Teach-In. Teach-Out. Teach Each Other.

An Open Welcome Letter to the Participants of the 2018 Teach-Out Academy

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Dear Teach-Out Academy Participants:

This is an invitation to change the future. You are invited to create positive social impact through teaching and learning. You are invited to discover new ways to foster dialogue by combining scholarly expertise with communities of engaged citizens and thought leaders outside the academy. You are invited to democratize discussions around timely topics of widespread interest. You are invited challenge our collective thinking about where expertise resides and how problems could and should be solved.

We’re thrilled to welcome you to springtime in Ann Arbor for the first ever University of Michigan Teach-Out Academy. We couldn’t be more excited about the first cohort of Teach-Out Academy participants who will join us 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. What a terrific group!

On May 14, this group of ten like-minded institutions will convene to catalyze an emerging mode of public engagement: teach-outs are free and open online learning events intended to activate public concern around timely social issues. Participants from all corners of the world come together to learn, engage, and create change around some of the most pressing issues today. We were inspired by your proposals to create new teach-outs and trust that you will help us build upon this new model and share ideas for reimagining public engagement.

Elyse Aurbach, public engagement lead at the Office of Academic Innovation (AI), provides a great summary of the opportunity ahead of us, “Teach-Outs are uniquely able to harness the intellectual depth and scholarship at the university and to mobilize experts to address a timely topic. But they’re also an opportunity for us to break down the walls of the University and elevate other voices, adding rich breadth and scope of perspectives and ideas to the scholarly conversation.”

U-M created it’s first Teach-Out in March 2017. Yet the story goes much deeper as U-M has a long history of innovation in public engagement and just-in-time learning. It was on my own campus tour as a prospective Michigan student that I first heard the story of the polio vaccine being announced by Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk in 1955. I’ve heard the story a hundred times since. The U-M community is understandably proud of this moment and also sees it as a critical illustration of the important role that research universities play. But it was only recently that I learned how the announcement was shared.

I knew that Francis Jr., Salk, and 500 others gathered in the Rackham building on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus to share an incredible public announcement, which followed Salk’s field trials involving more than 1.8 million children. The breakthrough was of course remarkable. But so was our institution’s commitment to knowledge dissemination and public engagement. As many gathered on campus, the announcement was simultaneously broadcasted on closed-circuit to 54,000 physicians watching in movie theaters across the country. In 1955. The world was listening in as Francis Jr. declared the vaccine “safe, effective, and potent”.

Almost exactly 10 years later, on March 24th, 1965, the Teach-In was born in Ann Arbor. In response to President Johnson’s escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, faculty were set to strike. The world was messy. They wanted answers.

Rather than strike, they saw power in their collective knowledge. Faculty and students staged a Teach-In, the first of its kind, that started at 8pm on the 24th and lasted until 8am the next morning. More than 3,000 faculty, students, and community members participated. They sought to activate public concern, and elevate public discourse.

A couple days before the first Teach-In, the Michigan Daily, our student newspaper, ran an article titled “New Faculty Strategy More Constructive, Effective”. It prepared our campus community for a new kind of event. The piece opined, “If the faculty group gets representatives to present both sides of the fence, in debate form in addition to individual speeches, the “teach-in” would attract many people who want to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in Southeast Asia.”

Learners wanted to understand complex problems and knew that true understanding would require diverse perspectives.

As is the case today, there was no shortage of similarly important topics to explore in the later half of the 1960s. Michigan launched more Teach-Ins. Becoming more informed and participating in positive problem solving events turned out to be contagious. Within the same year, 1965, the original Teach-In event sparked a series of similar events on more than 35 campuses across the country. Campuses well beyond Ann Arbor saw power in collective knowledge and sought perspectives and solutions to the problems of the day.

In 1970, we filled our basketball arena for a new Teach-In that became the first Earth Day. Eight-thousand people gathered to elevate public discourse and problem solve around societal issues that matter most. Eight-thousand! There were MOOCs before there were MOOCs!

I talked to several members of the Academic Innovation team about the upcoming Teach-Out Academy. Their collective wisdom is worth sharing as we gear up for the working sessions ahead.

