Mosaic of faculty

Excellence through Diversity, Inclusion, and Academic Innovation

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education & Innovation

Our community is motivated by excellence. Over the last two years at the Office of Digital Education & Innovation (DEI) we have partnered with faculty innovators in nearly all of U-M’s 19 colleges and schools to explore new opportunities for academic innovation. We aim to shape the future of learning and redefine excellence in higher education. We have a dream of personalized, engaged, and lifelong learning, that results in equitable and advanced education for all.

Like many around the world we reflect today on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As members of a university community like U-M, we celebrate the past, question the present, and hope to position for a future where we thrive with greater diversity and more inclusive learning environments that help individuals to flourish and our institution to reach new heights of excellence.

Michigan’s dedication to academic excellence is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a recent letter, U-M President Mark Schlissel asserted,  “The University of Michigan cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word. We also must ensure that our community allows all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive.”

At DEI, we harness all that we learn from experimentation with academic innovation to reimagine residential learning and create inclusive learning environments where every Michigan student can thrive. By enabling student choice, catalyzing personalization at scale, and redesigning learning experiences for global learners, we design and create environments that make the resources of the university available to the broadest possible range of learners, advancing our vision of equitable and advanced education for all.

Our faculty partners are motivated by excellence and understand that inclusion is innovation. In collaboration with DEI, they build new courses and programs, design software and tools, and redesign learning environments to inspire and engage pre-college, residential, and lifelong learners. They create environments that move away from one-size fits all to something more personalized and scalable. They question and act upon the results at every step of the way.

Through many different experiments, our faculty partners challenge current models of learning and conceptions of inequality and, in so doing, position U-M to enable a diverse community and develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future. I asked several faculty innovators how their experimentation with academic innovation at DEI is helping to address important questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at U-M. Full text is available below the slider.

Elisabeth R. Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Policy and Research Associate

DEI Initiative: Policymaker

“Some of the most profound learning moments occur when students are able to genuinely engage with the ideas and perspectives of others who are different from themselves. Yet classroom dynamics are often limited by students’ reluctance – and instructors’ discomfort – to step away from their own personal experiences and to truly place themselves in the shoes of others. Digital technologies such as online simulation platforms can allow instructors to create simulated settings where learners can make decisions and solve problems from perspectives other than their own. By creating this sort of a safe space for grappling with difference, digital learning environments can allow learners to see the world through a different lens and better appreciate how differences in perspective shape social interactions.”

Gautam Kaul, Professor of Finance and Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration

DEI Initiatives: Finance for Everyone MOOC, Introduction to Finance MOOC, Valuation and Investing Specialization, Fast Track Finance

“To me digital education, with its scale and long term potential, has been a great way to redesign learning experiences with a much larger audience in mind. The diversity of audience of a MOOC, for example, is at such a different and rich level that it has allowed me to think from the perspectives of so many learners and hopefully helped me to be more inclusive in the very design of the learning experience.”

Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Education & Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) Prinicipal Investigator

DEI Initiatives: ECoach, Practical Learning Analytics

“To me, personalizing education is all about supporting diversity, equity, & inclusion. For too long, our system of elite education has been designed with a particular kind of student in mind. Every feature of it is tuned to suit students with a certain kind of background, attitudes, interests, and goals. This system is very good at reproducing itself; at creating more of the same. But it’s not very good at serving a diverse community of students in an equitable and inclusive way. To support a diverse community in an equitable and inclusive way, we must be able to personalize education – to deliver to each student an education which is responsive to their background, able to develop in them a positive attitude toward learning, shaped by their own interests, and sufficient to help them achieve their goals.

Scale has long presented a challenge to delivering personalized education, but technology is changing that. We believe information technology provides us with unprecedented opportunities to know each student better, and to respond to difference in sensitive, effective ways. When we do this, we will make a University of Michigan education the very best choice for every student, no matter who they are, where they’re coming from, or where they’re going to.”

Barry Checkoway, Professor of Social Work

DEI Initiative: Youth Civil Rights Academy

“For years I have believed that the University of Michigan, as an integral part of its educational mission, is ideally positioned to help prepare a new generation of civil rights leaders.The idea behind the Youth Civil Rights Academy is that new forms of digital learning can enable us to transcend racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographical boundaries, and enable young people to share their stories and build capacity for youth-led projects in their schools and communities.  We have started with young people of African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and Latin American descent — and are involving them in online courses and face-to-face meetings which are producing projects which we believe will contribute to a more inclusive and diverse democracy.  I’ve been building campus-community partnerships through my career, but this is taking my work — including my work as a teacher and scholar —  to a new level which was previously inconceivable.”

Anita Gonzalez, Professor of Theatre and Drama

DEI Initiative: 19th Century Acts

“My goal within the learning environment at the university is to educate students about theatre that comes from global diaspora communities. The 19th century acts tool offers a new approach to narrating histories of underrepresented people. By coupling visual imagery of performances with interactive mappings of where actors and singers traveled, students are able to imagine how performers adapted to political and social constraints. I hope that the tool will teach users about the many ways in which people of color used theatre and music to push back against stereotypes about race and ethnicity.”

Margaret Wooldridge, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Mechanical Engineering

DEI Initiative: Introduction to Thermodynamics

“Working with digital tools, like the tools that enable distance learning and online classes, allow (and require) educators to consider audiences that have much broader scope. The digital audience can be larger in size, as with MOOCs of course, and the online audience can be more diverse in culture, educational background, geographic location, economic status and in many other ways we are just beginning to understand and leverage. This diversity provides the instructor and students with further learning opportunities, for example with posing topics for discussion sessions and team projects that consider multiple viewpoints.  Some people might think engineering technology is not affected by diversity issues, but take biofuels for example.  The response to biofuels is a strong function of geography, culture, priority, and economics, to name a few factors that have to be considered. Digital tools are vital to enabling communication and understanding between communities that come from such varied and different perspectives.”

