Using GradeCraft in Language Learning Courses at Michigan

Janaya Lasker-FerrettiJanaya Lasker-Ferretti, Coordinator of 2nd Year Italian Courses in Romance Languages and Literatures, GradeCraft user

GradeCraft is known for giving flexibility to students because it offers them choice and agency when it comes to their learning. However, now that I have successfully piloted GradeCraft in my Italian language classroom for a semester, I have to come to realize that not only does it offer flexibility to students, but also to instructors, especially when in comes to the implementation and exploration of new material. Because of this flexibility, I was able to incorporate a new and experiential learning opportunity into my course structure.

Students in the language learning classroom learn their skills in a bubble in that they are not learning language on the streets of Italy through copious contact with native and fluent speakers. Language learning can be tedious and the process is slow in this bubble (even though it can also be that way on the streets of Rome!). Often by the time my students arrive to class, which is the last semester of their four semester language requirement, they have lost enthusiasm and motivation. In order to restore these, it’s essential that we make Italian more alive and relevant, which is what I was able to do with GradeCraft when this amazing experiential learning opportunity fell into my lap mid-semester.    

At the end of October, when the semester was already well underway, I was contacted by the University of Michigan (U-M) Language Resource Center’s Language Bank.  The Language Bank supports non-profit organizations, social justice efforts and the community by offering translation services to those who need it. The program works on a volunteer-basis and it gives those people with language skills at U-M the opportunity to give to their community while advancing research. Dr. Denise Saint Arnault, a professor in the School of Nursing at U-M, had contacted the Language Bank earlier in the academic year to ask for help with her research.  She is working with several researchers around the world that use a type of interview she developed called Clinical Ethnographic Narrative Interview (CENI) to understand how trauma is experienced transculturally. The interviews were conducted in Italy and the researchers interviewed women who had experienced some kind of gender based violence in their lives. To advance Dr. Arnault’s research and that of her international colleagues, there was now a plethora of material to translate into English from Italian. This is where the flexibility of GradeCraft came to the rescue. Leah Squires from the Language Bank wrote to me asking if I knew of anyone who could translate several interviews done in Italian and I let Leah know that because I was using GradeCraft in my class, I could offer this experience to my students for points.  

The Language Resource Center, which funds the Language Bank, kindly offered to host an event so that my students and others in a few different sections of Italian, could get together for a few hours and translate Dr. Saint Arnault’s interviews.  They provided the students with pizza and I, along with my colleague Luisa Garrido Baez and an Italian psychologist living in Ann Arbor, Annalucia Pierro, were there to help students with the language and the process of translation. For three hours, our students, working in pairs, pored through the interviews and made the voices of these women heard in English.  In every interview there was the story of a woman’s life narrated to them in the woman’s own words, and in a language that the students had been studying for almost two years. This experience made Italian real to them and their Italian skills valuable. Moreover, this experience made up part of their grade in the course thanks to GradeCraft. I assigned 30 points to this event, the same amount that they would have received had they earned 100% on an exam. I firmly believe that this experience is worth more than an exam because it is more rooted in real-life and allowed them a window into the lives of Italian women.  

We had a great turn out for the event–there were over 20 students total. Many students were moved by the experience and some even had trouble putting the interviews down once the event was over.  All the students to whom I had spoken about the event told me it had been a great experience. In all of this, credit goes to Dr. Denise Saint Arnault and the Language Resource Center, but just as important in making this possible was GradeCraft because I was able to give value to this experience and the students jumped at this opportunity.  I also invited students who were enrolled in non GradeCraft classes. In these cases, students were awarded extra credit points. They, too, found the event to be meaningful and rewarding even though the points they earned did not, and could not, amount to the points of an exam for them. I plan on working with the Language Bank and Dr. Saint Arnault to host future events like this because there is still a lot of work to do and many more interviews to translate.  At the beginning of last semester I would have never imagined being able to offer such an incredible learning opportunity, but because of GradeCraft I was able to seamlessly implement it into the course once the Language Bank contacted me. I was able to test out this material in the fall and I am looking forward to hosting more of these events during the winter semester. Thanks to GradeCraft, I will be able to make these experiences a part of students’ Italian 232 course and in turn, they will be able to find relevance in their language study and promote research.

