Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead
As the Office of Academic Innovation’s Public Engagement team got started, one of our first priorities was to better understand all the ways that the University community of scholars engaged with its publics: Where are the most successful programs? What supports were already in place to foster faculty public engagement, and what new ones are needed? Are there duplicative efforts? Where, in the higher education public engagement field, can the University of Michigan (U-M) take on a leadership role?
In an effort to begin to address these questions, an incredible group of campus partners** convened a series of campus-wide working meetings called the Conceptualizing Public Engagement (CPE) series. The CPE series was intended to do a number of things, including:
- Create a space to acknowledge that the phrase “public engagement” means different things to different people and groups across the University and to build recognition of that diversity;
- Bring together the campus community around public engagement to grapple with this heterogeneity and work towards an inclusive definition and conceptual framework that can reflect, organize, and inform campus activities and strategy; and
- Inclusively inventory or landscape existing public engagement efforts across campus.
The CPE series were organized into two topics (with four meetings per topic). Each meeting was designed to be activity- and discussion-based, and the plans evolved with participant feedback.
Topic One, “How can we understand and organize U-M’s public engagement goals, approaches, and spaces?” was designed to:
- Surface and discuss heterogeneity among different approaches, outcomes, audiences or partners, and spaces in public engagement across the University; and
- Source ideas for approaches to organize this diversity at a systems-level.
Topic Two, “How might we network the U-M public engagement community for greater impact?” had two distinct goals:
- Explore and offer feedback on a draft organizing framework to contextualize public engagement at a systems-level; and
- Acknowledge and explore barriers or critical issues limiting public engagement or support work at the University.
In total, 113 faculty and staff attended meetings for one or both CPE topics, representing 14 of U-M’s schools or colleges and 33 centers, institutes, or other units.
The team at Academic Innovation collected and analyzed artifacts and the transcripts from these meetings to develop several distinct deliverables. These include a preliminary framework to organize and contextualize public engagement and support work across the university, an evolving set of recommendations to address barriers facing the public engagement community at the University, and the beginnings of a network of faculty, practitioners, and support staff spanning different spaces and approaches to engagement work. Over the next several months, we will detail these outcomes – as well as exciting plans and announcements from the Office and Public Engagement Team – in a series of blog posts, so stay tuned!
- January – Barriers facing our public engagement community
- February – A draft framework to understand and organize our heterogeneous, collective efforts
- March – Next steps
If you missed the CPE series but would like to get involved with the conversations and work moving forward, please email us.
**The Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series was sponsored and co-hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation, the Vice President for Communications, Government Relations, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Research, and the Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.
Eric Joyce, Brand/Product Analyst Senior
Anna Konson, Graphic Designer
Since 2012, the University of Michigan has scaled access to rich learning experiences through massive open online courses, course series, and Teach-Outs in more than 190 countries around the world. This global reach expands upon the university’s public purpose while also providing personalized pathways for lifelong learning. Through partnerships within, and outside of, the U-M community, the Office of Academic Innovation is building upon this diverse library of online learning experiences and is enriching the learning process for residential students at U-M (and beyond) through an expanding portfolio of digital educational technology tools.
Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead (Office of Academic Innovation) @ElyseTheGeek
Laura Sánchez-Parkinson, Assistant Director for Programs and Development & Program Manager for Research (National Center for Institutional Diversity) @lsparkinson
Diversity, Public Engagement, and Innovation are – and should be – aligned.
Bottom-up enthusiasm, top-down leadership, and external pressures are mobilizing colleges and universities to prepare students and faculty in engaging with broader publics to solve complex social issues in our society. At some institutions, groups of students and faculty have organized to promote and prepare civically engaged leaders and scholars. Some institutional leaders have led the way in launching campuswide commitments to public engagement and diversity and devoted resources to mobilize their campus communities. While these efforts have often been announced and designed in isolation, institutions have an opportunity to address social issues of our time and utilize its academic resources and power to advocate for democracy, equity, and social justice.
