Origin Stories Showcases M-Write

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

What happens when an English faculty and a Chemistry faculty partner to create a writing-to-learn program? You get M-Write.

M-Write logo above an illustration of a microphone with text that reads "Origin Stories Podcast Series."Listen to the latest episode in the Origin Stories podcast as Anne Ruggles Gere, Arthur F. Thurnau, Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor of Education and English Language and Literature, Director of the Sweetland Writing Center, and President of the Modern Language Association, and Ginger Schultz, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, discuss how they came together, from disparate fields, to create the M-Write program. Hear how M-Write uses pedagogy and the creation of software tools to help students use writing exercises to learn science, economics, and engineering concepts in large STEM courses. Professors Gere and Schultz talk to us about how they partnered with the Office of Academic Innovation to help scale M-Write, and explore their long-term plans for the program.

Take a listen by clicking below.

Scaling Homegrown Educational Technology

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

“Let’s take a leadership role in edtech since it’s part of our core business,” said Candace Thille, former Assistant Professor of Education at Stanford and current Director of Learning Science and Engineering at Amazon, in a recent webinar on the evolving role of faculty in an era of increasing digital education technology. This is what we are doing in the Office of Academic Innovation, where we launched a “homegrown” edtech accelerator that’s building and scaling digital pedagogy within and beyond the University of Michigan.

What happens to faculty technological innovation?

In many instances its usefulness does not extend beyond the academic departments in which it was born. Why? Because the infrastructure does not exist to scale it. The Office of Academic Innovation solves this problem by providing a team of software developers, user experience designers, and behavioral scientists, who work with faculty champions, to iterate quality educational technology. The Office of Academic Innovation, then, can do what faculty and departments cannot do on their own-grow educational technology tools from innovation to infrastructure, personalizing education at scale.

What’s the Office of Academic Innovation Building?

We started building software in 2015, and currently have seven tools in our portfolio. Although diverse, these tools all center on the intersection of teaching and learning and technology. Some, like ViewPoint, make it easier for faculty to implement simulation pedagogy. ViewPoint takes what was a paper and pencil process and is now a web-based application for instructors to plan, and students to execute, a deep learning experience. Hear more about the origins of ViewPoint in my recent podcast with ViewPoint creator, Dr. Elisabeth Gerber.

Screenshot of the ViewPoint interface including left-hand navigation and windows for "my role," "groups and roles," "my schedule" and "news."


Others, like ECoach, are tailored communication systems providing individualized messages to students in large courses, increasing engagement with, and ultimately the academic success of, learners. ECoach uses complementary data streams including institutional, course, and data students submit themselves to provide timely and personalized messages on how to navigate big classes, where faculty cannot provide ample individualized attention to every student (our Statistics 250 class, for example has upwards of 2,000 students enrolled in it every fall and winter term).

Screenshot of the ECoach interface with a personalized message for a user named "Kathleen" including a course grade scale showing a a current grade of 83 percent and a goal of 96 percent, a "to do" list for the week of October 17, quick links, and a message center.


ART 2.0 visualizes course and instructor data in meaningful ways to help guide class discovery and selection. ART 2.0 helps bust myths on the University of Michigan campus about things like “the workload in this class is overwhelming” or “no one ever gets an A in this course.”

A screenshot of the ART 2.0 interface for a Physics 140 class including a description of the course, a grade distribution bar graph, advisory prerequisites, enforced prerequisites, credits, and course evaluations.


M-Write, founded on writing-to-learn pedagogy, uses smart software to more easily implement writing exercises in large STEM courses. The M-Write team has developed and implemented a dashboard and process for peer reviews so students can evaluate one another’s work on concepts in courses like chemistry and economics. M-Write integrates seamlessly with the Canvas Learning Management System for a positive user experience for students.

A screenshot of the M-Write interface showing a peer review page for a student including a due date, word count, and topics covered as well as boxes detailing the reviews given and reviews received.


These examples showcase the breadth of technological innovation happening in the Office of Academic Innovation, while not minimizing its focus on improving teaching and learning through digital intervention.

How does the Office of Academic Innovation increase the number of faculty and courses employing its tools while ensuring the pedagogy on which our tools rely scales in parallel with the technology?