Colleen van Lent, Lecturer in Information

DEI Initiative: Web Design for Everyboy Specialization

“My day-to-day teaching has always been driven by student feedback. My lecture pace depends upon the looks on the faces of my students; my lecture content reflects the immediate information I get by looking over their shoulders at their work. I find that the biggest challenge to online teaching is losing that personal contact. But it also made me realize that I need to focus on anticipating questions, pitfalls, and moments of success. This has important implications for building inclusive learning environments on campus. I also am encountering the challenge of embracing emerging technology without sacrificing accessibility. I need to be aware that my words, gestures, and slides are not accessed the same way by everyone.  Am I being careful to avoid vague references?  It is a challenge, but I am learning more everyday and hope to leverage the lessons from this experimentation with digital tools to develop new approaches to blended teaching and learning that meets the needs of all students. Through my experimentation with MOOCs I’m also eager to help people to uncover interests and passions they didn’t know they had and to illuminate pathways for a wonderfully diverse group of global learners.”

Monica Lypson, Dean of Graduate Medical Education, Professor of Internal Medicine and Professor Learning Health Sciences

DEI Initiative: VA Centered Care

“Dr. Quentin Young recounts the famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. noting that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” As a medical educator interested in the amelioration of disparities and the creation of a health care system that focuses on justice and equity one must experiment with novel teaching strategies to promote the legacy of Dr. King’s agenda. The “status quo” or traditional teaching methods in medical education such as didactic lectures, clinical observations and/or apprenticeship practices through the decades has led American medicine to what it is today; they all have a role but what would make a more robust and enhanced learning environment?  It is my hope that by using novel platforms such as photo-elicitation, reflection, patient perspectives, meaningful learning opportunities from other health professionals and online group interactions we can engage health professional learners in the affective domains of their work as well as use work to reform the educational environment to promote health equity and meet the goal that all our learners have which is to provide truly patient centered care.”

Mary Ruffalo, Professor of Social Work and Director of Continuing Education Program

DEI Project: Social Work: Meeting the Challenges of a New Era

“At the School of Social Work through our multidisciplinary continuing education initiatives we have been using a range of digital instructional technologies to share the latest information on emerging, evidence-informed practices to improve services and outcomes for individuals experiencing physical or behavioral health challenges. Our goal is to improve the workforce by reaching out to alumni and other professionals who serve diverse groups of individuals, families and communities living in impoverished or high need areas. Many of the professionals who participate in these programs would not have been able to attend more traditional, in-person, campus based trainings.

Professionals engage in personalized, self-paced, flexible, and on demand programs right at their place of work using these digital instructional technologies. They also have opportunities through our web-based certificate programs to engage in small group live cohort experiences that support learning across disciplines and organizations.”

Caren Stalburg, Professor of Learning Sciences, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

DEI Initiative: Instructional Methods in Health Professions Education, Breast Density Notification

“As I prepared to teach online about teaching, I was very aware of the need to keep a broadened perspective, since participants were likely to be from a variety of health professions, in a wide range of locations, with varying resource availability. In essence, my course was specifically intended to reach a diverse audience, who might not regularly have the opportunity to interact with one another, and who might not all have the same access to resources—be that time to engage in advanced training, journals and books contained within libraries, colleagues also interested in the science of education, advanced technology for patient care, etc.

Also layered onto all of that was the diversity of primary languages and cultures around the world! But, one thing I knew for certain—and trusted, was that individuals involved in the health care of other people would have many more similarities than differences, and if I focused on those issues common to all of us, then I would hit the mark.

But even with that kaleidoscope of vision and intent, I could not have anticipated the inclusive community created in the on-line space. A diverse community from all over the world, representing all sort of economies, locales, professions, solidified around the many similarities that participants had with respect to teaching.

What that says to me is that individuals can create a learning community around a common topic, informed by their unique perspectives and experience, that benefits the whole group.

That is the true import of making sure that our community remains open, inclusive, and reduces barriers— so people who might not normally have the opportunity to meet, live together, and learn together do so. Because through those interactions, we all become better, and we all recognize that we have much to teach one another, much to share, and lots and lots in common.”

Stephanie Teasley, Research Professor and Director of the Learning, Education, and Design (LED) Lab

DEI Initiative: Student Explorer

“Several of the learning analytics projects in the LED lab have origins in partnering with programs on campus aimed at serving at-risk and non-dominant student populations. The questions we have asked and the interventions we have designed have already scaled up for use beyond the original programs. By improving teaching and learning for specific types of students we improve education for everyone, a lesson that we’ve seen time and again in other areas like ADA regulations. In other words, I believe that when we learn how to best support some students at our university, we learn how to help all students be more successful as learners.”

Krishna Garikipati, Professor of Mehanical Engineering & Professor of Mathematics

DEI Initiative: Finite Element Method for Problems in Physics

“For an advanced engineering science class with a very heavy emphasis on mathematics (advanced calculus and linear algebra) and computer programming in C++, it is remarkable that 46% of the 15,000+ students in my MOOC (The Finite Element Method for Problems in Physics) are from developing economies. This includes 14% from India and 6% from Africa. Many argue that experimentation with MOOCs is suited for introductory courses and professional education. The early success of my MOOC suggests that there is considerable demand for intensive STEM learning opportunities and that there is a real opportunity for institutions like ours to take advantage of the affordances of technology to accelerate global access. In only a few months we have 152 countries represented in this rigorous learning environment, of the 192 in the UN, and we are really talking of leveling the playing field for access to advanced instruction, and even an entry to research in computational science. This is the ultimate reward for me.”