Our AIM is TRUE: Transforming Residential Undergraduate Education

Barry Fishman, Faculty Innovator-in-Residence

In the first post in this series, I described the Big Idea, an effort to re-think residential undergraduate education at Michigan, led by the Office of Academic Innovation. In this post, I describe the AIM:TRUE series of talks, designed to provoke our thinking about undergraduate education and inform the design of the Big Idea.

The Academic Innovation at Michigan: Transforming Residential Undergraduate Education (AIM:TRUE) speaker series is an opportunity for campus to interact with and learn from individuals and groups who are exploring and innovating in the undergraduate space. These speakers are intended to inform our evolving thinking about the Big Idea, and also to connect with and inform related efforts across campus. During the fall term, we had our first two speakers in the series: The leadership of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, and David Scobey, Director of the Bringing Theory to Practice project.

A New Kind of Transcript for College Admissions

The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is “a growing network of public and private high schools who are creating a high school transcript that reflects the unique skills, strengths, and interests of each learner and that supports educators in facilitating the kind of learning that they know is best for students” (quoted from the MTC web site). The MTC is reinventing the transcript, and in the process issuing a challenge to higher education to expand the college admissions process to go well beyond GPAs and course credits. In September, we were visited by three MTC leaders: Founder and Board Chair Scott Looney, Executive Director Stacy Caldwell, and Chief Product Officer Mike Flanagan. In their AIM:TRUE talk, the MTC team explained the motivation behind their work, how they are growing a network (currently at more than 150 independent and public schools), and how they are building new technological tools to enable high school students to better represent themselves and colleges to better identify students who are a match with their institution.

MTC argues that an increasingly competitive college admissions landscape has caused students to become too focused on maintaining a high GPA, leading to grade-grubbing and anxiety. When students are focused on the “final score,” they are not focused on what matters: learning, risk-taking, self-expression. Based on its name, you might guess that the MTC “mastery transcript” focuses not on numbers but on what a student has demonstrated they can do. Similar to a portfolio, a mastery transcript allows learners to self-author representations of their learning tailored to different audiences. However, because it is digital, the mastery transcript can link to evidence of accomplishment, and allow for admissions officers to look for particular attributes that are a match for their institution.

For a university like Michigan, the idea of a mastery transcript is appealing, as we are interested in learners who show deep commitments in a range of areas, in addition to general academic excellence. But we are also reviewing many tens of thousands of applications every year (nearly 60,000 in the 2017 cycle). How do we balance the desire to know as much as is possible about applicants with the need to review so many applicants in a short amount of time? How do we make sure that the process is equitable, and all applicants have the same opportunities to present themselves for review? As we think about the “Big Idea,” we are particularly interested in the question of undergraduate admissions, as we seek students who might not fit the “standard” academic profile. The MTC AIM:TRUE talk helped to crystallize many current issues in college admissions, helping to point the U-M towards a likely future.

Current Crises and Creative Currents in Higher Education

Our second AIM:TRUE speaker was David Scobey, who was named Director of the Bringing Theory to Practice Project (BTtoP) earlier this year. The BTtoP project was established in 2003 in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). The BTtoP mission “is to encourage and support colleges and universities in developing sustainable campus cultures that support the greater purposes of higher education: engaged learning and discovery, civic purpose, well-being, and preparation for a meaningful life” (BTtoP web site).  

If Dr. Scobey’s name is familiar, that might be because he was a member of the Michigan faculty from 1989 to 2005, teaching American Studies, U.S. Cultural History, and the history of urbanism and architecture. During his time at U-M, he helped guide the university’s thinking about public engagement and the purpose of undergraduate education. Since leaving Michigan, he has continued in these roles, including serving as the inaugural Director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships at Bates College, and the founding Executive Dean of the School for Public Engagement at The New School in New York City. As should be apparent, David Scobey has devoted his career to helping higher education understand and define its purpose, and to explore structures that enable higher education to fulfill that purpose. In other words, a perfect speaker to help advance our thinking in the AIM:TRUE series.

Dr. Scobey’s talk, entitled, “Current Crises, Creative Currents, Guiding Purposes: Notes For Navigating the Shoals and Storms of Higher Education,” provided historical context for the current challenges facing higher education. These crises include financial stress, reduced public support, changing demographics, and a “legitimation crisis” about the value of college to students. Because of his personal history at the University of Michigan, Scobey was able to discuss both the unique challenges we face as a large and selective public institution, and also the broader context of higher education. Dr. Scobey describes our present circumstances as a “Copernican moment,” creating the opportunity for a paradigm shift that reorganizes, “Our educational practices, the way that academic institutions are organized, the ways that students and educators move into and through them, and (maybe most important) the larger social compact by which higher education negotiates its justifying purposes and secures the resources and autonomy to pursue them” (from David Scobey’s talk on 12/7/2018). These are issues that all need to be addressed in our thinking about the Big Idea.