Our University of Michigan campuses have worked to meet these missions by supporting a very rich history in engaging with ideas and people beyond our academic walls and establishing a commitment to innovation and diversity, equity and inclusion. President Schlissel renewed these commitments and launched a strategic area of focus on public engagement and impact to scale our campus community’s efforts and reimagine engagement for the 21st century. This effort has great potential to transform complicated social justice challenges if we approach them inclusively and equitably.
We see these important mission-driven areas of focus to be aligned and connected.
Our university aims to build mutually beneficial partnerships both within and beyond the academy. In so doing, we can create opportunities for our campuses and public communities to partner and learn from each other, enriching our work and its impact. People with different educational backgrounds and professions, with different life experiences, and with different outlooks and perspectives all bring to bear important insights into understanding complex problems and building solutions. In this way, engaging equitably and inclusively beyond our University walls can become a driver of innovative discussions and solutions.
Approaching these challenges requires reflection and care. We must name our challenges and look to our histories to recognize and address how historical inequities have caused or exacerbated problems within and between communities – both within and beyond our campus. And we must commit to addressing these issues collaboratively, inclusively, and equitably.
Beginning a Conversation
On October 8, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Academic Innovation, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Alumni Association co-hosted an event exploring these themes called Social Transformation through Public Engagement. Consisting of a panel discussion and a series of roundtables, the event named challenges facing the academy, honored past work and current actors, and mobilized our campus communities to commit to advancing DEI-focused public engagement efforts.
The panel was introduced by President Mark Schlissel and moderated by Earl Lewis, professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies and director of the Center for Social Solutions. The panel discussion featured Mary Jo Callan (Director of the University of Michigan Edward Ginsberg Center), Abdul El-Sayed (Former Democratic Candidate for Michigan Governor and Former Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department and Health Officer for the City of Detroit), Angela Reyes (Executive Director and Founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation), Jim Leija (Director of Education and Community Engagement at the University Musical Society), and Luis Trelles (Producer of Radio Ambulante at NPR and 2018 Knight-Wallace Fellow). The panelists explored a number of themes, including:
- The history of diversity and public scholarship at the University of Michigan – including both powerful positive examples like the work of James Jackson and Patricia Gurin as well as times when our efforts fell short or caused harm
- The opportunities visioned, realized, and missed to invite and welcome communities to our campus, including creating avenues for youth of color to access and thrive at the University
- The role of equity, mutual benefit, and reciprocity in impactful and inclusive engagement work – like the efforts at the Detroit Urban Research Center, which impact and were co-developed with publics through community-based participatory research
- The role of public engagement in addressing complex social justice issues by bringing together scholars and members of our local and national communities to highlight and explore community experiences and histories
- How social media and a non-stop news cycle has influenced dialogue and public discourse: simultaneously creating community organizing power and new avenues for public expression while also limiting time to process and respond thoughtfully to current events and contributing to hyper-polarization
- Inclusion as an avenue for innovation – when we leverage the rich, deep power of diverse perspectives, we can think more creatively to disrupt the status quo
In addition to the panel discussion, faculty, alumni, staff, and students met in small groups to explore critical issues and barriers in DEI-focused engagement work. Some of the topics discussed include:
- The risks and rewards of doing diversity public scholarship;
- Acknowledging and expanding participation of scholars with marginalized identities, students, and staff in pursuing this work.;
- Exploring the skills and training opportunities needed for effective engagement; and
- How public engagement and diversity are valued and incentivised in academic institutions, especially in hiring, merit review, and promotion.
Mobilizing for Action
Social Transformation through Public Engagement began a conversation on our campus that we hope will mobilize our communities to address complex issues at the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion, innovation, and public engagement. What kinds of opportunities and actions might catalyze this movement?