Steve Welsh, the lead learning experience designer for the U-M Teach-Out Series, connects our present efforts to our history of innovation, ”Following the model and spirit of the Teach-Ins, we have an obligation to use the knowledge and expertise we’re fortunate to have on our campus to further the discussion and engage with a broader public. And in 2018, we have the ability to hold that discussion with a global community.”

How then do we engage diverse audience at all levels and provide new gateways to lifelong learning? Sean Patrick, design media lead at the Office of Academic Innovation, calls this the “Milton-Bradley Model: For Ages 8 to 88”. Teach-Outs are an open invitation to all. How do we create meaningful opportunities for learning for communities that reflect the diversity of our society? This as a considerable design challenge but one worth our highest attention.

Like the Teach-In before, we hope institutions around the country (and the globe) will strengthen dialogue around timely topics and facilitate compassionate interactions between participants inside and well beyond academy.

We will gather in Ann Arbor to take a deep dive into the pedagogy and design of Teach-Outs, discuss production processes for just-in-time content, develop calls to action, and explore promotion and engagement strategies. We have designed a workshop for a small, focused cohort of like-minded institutions who seek to construct and disseminate new knowledge through public dialogue.

There is so much we can learn together. Cait Holman, Associate Director for R&D at AI sees opportunity to better understand how people learn and wants, “to understand what critical conversations look like – how people present their arguments, how the ‘other side’ responds, and how people represent processing new information in real time in text.”

The U-M team has thought long and hard about the awesome potential and numerous challenges related to developing high quality short-form learning experiences. Will Potter, a senior academic innovation fellow for digital storytelling puts it this way, “Teach-Outs have built-in restrictions on the amount of material that’s presented, and how quickly it will be produced. You have to think very deliberately about what material makes the cut, how it can be accomplished in a tight timeframe, and why a diverse audience will care. That process really forces you to think differently about your areas of expertise, and in my experience it has also prompted me to reflect upon my research in new ways.”

Lauren Atkins Budde, associate director of design management, sees a creative challenge in designing each new teach-out, “there is a lot of joy in meeting the challenge of creating a comprehensive learning opportunity with very scaled down parameters. I think of it like producing a short film – you have to be much more efficient and thoughtful with the limited time and resources that you have and as a result, you’re often much more creative because you have to be.”

Benjamin Morse, a lead design manager for the Teach-Out Series, reminds us that constructing Teach-Outs is inherently different from other teaching and learning innovations, “This “just-in-time” model lends itself to short timelines and agile design principles. We recognize that each project and each Teach-Out team will be uniquely different and our model has to be flexible enough to bend without breaking, and if it does break, we have to learn how to expand the model to fit that situation.”

We can’t wait to have you with us on campus. The U-M Teach-Out Series is part of our institution’s deep commitment to engage the public in exploring and understanding the problems, events, and phenomena most important to society.

Will Potter, speaks for many of us when he highlights our obligations to innovate in this space, “I teach my journalism students that reporting and research means little if we are unable to communicate what we have learned; we have a responsibility to explain our work in a way that is accessible, and meaningful, to our audiences. I view the Teach-Outs as fulfilling a parallel responsibility for educators.”

Morse paints a picture of what may result from our collaborations together, “I hope the Teach-Out philosophy becomes a ubiquitous model for public engagement in the online learning space. I hope that we create something that others replicate in their own context and iterate on to meet their organizational teaching and learning aspirations. I hope we can help redefine the scope of public engagement within institutions of higher education by providing recognized, viable channels of distribution with opportunities for dialogical interaction.”

We are proud to contribute to U-M’s long history of leadership at the intersection of public engagement and academic innovation. We know that through collaboration with all of you, we are far more likely to create a world where everyone can participate – a compassionate public square for the information age.

This is an official invitation to change the future. Let’s teach-in, teach-out, and teach each other.