In his talk, Scobey described five ways that higher education is responding to current crises. The first is a greater focus on college completion; helping those who enter college to earn their degree in a timely manner. Another (related) response is a greater focus on retention and attainment for traditionally underserved students (one focus of the U-M’s DEI initiative). A third is a focus on the growing market for adult learners through continuing and extension forms of education. Which in turn is related to the fourth response, the growth of online platforms for accessing education, including the use of MOOCs. And the fifth is a growing turn towards what Scobey termed “instrumental vocationalism,” in which the value proposition of higher education is defined in terms of how directly a degree leads to employment. Clearly, not all of these responses are unequivocally good, nor are they all guaranteed to lead to positive change in higher education. The path forward for higher education is not predetermined, but rather up to society—and most centrally higher education institutions ourselves—to determine. Scobey reminded us of “high impact practices” that have been demonstrated to lead to positive outcomes for college students, and which are also useful for thinking about the way we choose to design or re-design higher education in light of the above responses. Most of all, Scobey urged, it is important that our response be guided by a thoughtful re-examination of our purpose as an institution of higher learning.

You can view the entire talk below.

While on campus, Dr. Scobey also spent time with groups exploring the University’s focus on public engagement, and groups thinking about how we define (and redefine) the value of undergraduate education, including the Big Idea working group. Consistent with his overall work, Dr. Scobey encouraged the group to keep focused on student voice and purpose as we design our new undergraduate program (more on this in future posts).

AIM for the Future

Stay tuned for future talks in the AIM:TRUE series, and we have some great speakers lined up and more in the works. We aim to continually engage with leaders and thinkers who challenge our thinking and show us examples of how undergraduate education could be different, and better both for students and for the mission of the public research university.

On Thursday, March 14, we’ll be joined by Todd Rose, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The End of Average and Dark Horse. Dr. Rose will discuss how “no one is average,” and why the design of our education systems (especially grading systems) undermines learning.

Please join us!

The Big Idea: Rethinking Residential Undergraduate Education at Michigan

Barry Fishman, Faculty Innovator-in-Residence

The strength of a research university—like the University of Michigan—lies in its broad resources and deep expertise across multiple areas of inquiry. This breadth and depth powers the research university’s ability to create societal value; to serve as an engine for discovery and knowledge creation. The work of a great research university has the power to change the world, and as an institution of teaching and learning, we are at our best when our students are able to participate in this kind of work. But how often is this the case for undergraduate students? How well does a typical undergraduate education at Michigan connect with the opportunities for learning represented by the broader institution? In this post, I introduce the “Big Idea,” an effort within the Office of Academic Innovation to reinvent undergraduate education at Michigan.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Big Idea is a project to explore and design a new degree-granting undergraduate program at Michigan. Research universities like Michigan excel at disciplinary scholarship and doctoral training. This training often takes the form of close mentorships between faculty and graduate students, occurs in cohorts, and exists in the context of ongoing scholarship with relevance to the field of inquiry. Undergraduate education at Michigan is, however, an entirely different enterprise from the high-contact mentorship typical of doctoral education. In contrast to small doctoral cohorts, research universities enroll large numbers of undergraduates for whom education is primarily organized around lecture-based experiences, with learning progressions focused primarily on classroom rather than lab- or practice-based experiences. In terms of teaching and learning, we intuitively understand that large lecture courses are not as good as mentoring or apprenticeship-based learning experiences, but they are necessary (or so we might think) to support learning at scale, and to the institution, they are essential to cross-subsidize expensive and intensive graduate training. Can we do better? (Spoiler alert: yes!)

