminal work of Etienne Wenger. Wenger’s 1988 book, aptly titled Communities of Practice, outlines its essential features. These include:

  • Domain: The topic with which the community convenes around. For us in the Office of Academic Innovation, we pick topics in service of our goals, and of interest to our stakeholders. Recent communities of practice include gameful learning and simulation pedagogy.
  • Community: The learners themselves! In strong communities of practice, participants develop constructive relationships where they acquire knowledge from one another and strengthen ties. These relationships form the basis of a culture where they comfortably share ideas with one another.
  • Practice: The way in which the community decides the focus of the group. Although the domain may be of general interest to the members, the practice ensures that their specific needs are met. The practice is how the knowledge of the community is constructed and maintained.

What do Members Gain?

In a place as large as the University of Michigan, faculty and staff may sometimes struggle to find others who are invested in developing a teaching and learning pedagogy similar to their own. Places like the Office of Academic Innovation, the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (who sometimes co-sponsors communities of practice with us) and a handful of others use communities of practice as a way to help faculty and staff with similar interests find and learn from each other. Members gain an opportunity to examine their approach to teaching and learning in a low-stakes environment with others who are equally invested. Communities of practice enable us to tackle tough, but common issues such as using autonomy as a way to foster motivation for learning, or using role-based learning to gain empathy about an actor other than yourself. Members in our communities of practice gain access to people, resources, and an approach to innovative ways of teaching, and meaningful ways of learning.

How do I Join?

Each academic term and year, the Office of Academic Innovation hosts communities of practice any faculty or staff may join. Our current offerings are listed below.

  • Gameful Learning Community of Practice: Gameful teaching is a pedagogical approach that takes inspiration from how good games function and applies that to the design of learning environments. Gameful seeks to support students’ intrinsic motivation by building structures for student autonomy, opportunities to demonstrate competency and by facilitating interpersonal connections. This community of practice is designed to engage in meaningful and productive discussion about their use of gameful principles in teaching, including sharing successes and challenges, to help create a more motivational environment for all learners.
  • Simulations Community of Practice: The Simulations Community of Practice is an interdisciplinary group of U-M staff and faculty who meet regularly to discuss the development and implementation of simulation-based teaching tools. Participants explore the benefits and challenges of simulation activities, as well as share experiences and resources. All instructors and staff who create and/or facilitate simulation activities for the classroom, or who are interested in doing so, are welcome to attend.
  • Public Engagement: A future community of practice focused on public engagement is in the works. Stay tuned for more details. 

Stay updated on all communities of practice and other faculty and staff groups by visiting our events calendar.

We are eager to continue to expand our communities of practice in service of our faculty and staff while bringing both our expertise and curiosity to bear in facilitating a positive learning community for those responsible for stewarding students learning experiences.  

The Making of a Community Engagement MOOC

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


What happens when a multidisciplinary team of University of Michigan staff, faculty, and graduate students come together to create a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on community engagement featuring at least a dozen voices? A deep and wide learning experience that traverses all major aspects of how to do effective community engagement in higher education is born. Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change recently launched on EdX. This unique learning experience commenced when a group of staff from the Center for Socially Engaged Design- College of Engineering, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Edward Ginsberg Center- Student Life, Global Engagement Team- Office of the Provost, School of Information, and the School of Social Work decided to use the MOOC structure to create and deliver a robust curriculum on how to enter, navigate, and exit communities in engaged learning experiences. As Jen Vetter, Office of Academic Innovation Design Manager said of the project, “At any time during development, we had more than a dozen voices contributing to what this course would look and feel like.”


Working with a Large and Multidisciplinary Team

How does the Office of Academic Innovation work with a team this size? As you can imagine, it could present challenges when many stakeholders are involved in making content and design decisions. Jen says To take advantage of all our expertise and voices, and also to help streamline what needed to be done, we planned and implemented a full-day design retreat – a first for the Office of Academic Innovation – early in the partnership that helped to set the tone and feel of the course.” Rather than look at the size of the team as a barrier to the design and implementation process everyone embraced the benefits that come from employing a larger group, including the diversity of voices aiding design decisions. As Carrie Luke, Program Manager in the Provost’s Office, indicates when talking about the consensus based decision-making approach the team employed “Community engagement work requires a collaborative leadership approach in order to be successful — one that focuses on relationship-building, robust discussion and the ability to talk through conflicting ideas, and strong consensus-building skills. To live into this principle ourselves, we leveraged that collaborative, horizontal model for our work on the course, with no one having more authority over anyone else on the team. Speaking honestly, there were moments when having a “chair” might have made decision-making faster and easier, but we were convinced that rigorous discussion and consensus-building would lead to a better product in the end. All of us on the course development team happen to be women, and horizontal leadership models are deeply rooted in feminist practice and social justice work — so it’s a point of pride for us that we were able to leverage these approaches in our own work and promote them for other teams to try, too.”


Centering Community Partners Voices

While the sheer size of the team working to produce this MOOC was unusual, the way in which the team incorporated voices is also of note. Kelly Kowatch, Director of Engaged Learning Programs in the School of Information said in a recent University of Michigan Record article written by Nitya Gupta  We also intentionally sought out significant input from student users and community members who are experts on these topics.” It’s true that not only does this MOOC showcase the scholarship of faculty who partner with communities in their teaching and learning, it also amply incorporates students who have had community engagement experiences and could share their lessons learned with future learners. Importantly, it also features community partners themselves presenting their necessary views on topics such as understanding the necessity of and value in community context and expertise, working within a collaborative team communicating effectively, resolving conflicts and managing community engagement projects. Carrie Luke expresses, “It was very important to us to include a wide range of voices and perspectives in the course. We felt that doing so would help the course content speak to a wider and more diverse audience, and it would be more representative of community engagement work itself, where working with and learning from people who are different from you is par for the course.” It is the care and attention the team played to issues of representation that really matters. As the project’s Learning Experience Designer, Rebecca Quintana, PhD said, “The design team was totally committed to their work and it was clear that they cared deeply about the project. The final design reflects their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


Creating Something for University of Michigan Students and Global Learners

Danyelle Reynolds, Assistant Director for Student Learning and Leadership in the Edward Ginsberg Center expressed in the Record article about the creation of this learning experience, “We know that properly preparing the thousands of students who have community engagement experiences each year maximizes learning outcomes and community benefit.” Indeed what is compelling about this learning experience is that is designed for both residential and global learners. As Carrie Luke says, “…we realized that the content we were developing had universal qualities that could benefit anyone trying to work with communities beyond their own. We were also deeply committed to the idea that the learning experience should be flexible and personalizable, since learners come to community engagement work from so many contexts and with such varying levels of preparation. The MOOC enabled the broadest accessibility and most flexibility of any format we considered — as well as the additional benefit of global reach thanks to our partnership with the Office of Academic Innovation, EdX, and Michigan Online.” In fact, in the first week of launch, over 1,000 learners from across the world enrolled in the course, while faculty at the University of Michigan reported using it in their classes. As Rebecca Quintana posits, “The Office of Academic Innovation is proud to have this course as part of our portfolio, and we are confident that this course will be a valuable resource for U-M students and others who are engaged in work within various communities, both locally and globally.”

The Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change MOOC proves a large team of professionals with different roles, responsibilities, and situated in different parts of the University of Michigan, can come together to create unique learning experiences on issues and topics that supercede any one department to the benefit of both residential and global learners. This project demonstrates strong cooperation, smart design process, and aspirational goals can be met to deliver a rich learning experience.