James DeVaney
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan

A New Team is Discovering its Identity – Reflections from HAILstorm Three

This article was originally posted on 4/2/2018 on Inside Higher Ed

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Two weeks have passed since I had the privilege of attending my third HAILStorm, this time hosted by CSU Channel Islands, a young institution with a big story to tell about the prize that lies at the intersection of academic innovation and upward mobility. The first HAILStorm was hosted in January 2017 by my home institution, the University of Michigan and the second in Fall 2017 by Stanford University. HAILstorms one and two revealed an emergent network hungry for new connections. HAILStorm three, lightly structured by design, and featuring representatives from a range of institutions that reflect the diversity of the US higher education system, yielded shared interests worthy of pursuit. We pursue these shared interests while carefully establishing a new network that resists unnecessary structure.

As a community of academic innovation leaders grows, the informal nature of these occasional huddles continues to be a feature, not a bug. Yet convergence around several emerging themes suggests an opportunity to turn from new connections to collaborative action.

A new team is discovering its identity.

This blogpost goes live roughly twenty minutes before tipoff as the University of Michigan men’s basketball team plays for the NCAA national championship. I’m not a casual college basketball fan so it’s not lost on me that there is something special about this particular Michigan team. As I went through my various pre-game March Madness superfan rituals this weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between this team and an emerging group of HAILstormers.

Michigan’s men’s basketball coach John Beilein may have said it best in his pre-game press conference when asked about having success with lightly recruited players, “We aren’t amassing talent. We’re building a team… it’s about development”. Nearly all of the HAILStorm participants I spoke with in Camarillo talked of teams and new models for professional development that would enable academic innovation at a scale we know to be necessary. Building effective teams in the new era of academic innovation is a continuous effort for leaders of a growing number of units established to create catalysts for reimagining higher education.

Or perhaps it was the warm-up t-shirts Michigan players wore for much of the season which distill commitment to a simple mantra, “do more say less.” New academic innovation units around the country are turning ideas into action. They are talking less and enabling more. Thought partnership through exemplary service. Faculty innovators and student creators come to our units to partner, to do, to learn, to iterate. But ‘say less’ doesn’t mean ‘say nothing’. We have to tell stories along the way and do so with data wherever possible. Importantly though, we occasionally need to take smart risks before the data exists.

Those following this Michigan basketball team also notice something different about the style of play as compared with prior seasons. Coach Beilein has long been hailed as an offensive genius. But this year’s team plays defense too – really good lock-down defense. This balance gives options in a game filled with uncertainty – more rotations, greater adaptability, built to set pace or react to it.

HAILstormers also live with great uncertainty. In fact, we’re charged by our institutions to help our constituents to become more comfortable living in a world where unpredictability is the norm. With uncertainty and change stipulated as persistent conditions, HAILstorm three discussions surfaced at least four areas of shared interest that suggest a pivot from new connections to collaborative action.

Equity and Innovation: First, HAILstormers are deeply committed to pursuing opportunities at the intersection of equity and academic innovation. Many of our institutions have made public commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A consistent theme across our conversations was a desire to further entangle our academic R&D initiatives with goals for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. Though many think we can and should set the bar even higher and establish targets for upward social and economic mobility.

A few days before HAILstorm three, University of Maryland, Baltimore County captured national attention (harder and harder to do in an attention economy) with the rarest of rare March Madness upsets. The sixteenth seed triumphed over a number one seed. College basketball fans frantically googled ‘UMBC’. But for those of us paying attention to trailblazers in innovation and equality, UMBC, like Georgia State and Arizona State, raises banners regularly when it comes to serving students who are most in need of access to higher education. We should contribute to a movement that values outcomes such as mobility when designating elite status in higher education.

Sustainable Models for Academic Innovation: Second, HAILstormers are exploring different scenarios that provide pathways to sustainability for our relatively new organizational models. The funding models, cost structures, and revenue streams for our organizational units vary dramatically. So too does the risk tolerance of our respective institutions. There is benefit to this group when we actively explore different approaches to sustainability and to share openly the relative success of different strategies and tactics. Our increasing comfort with sharing failures will benefit our institutions, our constituents, and a broader mix of higher education actors seeking to reimagine higher education.

Home-grown Innovation and Commercialization: Third, HAILstormers are designing new models for edtech commercialization. Many of our institutions are developing new technology to advance learning. We all know the extent of investment in edtech companies over the last decade. I hope this investment will continue. I also hope that institutions like those represented at the HAILstorm will continue to pursue different models of edtech development that puts great emphasis on developing tools with faculty and student users and thinking critically about privacy and learning analytics. Multiple approaches give us the best chance of dramatically improving access and mobility and of realizing true personalization at scale.