In the Office of Academic Innovation we grapple with this question as we try and learn from diverse strategies that increase faculty engagement with our digital tools. When we talk about our work and our team we say we blend thought partnership with exemplary service. This approach embodies how we work with faculty in adopting our tools. Some teams, like ECoach, invite faculty to work with them frequently throughout an academic term on the content and cadence of how messages are delivered to students. Other teams, like Gradecraft, host communities of practice to ensure that pedagogy and technology are not divorced from one another as our user bases expand. We know, for example, that embracing gameful pedagogy including concepts like giving students many choices in course assignments and helping them try (and sometimes fail) assignments without jeopardizing their grade are core tenets of gameful course design. Not only do we offer faculty who collaborate with us opportunities to help inform new iterations of our tools, but we also use our software to conduct teaching and learning research. For example, we have used data collected in tools like Problem Roulette and ECoach to study gender performance differences in STEM courses.

Our approaches to partnering with faculty to scale our digital educational technology will continue to expand as our user base does too, positively changing the teaching and learning landscape at the University of Michigan in its third century.

Amy Homkes-Hayes will present on “Growing Digital Pedagogy in the Office of Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan” this week at the 2018 OLC Innovate Conference in Nashville, TN where her talk has been awarded “Best in Track” in Effective Tools, Toys, and Technologies.

Get to Know ViewPoint: Next Up in the Origin Stories Podcast Series

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

ViewPoint. Origin stories podcast series.What happens when a U-M faculty member comes to the Office of Academic Innovation with a good idea for software that doesn’t exist? We build it. In our next episode of the Origin Stories podcast series we talk to Dr. Elisabeth Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy and Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, who came to the Office of Academic Innovation with an idea to build software to support simulation pedagogy. For those new to Origin Stories, we tell the tales of why and how the our digital edtech tools were created. We focus on learning from our faculty partners about how their ideas for improving teaching and learning with educational technology software came to be.

Dr. Gerber talks to us about the “a-ha” moment she had when planning one of her largest role-playing simulations, the Integrated Policy Exercise, and how that moment spurred her to reach out to us where ViewPoint was taken from concept to reality. Listen to Dr. Gerber talk about ViewPoint’s features, and how it makes planning and running simulations far easier to produce better learning experiences for students. Dr. Gerber shares what it is like working with the Office of Academic Innovation team, and her ideas for the future of ViewPoint. Take a listen by clicking below.

Bringing Behavioral Science to Teaching and Learning Innovation

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Holly Derry, Associate Director of Behavioral Science

Carly Thanhouser, Behavioral Scientist

Molly Maher, Behavioral Scientist

Behind every good learner is good behavior.

We continue to learn that much of the success students and online learners experience comes from choosing the right behaviors, but that doesn’t make choosing easy. That’s why the Office of Academic Innovation is dedicated to integrating behavioral science principles into teaching and learning. Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate, sat down with Holly Derry, Associate Director of Behavioral Science, to explore how she and her team support Academic Innovation’s portfolio of work including educational technology software, MOOCs, and more.

How you would describe behavioral science at Academic Innovation?

We use Behavioral Science to motivate people or spur behavior change. We draw from a collection of strategies and techniques, which have been studied in lab settings or in the field, and apply them to Academic Innovation’s tools. In our work, for example, we focus on how we want learners to behave to be successful in a course. We look through our behavioral science toolbox for ideas on how to keep learners accessing the material every week, completing assignments on time, or engaging on a deeper level in a discussion board. These are just a few examples of where we apply behavioral science in our work at Academic Innovation.


Behavioral science is often used in healthcare settings, but it’s fairly new to edtech. What have you noticed about health behavior change versus behavior change in education?

We’ve been surprised by the similarities. In health and in education, people are working toward goals. In both contexts, some goals are concrete (think: scores) while others are more conceptual (think: feeling better or studying harder). The actions people take to reach their goals might be different, but the ways to motivate people toward these goals are not.

In addition, a lot of the action in healthcare, and education, happens outside of the classroom, or clinical setting. Both patients and learners need self-regulation skills, sustained motivation, and a sense of belonging to continue their health management or learning independent of physicians or faculty.


I hear you talk a lot about how central motivation is to behavioral science. Why?

