Teach-Outs: Reimagining Public Engagement in Online Learning

Benjamin Morse, Design Manager

Rachel Niemer, Director, Strategic Initiatives

We need new modes of teaching, learning, and connecting in an increasingly digital society. We must challenge how we define expertise by connecting scholars with engaged citizens and by bridging the gap between digital and physical communities. At the Office of Academic Innovation, we believe that we must come together with other institutions of higher education to collectively reimagine how we engage with the global public and how we can create engaged learning experiences with diverse learners.

We are thrilled to announce the second annual Teach-Out Academy at the University of Michigan, which will be held on June 11-12. We will once again convene a group of like-minded institutions to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: Teach-Outs, which bring together people from around the world to learn about, discuss, and address important topics in society. Inspired by the collective discourse embodied in the original Teach-Ins, which started at the University of Michigan during the Vietnam War era, Teach-Outs echo the sentiment that we can and must bring people together to collectively address our world’s most complex social issues. They are free and open online learning events where learners engage with diverse experts, discuss and connect with other participants, and consider actions to take in their own lives and communities.

A group of three women having a discussion

One of many collaborative discussions from the 2018 Teach-Out Academy.

Since March 2017, the University of Michigan has produced 23 Teach-Outs and engaged with over 76,000 learners from across the world. In developing these Teach-Outs, we have worked with over 200 experts, both from inside higher education and beyond, to foster conversations about a range of salient social issues such as self-driving cars, immigration and family separation at the border, free speech and the aftermath of Hurricane María.

In May 2018, we hosted the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants 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. As a community, we discussed what kinds of institutional support are needed to engage our publics through digital platforms, how important storytelling is to bring participants into the conversation, and how to design calls to action that give participants the opportunity to impact an issue in a way that is aligned with their values. Since then, we have seen several Teach-Outs designed and developed by our colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, Emory University, University of Leiden, and Davidson College.

We partnered with the University of Notre Dame to create the Listening to Puerto Rico Teach-Out, which captured the stories and perspectives from Puerto Ricans one year after Hurricane María devastated the island on September 20, 2017. In June 2018, teams from both institutions traveled to Puerto Rico to film testimonies from Puerto Ricans from all walks of life. By listening, we hoped to take notice of, and act on, what Puerto Ricans said. Learn more about this Teach-Out and the continued work that the University of Notre Dame is leading, visit the Listening to Puerto Rico website. The Teach-Out and all of the videos, are also available on Michigan Online.

Another one of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy participants, Emory University, launched the “Making” Progress Teach-Out on April 15. This Teach-Out is “an invitation to think about what progress means, and how you can look for it wherever you are—in your city, community, or neighborhood—and reflect upon your own ideas about the place you live in.” The focus of the Teach-Out is on Atlanta, Georgia and how communities change and evolve over time and how physical spaces are defined. Many of these questions are “comparable to many of other places in the world on what it means to progress.” In this Teach-Out learners gain insights into the process of finding “the history of public spaces in any community and how to reflect upon the idea of progress.” You can join the Teach-Out by signing up on Coursera.

In October 2018, the University of Leiden hosted the Global Human Rights Teach-Out. It was designed to coincide with the opening of the “Young One World” Summit in The Hague where more than 1500 young people from across the world came together to discuss the issue of human rights. The Teach-Out consisted of an “online discussion on various human rights with scholarly input in the form of podcasts from over 20 academic instructors, including some contributions from advocacy groups addressing the urgency of issues.” The Global Human Rights Teach-Out is still available on the Coursera platform.

Another Teach-Out Academy participant, Davidson College, continues to produce online learning experiences as part of their Davidson Now initiative. Davidson College has produced four courses as part of this initiative, the most recent being the Community, Race, and Space in the U.S. and France course. This course explored questions such as: “When we think of where we live, who do we imagine as our neighbors? What actions invite some people in and keep others out?” This course was designed to foster dialogue about what forces determine the makeup of our cities and communities. Learn more on the Davidson Now website.