Building for the Future with Human Capital Development: Fourth, HAILstormers seek to close the human capital supply/demand mismatch in our emergent field. By higher education standards, many of our organizations have grown very quickly. Our collective demand for talented and positive problem solvers is currently outpacing supply. Ultimately, we will see the market correct itself but the HAILstormers agree that there is an opportunity to accelerate this shift. Most of my new colleagues at the HAILstorm have successfully recruited or developed talent to take on roles without precedent. We are learning quickly about the traits of academic innovation professionals and need to think creatively and collaboratively about how to expand the pool. Without solving for this particular problem, our work will remain boutique in the grand bazaar of higher education

There are many other shared interests that inspire action among this group. But this should give us plenty to pursue as we grow a community bound together by a shared commitment to advancing learning and inspiring positive impact through sustainable approaches to academic innovation.

A new team is discovering its identity. Back to doing more and saying less.

R&D Leaders from Top Universities Gather at U-M To Discuss What’s Next in Academic Innovation

Written by Laurel Thomas, Michigan News

As universities increasingly experiment with how technology can enhance the learning experience, what if the people on the front lines of these efforts could systematically share stories of success and failure to help others steer in the right direction or avoid pitfalls?

This is just one of the topics leaders from nearly 20 educational institutions discussed as they met earlier this month at the University of Michigan to explore new models for academic research and development.

Staff members who manage efforts like those of U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation came from places like MIT, Georgetown, Stanford, Arizona State, Dartmouth, Davidson, Southern New Hampshire and a number of other colleges and universities that are in various stages of growing their academic innovation efforts.

President Schlissel speaks to HAIL Storm attendeesThe sharing that took place represented what U-M President Mark Schlissel had in mind when he announced a focus on Academic Innovation at his annual faculty breakfast in the fall, during which he laid out initiatives for the new academic year. The president addressed participants at the conference called HAIL Storm, Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners.

“We are taking the approach that there are limits to what one institution can do alone. We want to engage with others and approach the work ahead as partners,” Schlissel said. “Our institutions have different missions, different structures and different types of students. There is a tremendous amount we can learn from one another.

“If all of us are able to help build a nationwide culture of academic innovation, we have the best opportunity of seeing more successful collaborative projects. Your work as the top researchers and innovators in academic R&D and your commitment to experimentation give us a solid foundation moving forward.”

Leaders, many of whom have been recognized nationally for their work in this area, shared approaches that have worked and others that failed. They discussed the cultures of their institutions that often embrace experimentation but sometimes rail against “disruptive” change.

In opening remarks, James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation, posed tough questions to the group.

“Can we handle what happens next after we take a close look? Are our institutions equipped to absorb true accounts of where we are today? Can we handle the expectations we will set for ourselves and can we fight the urge to look away from imperfections?

“We’ve posed questions about participation, pipelines, partnerships, and intellectual property. We’ve underlined equity in education and meeting the needs of diverse learners as a shared interest. We’ve asked ourselves how we can convert growing momentum into a sustainable way of thinking and doing.”

The event was co-sponsored by EdSurge, an online resource for educators created in 2011 to provide information about what new technologies “can and cannot do to support learning,” according to its website.

EdSurge Director of Higher Education Allison Salisbury guided participants through sessions, one of which asked them to propose innovations that would assist with collaboration among the institutions.

“This is the first meeting of its kind to bring these R&D leaders together. These are the people who are leading innovation on their campuses,” Salsbury said. “Some will choose to end their involvement tomorrow but some teams likely will go on to collaborate.”

EdSurge interviewed Schlissel following his remarks to the team. He discussed the opportunities for using technology to strengthen educational quality, tailor content to meet student needs and transform teaching.

Related articles:

What Do You Call It When Colleges Turn Their Research Powers On Their Own Practices?

5 Questions for U of Michigan’s Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

A Collaborative Mindset: Driving Innovation and Excellence in Student Learning

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