We commit to furthering these efforts by continuing to create spaces to bring together our campuses and communities in conversation and planning, to advocate for changes in our university system which will reduce barriers to access and incentivize the value of these efforts, and to create new and innovative ways for our communities to engage ethically and justly with our publics.
Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead
Rachel Niemer, Director of Strategic Initiatives
During the 2017 October Leadership Breakfast, President Schlissel outlined his vision for a strategic initiative on public engagement. Calling upon the Offices of Research, Government Relations, Communications, and Academic Innovation, he announced a campus-wide project to determine the University of Michigan’s next steps in supporting public engagement, including tracking and incentivizing engagement work, connecting individuals with relevant expertise to specific opportunities to impact public discourse, creating and expanding training efforts, and reimagining public engagement approaches for the University’s third century.
Public Engagement at the University of Michigan
Public engagement efforts on campus are plentiful and take many forms: from individual faculty connecting with the public through social media to offices across campus representing the University with constituent groups (like businesses, community organizations, and government entities) to interdisciplinary teams of scholars creating Teach-Outs. The University of Michigan has an extraordinarily rich history of public engagement with a huge variety in goals, approaches, and spaces in which individuals or groups work with different publics to add incredible value to our community. By highlighting scholarly public engagement as a presidential priority, President Schlissel opened an opportunity to bring together communities and individuals from across campus who are already active in supporting scholars to engage the public. We can, and should, leverage this opportunity to amplify one another’s efforts and reimagine how a great public research university can both share knowledge with, and learn from, our larger community.
Here within the Office of Academic Innovation, we are excited to dive further into public engagement, and we see many parallels with innovation in the academy. Both are spaces in which some scholars find tremendous personal fulfillment and where scholars can experiment and work interdisciplinarily. Both impact and fulfill the research and teaching missions of higher education, and the University of Michigan. By naming the Academic Innovation as a partner in public engagement, President Schlissel has drawn attention to another opportunity: the University can explore what innovation in public engagement looks like and redefine how it intersects with 21st century higher education.
Public Engagement and Academic Innovation
As we started to explore how Academic Innovation can support ongoing public engagement efforts, we reached out to current and future collaborators to ask about which programs they are most proud of and/or impressed by at Michigan. We received a wealth of insights. For example, those whom we spoke with called out some of the offices and centers dedicated to different public missions, including the Center for Educational Outreach, the Office of Community-Engaged Academic Learning, the U-M Natural History Museum, the U-M Museum of Art, the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, ArtsEngine, the Depression Center, the Business Engagement Center, and the Ginsberg Center. Programs housed within larger units also drive important, meaningful engagement, including the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship, Michigan Law’s Problem Solving Institute, the School of Information’s Citizen Interaction Design program, the Semester in Detroit program hosted by LS&A and the Residential College, the Road Scholars program, Michigan-OPEN, the Youth Civil Rights Academy, the Center for Educational Outreach’s Wolverine Express, Wolverine Pathways, the M-STEM Academies, Women in Science and Engineering programs, and the National Center for Institutional Diversity’s public scholarship activities, among others. Lots of enthusiasm and innovation have also emerged from grassroots and student-led programs, including Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and the Sciences, RELATE, BrainsRule!, MYELIN, MISciWriters, Optimize, and #WeListen, along with other impactful groups. And while by no means an exhaustive catalogue of engagement programs across campus, all of this is before we could acknowledge and honor the work at all levels of the many individual scholars across the university who are pursuing engagement work on their own.
This heterogeneity highlights a fundamental quality of engagement work: it has many faces. As such, “public engagement” could be broadly defined as any individual, group, organization, approach, or space where the University’s scholars or efforts touch public life. And our community has many ways of parsing this broadness. It can be understood through the lens of the plethora of approaches, including knowledge co-production, community service, public scholarship, policy influence, traditional communications, educational outreach and pipelines into the academy, or partnerships between U-M and external entities – like industry or museums. It can be subdivided along lines familiar to the academy: publicly engaged scholarship, teaching, service, and engagement for engagement’s sake. It can be understood in terms of the spaces and goals for engagement work to drive impact, including touching public and lifelong learning, influencing decision-making, and invigorating formal education.