Building on this momentum, our goal for the 2019 Teach-Out Academy is to provide in-depth, hands-on consultation for institutions interested in producing a Teach-Out of their own within the next 12 months. We will explore the various dimensions of instructional design, project management, media production, and product management through a range of workshop activities and collective conversations. We will also feature a panel of representatives from other institutions who have developed Teach-Outs of their own, so we can all learn from insights generated beyond the context of the University of Michigan. We are also beginning to engage with non higher-ed organizations, who are looking at ways that the Teach-Out model helps their missions of engaging diverse publics.

Two women engaging in a hands on experience within the Academic Innovation filming studios

The 2018 Teach-Out Academy attendees explored all areas of a Teach-Out, including the studio filming experience.

We are proud to see this new mode of public engagement expand and are excited to welcome another cohort of institutions to Ann Arbor this summer as we seek to foster global problem solving communities comprised of diverse teachers and learners who aspire to solve the world’s most complex problems.

The application is live at http://teach-out.org/academy/2019 and will remain open until May 10, 2019.

Thank you and we look forward to exploring this growing movement of institutions who seek to redefine public engagement in online learning.

Faculty Competencies for Innovation?

Presenting Our Research at the 2019 AERA Annual Meeting

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Design Lead

Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility

Ricky LaFosse, Compliance and Policy Lead

Jeff Bennett, Design Manager

AERA in Toronto

This year’s annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Toronto, Ontario brought together a community of more than 14,000 educators, researchers, policymakers, and school leaders. Over the five-day conference, attendees navigated through a phonebook-sized program of over 600 sessions featuring more than 6,000 papers. With this year’s  theme, “Leveraging Education Research in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence,” many sessions contributed to centuries-old conversations on expanding access to educational opportunities and welcoming a greater diversity of learner and educator perspectives in educational policy, research, and design.

Surrounding the Toronto Metro Convention Center and three nearby hotels needed to accommodate such a large conference, the city of Toronto offered its guests an endless supply of entertainment, fine dining, vibrant neighborhoods, and beautiful parks. As a city that lives up to its international label, a short walk downtown can feel like a trip across the globe.

Several staff members from the Office of Academic Innovation attended this year’s meeting.  Rebecca Quintana and Yuanru Tan, two members of our Learning Experience Design team, presented their research on learning design in MOOCs in two different sessions. One of our newest team members, Ricky LaFosse, presented a paper he co-authored with former colleagues at Indiana University, which focused on distance education compliance challenges. Jeff Bennett, Design Manager, presented MOOC design research with Academic Innovation co-authors in a structured poster session, along with doctoral student Alison Bressler, from the School of Environment and Sustainable Studies. The School of Education had a strong presence at AERA, including participation from Professor Chris Quintana who contributed to the structured poster session with Academic Innovation staff.

Session Types and Reflections from Presenters  

AERA sessions now come in ten varieties, including off-site visits and tours. Presenting authors from Academic Innovation briefly describe their experiences engaging and presenting in just three of these formats.   

The Paper Session: Reflections from Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Design Lead; Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility

A typical structure for a Paper Session allows authors to present their papers in a 10-15 minute time slot. Usually, four or five papers investigating similar research topics are grouped in one paper session. Questions and commentary from the audience follow each presentation. At the conclusion of the paper presentations, a discussant (an expert in the field covered by the paper session) provides prepared observations and critiques. Rebecca and Yuanru presented their research Characterizing MOOC Pedagogies: Exploring Tools and Methods for Learning Designers and Researchers, in a paper session titled MOOCs: Pedagogies, Participation, and Perspectives. Their talk highlighted the work they have done to refine the Assessing MOOC Pedagogies (AMP) instrument, which was developed by Professor Karen Swan and her colleagues. Interestingly, the AMP instrument was based on a framework for computer-based education developed in the 1990s by Professor Thomas Reeves, who was the “virtual” discussant for our session. In his recorded remarks, Dr. Reeves encouraged us to consider how the refined AMP instrument could be used in educational design research that seeks to produce more effective MOOCs. He also pointed us to a book he co-edited on the subject called Conducting Educational Design Research. We look forward to diving into the book, which he has sent by mail to our team!