Anything anyone does is motivated by something. It’s our job to find that something. ECoach, for example, uses both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to help students succeed in large courses. While tapping into intrinsic motivation may have a longer lasting and more meaningful impact, it’s not always a luxury we can rely on. (How many people are intrinsically motivated to read the textbook?) The extrinsic motivators we have access to (grade feedback, credit, and extra credit) are often better at encouraging students to do something they may not obviously see value in, at first. For example, after students use ECoach’s Exam Playbook, a metacognitive tool that helps them strategize and plan out their use of study resources before and exam, they may become intrinsically motivated to use it again, but we rely on extra credit to encourage them to give it a try.

In the end, we often rely on a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic ways to motivate learners because we know both are valuable in different ways.


How do you account for the differences in intrinsic motivation among learners. In other words, how do you determine what motivates them?

This is where personalization comes in. Each person is different, and when possible, it’s best to offer people choices that will fit with their situation, needs, and desires. This might mean giving people choices on whether they get credit or not, which parts of a course they complete, the time they need to complete it, and so on.

We can also go to the other end of the personalization spectrum and present students with messages written for their specific characteristics. All we need is the data. A few of our projects are powered by the Michigan Tailoring System (MTS), tailoring software developed here at the University of Michigan in 2008. Our projects that use MTS can collect data from people and then deliver a tailored experience to match why they’re taking a course, what grade they want to get, how motivated they are to get that grade, and so on. We can really tailor anything we want, and soon (summer 2018), all of Academic Innovation’s tools can incorporate MTS, and tailoring as well.

Many people assume the tailored messages are computer-generated — they’re not. We’re not using robots to do this. All of the tailored communication and interventions we use are carefully crafted by the behavioral science team.


How do you guide people toward successful behaviors without telling them what to do?

We respect a learner’s right to make their own choices. We see our role as helping people make informed choices. We don’t tell learners what their goals should be, and we don’t tell them what steps they should take. We may say, “here’s what the research says about the best ways of doing something, and here are recommendations you could follow based on that research,” but then it’s up to each learner what they do next. We never say “you must do this or can’t do that.”

We use behavioral science and tailoring to grab people’s attention, to help them see what’s most relevant to them, and to help them make informed choices. We want to share best practices and help people make decisions that are right for them.


What kinds of methods and techniques are you using?

We use methods from many fields, including Public Health, Behavioral Economics, Social Psychology, and User Experience. We rely heavily on Motivational Interviewing (MI), a counseling strategy that has its roots in substance abuse counseling but has expanded into many areas including education. It’s based on the notion that knowledge does not, in and of itself, change behavior. Motivational Interviewing (along with the ability to tailor messages) enables us to find out what motivates people, to build discrepancy between their desired behavior and actual behavior, and to help them more clearly see the path toward behavior change.

We also often use the behavior change recipe from the book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. They use the analogy of an elephant (motivation), a rider (logic and reason), and a path (the environment). The goal is to motivate the elephant (because otherwise the rider gets exhausted), direct the rider (so a motivated elephant doesn’t walk in circles), and clear the path (so that the two can get to where they need to go). This is exactly what we’re trying to do here in Academic Innovation by applying behavioral science to our suite of tools, experiences, and opportunities.

Next Up for Origin Stories-Problem Roulette: Getting to know our Exam Prep Tool

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate

Recently we introduced Origin Stories, an Office of Academic Innovation Podcast series that features each one of our digital edtech tools. Origin Stories tells the tales of why and how our tools were born, uncovering our faculty partners’ early motivations for creating teaching and learning software, and exploring what the future of these tools may look like.

Problem Roulette, origin stories podcast seriesThis month we welcome you to take a listen to Dr. August Evrard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Mike Mills, U-M alumnus and current UCLA physics graduate student, as they share the history and evolution of Problem Roulette, a “points free zone” web application for exam preparation. Learn more about Dr. Evrard’s desire to help students more effectively study for courses that use multiple choice exams, while ensuring that all U-M students have access to past exam problems. Listen as Dr. Evrard and Mr. Mills discuss the early look and feel of Problem Roulette, and how much it has changed since they began collaborating with the Office of Academic Innovation. Explore with us what the future of Problem Roulette looks like including additional features like group study mode, which enables students to work with their peers on exam preparation. Click on the link below and enjoy learning more about this simple and effective digital edtech tool.

M-Write program expanded to intro, STEM courses

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