Key Questions about Public Engagement at U-M
In our office we are asking: how can we acknowledge this incredible, rich diversity while still applying a design mindset to reimagine public engagement and advance our campus and community?
As a community, we can also ask: how did we get here and where are we going? Most of the efforts at the University of Michigan grew independently of each other. As such, there are a huge number of actors and organizations. Many are geared toward support, or impact particular groups within the university or particular audiences outside of its walls. We now confront some critical issues: with a variety of working definitions of “public engagement,” how can we build shared frameworks to better understand and contextualize each others’ work? As a community, how can we support the expansion of public engagement efforts across the university to recognize each others’ efforts and connect scholars with the appropriate organizations and opportunities to support their engagement ambitions? How can we create the cultures and working environments which foster and support scholars who are interested in pursuing engagement while still honoring the meanings and values of the traditional academy?
These questions require a systems-level view and an awful lot of teamwork to answer.
Building an Academic Innovation Public Engagement Team
Partnering with the diverse offices and actors across campus, Academic Innovation wants to tackle these questions. As a relatively new campus unit which serves the entire campus, Academic Innovation’s core charge is to foster a culture of innovation. We are poised to leverage appropriate technological interventions to solve problems with new infrastructures and explore how to scale successful efforts. We are a convener, drawing together experts of different flavors to tackle and overcome problems like personalization at scale – and we have learned lessons which can be extended and applied to public engagement efforts. Together with the community, we propose to examine the U-M public engagement system as a whole to understand what’s working, highlight and scale those efforts, address challenges and gaps, and develop creative, impactful solutions to help the system function more effectively.
To create capacity for public engagement innovation, Academic Innovation recently started to build a team to explore and move these ideas forward. Elyse Aurbach previously pursued a double-life as a scientist and leader for a number of projects to improve science communication and public engagement. These include developing and teaching communication courses with Michigan Medicine, leading the “Stand Up for Science: Practical Approaches to Discussing Science that Matters” Teach-Out, and “Co-Bossing” with Nerd Nite Ann Arbor. She also co-founded and directed of the science communication and public engagement organization, RELATE. As Public Engagement Lead, she’ll head the team to develop and carry out projects and collaborations across the public engagement spectrum. Will Potter is an award-winning journalist and TED Senior Fellow who has been contributing to the U-M Teach-Out Series since its inception, while he was a visiting professor in Communication Studies. In his new role as Senior Academic Innovation Fellow, he’ll advise faculty and staff on digital storytelling and public engagement, lecture in the Department of English Language & Literature, and continue his own publicly-engaged work. Finally, Associate Professor Meghan Duffy will collaborate with the team and explore public engagement projects while spending her sabbatical year at Academic Innovation.
But Academic Innovation cannot tackle this problem alone. We want to partner with others across campus to take up the challenge with us. If you’re interested in collaborating with us on this work, please contact Elyse (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your thoughts, perspectives, and ideas about public engagement challenges, solutions, innovations, and potential projects. We’d love to meet President Schlissel’s challenge with a diverse coalition of people and groups from across the university to innovate through public engagement and ultimately transform our system and community.
James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation
Last week we welcomed Will Potter to the Office of Academic Innovation. Will joins our team as a Senior Academic Innovation Fellow at a time when we are increasing experimentation and investment at the intersection of academic innovation and public engagement. He also holds a new academic appointment in the Department of English.
The Academic Innovation team has had the great pleasure of working with and learning from Will over the past year through our U-M Teach-Out Series where he co-created a Teach-Out and contributed to several others. He brings a rich set of experiences and critical expertise to an Academic Innovation team that seeks to reimagine public engagement and embrace storytelling to advance learning at all levels.