The Big Idea creates an undergraduate program that realigns the resources within the U-M to better enable students to be active participants in the broader scholarly life of a research university, and at the same time enhance the institution’s capacity to pursue engaged scholarship that advances knowledge and practice. This is especially important in a world where the most challenging problems are often ambiguous, and progress requires knowledge and skills from multiple domains. It is also important at a time when the public(s) traditionally served by a public research university increasingly question the value of the institution to their everyday life and future prosperity. The “Big Idea” proposes to advance the educational, research and public service mission of the University of Michigan by:

  1. Offering an undergraduate experience that has real-world problem solving and engaged scholarship at its core; situating undergraduate education at the heart of the scholarly enterprise;
  2. Enhancing collaboration across disciplinary boundaries; and
  3. Amplifying the relationship of a public university to its constituencies through projects that work in collaborative partnerships with a range of communities and sectors to advance progress on significant problems;

To accomplish these goals, we envision a program that is unconstrained by some of the most common operating assumptions in current higher education: grades, credit hours, and disciplinary majors. In future blog posts, we’ll share more information about how our designs for the Big Idea are coming together, and how the Big Idea advances our work in these areas.

How do we bring the Big Idea to life? A working group that includes faculty and staff from across the university meets regularly to discuss and define key elements of the program: learning goals, learning experience, assessment, and admissions. We’ve also launched a speaker series that we’re calling “AIM:TRUE,” or Academic Innovation at Michigan: Transforming Residential Undergraduate Education. These talks are designed to provoke our thinking about undergraduate education and inform the instantiation of the Big Idea. Stay tuned for future posts about the AIM:TRUE series of talks, and posts related to our progress on the Big Idea along with opportunities for you to get involved.

Support Innovation this Giving Blueday

Eric Joyce, Brand/Product Analyst Senior

What will you do in one day?

Giving Blueday 11/27/18

Tuesday, Nov. 27, marks the University of Michigan’s fifth annual university-wide day of giving called Giving Blueday. Coinciding with Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving following Thanksgiving weekend, Giving Blueday is a day for everyone who loves U-M to join together to combine their support and maximize impact.

Last year, more than 8,200 donors from around the world gave $4.4 million to support what they love about the University of Michigan, and this year, your donation can go further. New day-long and hourly challenges for first-time donors, students, faculty, staff, and more can increase your gift with matching funds. Check this schedule for more details.

Why give to the Office of Academic Innovation?

The work of our diverse and multifunctional team shapes the present and future of learning through an expanding portfolio of online learning experiences, by personalizing the residential learning experience, conceptualizing how the university engages with the public, and much more. Your gift supports our pursuit of transformative innovation in higher education and for public good.

We launched Michigan Online earlier this year to broaden the impact of the University of Michigan’s mission to develop leaders and citizens who challenge the present and enrich the future by making our elite public research university’s learning experiences accessible at scale. Our teams work directly with faculty and community collaborators to develop a broad – and growing – catalog of online learning experiences available through Michigan Online. These courses, series, and Teach-Outs have generated nearly 7 million enrollments and have reached lifelong learners in more than 190 countries. We are also working with partners in the School of Information and School of Public Health to develop two online graduate degree programs, starting fall 2019.

We are honored to provide the U-M community with the lifetime benefit of Michigan Online learning opportunities at no cost. If you are a student, alum, faculty member or staff member on U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn, or Flint campuses, you may earn a free certificate when completing more than 100 faculty-led online learning experiences available through Michigan Online. Your gift this Giving Blueday supports this growing portfolio of online learning experiences and a lifelong benefit for the U-M community.

Gifts to the Office of Academic Innovation also support our teams who create and iterate upon digital educational technology tools in support of residential learning across campus and beyond. To date, more than 43,000 U-M students and 85 percent of U-M undergraduate students have used at least one tool supported by our office at some point in their academic career. These tools (ECoach, Gradecraft, M-Write, Problem Roulette, Viewpoint, and ART 2.0, to name a few), are also used at more than 90 schools, peer institutions, and community organizations. Our office is also playing a leading role in conceptualizing public engagement to create opportunities for our campuses and public communities to partner and learn from each other. Need a “quick win?” We also recently announced new “quick win” research grant funding to enable research projects on special topics in higher education and academic innovation to get the support they need to get off the ground. See what else we’ve been up to this year in the Academic Innovation blog.

Gifts to our office allows these initiatives to blossom and enables faculty and staff to create new online learning experiences, design and scale new learning technologies, and use learning analytics to create personalized learning opportunities for U-M students and lifelong learners around the world.

Give now

Photo of several individuals posing for the camera in the middle of Michigan Stadium with the Office of Academic Innovation logo on the jumbotron.