Rebecca Quintana presenting at the 2019 AERA conference

Rebecca Quintana presenting at the 2019 AERA conference

The Roundtable Session: Reflections from Ricky LaFosse, Compliance and Policy Lead

Roundtable sessions, as the name would imply, position presenters and guests across from each other at a table to encourage more interaction and conversation than a paper session might allow. For this session, presenters were paired together by theme at the same table—in our case, “Organizational Leadership as a Praxis for Higher Education Institutional Change.” With so many presenting groups scheduled at the same  table, even a session scheduled for 8 a.m. on a Saturday was well attended.

Going first, a former colleague and I briefly described the contents of our paper, What Happens When Compliance Officers and Online Educational Design and Support Mingle?, and not surprisingly, the discussion in this group quickly moved toward practical implications and leadership strategies. Our table of higher education administrators discussed how to engage faculty and course designers in compliance efforts and guidance for high-risk areas, considering our presentation highlighted how distance education is moving closer to individual course decisions. Discussion of the other two featured papers evolved similarly, with practical significance being of paramount importance. Within the 90 minutes allotted, we covered an impressive range of topics and strategies. Given the intimate session format, it was also quite easy to exchange contact information and continue these conversations after the conference.   

The Structured Poster Session: Reflections from Jeff Bennett, Design Manager  

After five days of presentations, our intrepid team still had one more session to go. In the last hour of the conference, we participated in a structured poster session titled “Innovating MOOC Pedagogies,” organized by Rebecca Quintana and her colleague, Hedieh Najafi, from the University of Toronto. The session featured U-M authors on four of seven papers/posters and was a great showcase of the diverse educational design research creating innovative, effective, and high quality MOOCs.

The unique Structured Poster Session format tasks authors with presenting the central message of their paper in four minutes or less, after which attendees may visit authors at their posters and receive feedback. Following this informal discussion opportunity, the authors assemble in a panel and a discussant surfaces important aspects from each paper and makes connections to broader themes across the papers. Audience members may engage in a question and answer period with the authors.

Professor Carol Rolheiser chaired the session alongside discussant Professor Jim Hewitt, both from the University of Toronto. Professor Chris Quintana, Rebecca Quintana, and I shared our work, Exploring the Integration of Project-Based Learning Approaches into MOOCs. Interestingly, while our poster and research primarily focused on sharing novel ways we are implementing project-based learning into the MOOC context, many audience questions centered on the use of software tools within U-M MOOCs. It was a great example of how socializing our team’s work can spark ideas for MOOC practitioners beyond U-M. Authors who participated in the poster session hope to assemble a special issue of a journal to expand and share each paper with a wider audience.


The AERA conference experience was a very positive one for our team members. In addition to having the opportunity to present Academic Innovation research to an international audience, it allowed team members to reflect on emerging research from colleagues outside of the University of Michigan and to consider how new ideas might impact our ongoing work.

Companies Typically Underinvest in Managers — So Invest in Yourself


The 3 Things to Know about Tandem

Holly Derry, Associate Director of Behavioral Science

Group projects.

Many people we talk to about group projects say things like “One person totally took over” or “I ended up doing all the work.” We also hear “As the only woman, I got stuck taking notes.” We believe it doesn’t have to be that way, so we set out to make group work better.

Academic Innovation teamed up with Robin Fowler, Laura Alford, and Stephanie Sheffield from the College of Engineering to create Tandem, a tailored software tool that supports students working on group projects.


“A bad teaming experience can sour students on collaboration, and can convince them that their voices aren’t being heard or valued. With Tandem, we get to help students recognize the value of their own voices; that these voices are likely to be those of underrepresented populations makes a support system like Tandem even more necessary.”  

~ Stephanie Sheffield, Faculty Innovator


And now, as the title promises, here are the 3 things to know about Tandem:

1. Tandem uses data to connect students and instructors.

It’s human nature to want feedback on our performance and progress. The Tandem team believes that if students and instructors receive timely information about how things are going, teams may resolve issues before they spiral out of control.

Tandem charts weekly team checks for students on five dimensions: how the team is doing overall, logistics, idea equity, workload equity, and confidence they’re going to do well.

Tandem screenshot

Teams can use the information to check in with each other and make course corrections. They can see, at a meta level, how their own personalities mesh with others’ and learn new ways to work better with people who are different from them.


“Tandem scaffolds students as they reflect on what is working well (or not) for their teams. It provides them with evidence-based strategies to try, tailored to the particular struggles of their team. We hope it will improve team experiences in the moment but also improve students’ ability to abstract from this team experience and transfer this knowledge about themselves and about interacting with others to new teaming situations.”  

~ Robin Fowler, Faculty Innovator


In addition, instructors can see how teams are doing and which dimensions need improvement. The Instructor Dashboard also gives additional context to instructors so they also know why teams might need support.


“One enlightening moment I had while working on Tandem was hearing from instructors how challenging it is to not assign stereotypical labels (e.g. slackers, overachievers, etc.) to students who are having issues with their teamwork. It means that Tandem needs to be just as effective at engendering empathy and equity in instructors as it is in students.”   

~ Molly Maher, Behavioral Scientist


Screenshot of tandem


“Tandem takes in hundreds of thousands of data points over time and converts these into a small amount of useful output. The Instructor Dashboard is ‘mission control’ for instructors and clearly tells them which teams and individuals need additional support (as determined by our algorithm), as well as providing an overall view of everything happening in the current class at a glance.”

~ Ollie Saunders, Software Developer


2. Tandem is tailored for each team and individual.

Tandem’s beginning of term survey asks students about their personalities and work preferences, including their likelihood to speak up in a group or work close to a deadline. The tool then uses this information, along with weekly team checks, to tailor the students’ lessons and activities.  


“We are lucky to work with an incredibly diverse student population, and we know that everyone learns and works differently. Tandem’s beginning of term survey helps both faculty and students understand what their strengths are and what areas we want to work on over the coming semester. I love that Tandem gives students feedback and strategies that are specific to them and their current team situation — just like I would do if I was meeting with each student every day.”  

~ Laura Alford, Faculty Innovator


A team may have trouble sharing ideas equitably, and so they’re assigned a lesson on communication, which points out when a student’s survey answers indicate they’re more likely to listen rather than speak. The lesson talks about why that might be a challenge for them or the team, and in the activity, the students see different thought-provoking reflection questions personalized to their communication styles. By raising awareness early on, individuals have more insight about their differences and gain a shared language to have a productive conversation about these differences. When conflict does arise, team members may have healthier attributions for the conflict: “Maybe my ideas aren’t in the final design because I didn’t speak up much, not because the team doesn’t care.” And over time, teams may also learn to adapt to each other’s styles: “Tom’s quiet again. How can our team make sure he has the space to speak up?”

3. Tandem is the product of many disciplines.

  • Behavioral scientists work with instructors to figure out which positive and negative team and individual behaviors to target. They also work closely to develop the surveys, lessons, and activities.
  • Learning experience designers help the behavioral science team align activities with learning objectives of the lessons.
  • User experience designers ensure Tandem’s user interface is easy to use so students can see which surveys and lessons are due, as well as make sense of their team’s ongoing data.
  • Software developers make the tool operate smoothly so that students get the right message at the right time based on the correct data.
  • User research specialists interview instructors and students so that Tandem focuses on topics and feature sets that bring value to users.
  • Data scientists meet with the Tandem team each week to make sure the algorithms that assign lessons and triage teams are adjusted properly.


“The Manage Members page was one of the most challenging pages within the site to style and code. It allows faculty to build teams by dragging and dropping members onto or between teams. The drag and drop functionality was new for me and was fun to get familiar with, and I worked very closely with one of our developers, Ke Yu.”  