Need a little extra motivation?

See why the leaders and best give to U-M on Giving Blueday:

No matter the size, your gift today will support our work in the pursuit of a more peaceful and equitable society through personalized, engaged, and lifelong learning. Give to Academic Innovation.

Give now

Proudly Announcing Quick Win Research Grant Funding!

Every project starts somewhere. In research, especially when new pursuits require you to venture beyond your typical domain, startup costs can be high. You want to explore a new dataset but you don’t have bandwidth to dig into it; you have an experiment you’ve always wanted to run in your classroom, but no funds to buy materials; you have this hypothesis but need to use a different methodological approach to explore it than you typically use. There are so many ways that great research projects wind up sitting in the hopper for far too long.

With these challenges in mind, the Office of Academic Innovation is committing funds to support a triannual series of Quick Win Research Grants. This seed funding is intended to enable research projects on special topics in higher education and academic innovation to get the support they need to get off the ground. We’ve organized the call into three tracks, in order to support resource sharing among grantees and to allow for thematic presentations of findings.

For the inaugural year, the topics we’re seeking projects to fund are:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion in learning environments
  • Supporting communities in informal and/or formal learning environments
  • Hybrid learning

We very much look forward to considering new tracks in the future and welcome suggestions. Proposals will be reviewed three times a year, on January 15, June 15, and September 15. Typically funding is capped at $5000. We hope that projects that are at later stage and require larger amounts of support will consider applying to our Academic Innovation Fund.

Interested in applying? You can find the application here:

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Cait Holman ( for more information!

Looking for Positive Problem Solvers to Join Us in Shaping the Future of Higher Education

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation


The Academic Innovation team is growing to meet new opportunities that will shape the future of learning and redefine education at the world’s great public research university. Charged five years ago to create a culture of innovation in learning at U-M, the Office of Academic Innovation now provides thought partnership to partners across campus earned through exemplary service. We partner with our lifelong learning community, with like minded institutions around the world, and with strategic partners across industries who share our commitment to equip individuals and communities who hope to learn and shape the world together.

We build products that delight learners and faculty, create communities that expand access to higher education, and facilitate connections that are interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and interprofessional. We help the growing and global U-M community to solve for the world’s most important problems. Together, we are #HereToLearn.

Can you see yourself on our team? Explore these open positions and help us to create a peaceful, equitable and empowered society.


Learning Experience Designer to lead the design process, support faculty innovators, and propose solutions for complex challenges in online learning environments while expanding the capabilities of AI to achieve our vision of expanding U-M’s educational offerings, including MOOCs and new online degree programs

Learning Experience Designer Leadto supervise the Learning Experience Design team and help to establish a vision for learning experience design at U-M through creating, shaping, and incubating new digital learning experiences.

Program Manager, Online Instructionto support faculty as they prepare to design and teach innovative online and hybrid courses while also imagining, designing, facilitating, and supporting an online teaching academy for faculty and graduate students.

Faculty Experience Designerto work with the online learning teams, the tools and technologies teams, and the public engagement team to amplify their efforts by recruiting new faculty into the academic innovation network, increasing faculty innovator satisfaction, and celebrating the work of our faculty partners.

Product Manager to collaborate with our other product managers and our software portfolio manager to grow adoption of our home grown educational technology tools.

Software Developerto advise on application architecture and direction, lead project teams and develop applications across a range of exciting new projects and technologies.

Senior Software Developerto lead development cycles, collaborate with project teams and develop applications to unlock the possibilities for engaging and innovative online learning experiences including the growth and development of Michigan Online.

Senior User Experience Designerto envision the future of learning experiences by designing and implementing the visuals, interactions and experience for Michigan Online and supporting projects.

Compliance and Policy Leadto help various institutional stakeholders understand the legal and regulatory framework related to offering online and hybrid academic programs and consult with stakeholders regarding program design considerations to ensure online and hybrid offerings meet regulatory requirements.


The University of Michigan’s mission is to serve the people of the world. To develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future. To create and apply knowledge together. We welcome you to join us in this important work as we navigate a world of near-limitless access to knowledge and learning tools that are improving every day.  We have decided that increasing access to learning opportunities is not enough. To create a peaceful, equitable, and empowered society, we need to create problem solving communities where we can learn together. Help us build our preferred future. Bring your talents and passion for learning to Ann Arbor and share them with the world.