~ Kristen Miller, UX Designer


What’s next for Tandem?

This term, we’re piloting Tandem in Engineering 100 with a group of 60 engineering students. In the next year, we have plans to expand into courses that will stretch Tandem’s capabilities even further. We’ll think more about group formation, changing groups multiple times in a term, and adding a wider range of lessons and reflection activities. In the future, the tool aims to move beyond programmed algorithms and use machine learning to form teams, predict possible issues, and address teaming issues.

New Cohort of Academic Innovation Fellows to Share Groundbreaking Work at Student Showcase

Marissa Reid, Student Program Coordinator

Each year, we gather to recognize the tireless work of our student fellows at the Office of Academic Innovation. Our team has made this event a tradition that celebrates the monumental growth of our students as young professionals and their significant impact on Academic Innovation. This year’s event will feature more than 20 student participants showcasing their work in various formats, including lightning talk presentations and academic posters.

I am excited for the wide range of projects that will be featured at this year’s showcase. The majority of the Academic Innovation portfolio will be represented by students contributing to the fields of behavioral science, data science, learning experience design, management, product management, public engagement, research, software development, and user experience design. Throughout the last few months, my colleagues and I have equipped our student innovators with resources to prepare them for this event. Among these resources was Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility, who served as a mentor to our group of student fellows after contributing to last year’s showcase as a student fellow herself. We also utilized the strong communication skills of Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead, who led multiple public speaking workshops surrounding audience, narrative, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

“It was very interactive and fun. The workshop presented ways to express yourself in ways that could be applied to our presentation.” – Xuenan Xu, User Experience Design Fellow

See below for a sneak peek of the types of topics that will be presented by our amazing student fellows:

Vishal Chandawarkar: Keeping the Discussion Alive: Product Differentiation Through Media-Based Discussion

Shaung Cheng & Yun Hsiao: Problem Roulette
Kush Dawar: Learning Engagement for Support Staff and Learners

Liz Hanley: Visualizing Learner Journeys in the Python for Everybody Course Series

Siyu Jia (Pansy): Telling the Course Series Story: Building Success Metrics for MOOCs from a Product Perspective

Christopher Lezama: What is Software QA?

Yiwen Lin & Xindi Wang: Mentor Academy 2.0: Exploring New Meanings of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in MOOCs

Xi Li: A Design Journey on ECoach Planet

Yuting Luo: Course Building and Course Operations

Brandon Punturo: ViewPoint: Utilizing Natural Language Processing to Understand Participants

Shameek Ray: GradeCraft

Megan Taylor: How the Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series Helped Us to Make Sense of Public Engagement at U-M

Tayloir Thompson: Understanding the Product Life Cycle of GradeCraft

Kylie Wojciechowski: From Quick Findings to Formal Reports: When and Why to Use Which in User & Design Research

Xuenan Xu: My OMG Design Journey at Academic Innovation

Wenfei Yan: Exploring Learner Engagement Patterns in Teach-Outs: Using Topic, Sentiment and On-topicness to Reflect on Pedagogy

Nichole Yang: Writing Learning Objectives “Retroactively” and Creating Course Personas

Mengdan Yuan: Who Wins, Who Learns? Exploring Gameful Pedagogy as a Personalization Technique to Support Student Differences

Fanpan Zeng: Michigan Online Admin Improvement

Xucong Zhan: “Premature Optimization Is the Root of All Evil” – Me Living Through a Quote in AI

Though I have only been here for a little under a year, my role as Student Program Coordinator has been extremely rewarding. I’ve had the distinct honor of helping our 2018-2019 cohort of fellows transition from young adults to young professionals and watching our staff cultivate their skillset. This event is not just a showcase, but also a way for the University of Michigan community to gain insight into what our students do, the fellowship experience, and what drives our students.

Please join me this year on April 11, 2019 for our third annual Academic Innovation Student Showcase located in Forum Hall & in the Great Lakes Room of Palmer Commons. Here you will see why we are so proud our students chose Academic Innovation as a part of their journey.