Will was the first journalist to be selected as a TED Senior Fellow. He was awarded the prestigious Knight Wallace Fellowship in Law Reporting at the University of Michigan and later became a Marsh Professor of Journalism. He teaches courses on investigative journalism, social movements, and whistleblowing, and led a Teach-Out titled Fake News, Facts, and Alternative Facts.
Will and I connected as he settled into his first week at the Office of Academic Innovation and discussed citizenship in the modern era, the art of storytelling, and the University of Michigan’s powerful history of public engagement.
1. You’re joining the Academic Innovation team as a senior academic innovation fellow with a focus on digital storytelling. How does one become an expert digital storyteller?
Punk rock. Well, that was my path at least. I started writing for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers when I was 17, with every intention of following a conventional career path. But the rise of online publishing left the industry scrambling to adjust its revenue model, and hiring freezes, bureau closures, and layoffs became the norm. It felt like most journalists were waiting for their editors to come up with solutions, and that didn’t sit well with me. Growing up in the punk scene, with its heavy emphasis on do-it-yourself ethics, profoundly shaped my worldview. In that community, if you want to start a band and tour the world, you don’t wait for anyone’s permission—you teach yourself and make it happen.
So I decided to do the same thing with my journalism. I created my own online news service, and built my own distribution channels. When I published my first book with City Lights, I enlisted friends in L.A. to direct a movie-style trailer that we distributed online, and I relied on my social media networks to book international speaking tours. I was the first investigative journalist to be named a TED Senior Fellow, which created many more opportunities for experimentation with digital storytelling. In hindsight, I feel fortunate to have started my career in a non-digital era, because quality digital storytelling is, above all else, simply old-fashioned narrative techniques combined with a willingness to take chances.
2. Your contributions in this capacity will be grounded in your ongoing work as an investigative journalist. What are you working on now?
After my first book was published, an anonymous source leaked me some surveillance documents created by the Counter Terrorism Unit that mentioned my name. Out of curiosity, I filed an open records request, and with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights I obtained government surveillance documents about my articles, speeches, website, and book (which, if I may brag, is described in the Counter Terrorism Unit files as “compelling and well-written”). That experience is the foundation of my next book, which will combine narrative nonfiction, investigative reporting, and intertwined memoir. I’ve been working with students on a Freedom of Information Act campaign to investigate both the history and contemporary scope of governmental surveillance of journalists. I’m practicing what I’m preaching in this new role, so to speak, in that I’ll be publicly-engaged throughout this process, while working with Academic Innovation and teaching in the English department. I’ll also be pushing my own comfort zones by working with a team to film a documentary of the journey, and experimenting with media tie-ins for print publications like an interactive ebook and websites.
3. How does your life as a journalist influence the way you think about innovation in teaching and learning and about the way U-M approaches public engagement? What is the significance of building narrative in creating awesome learning experiences?
Human beings are storytellers. That is perhaps the only marker that truly separates us from other animals—not an ability to feel pain, love, joy, or grief, or even an ability to communicate our needs and desires, but the ability to tell complex stories that help us make sense of the world, and our aspirations within it. We most often use the term storytelling when talking about fiction or film. But it’s a mistake to think of story in such a narrow sense. As a journalist, I am of course conscious of the stories I tell my readers, but more importantly my life as a journalist is rooted in exposing the false narratives used by people in power to deceive. I am convinced that the best way to counter these narratives of hate, fear, anti-intellectualism, and control that have grown louder in our culture is by speaking up honestly and passionately in defense of our shared democratic values. That’s why I am so excited to be part of U-M’s public engagement initiatives. Being mindful of the stories we tell, and the false stories we are countering, not only helps create memorable learning experiences for our students, but it will also help us to share our expertise in dialogue with the general public.
4. You teach courses on investigative journalism, social movements, and whistleblowing. Do you have a favorite topic to cover with your students?
Ben Bradlee, who served as executive editor of the Washington Post for 23 years, was infamous for what he expected to see in a Post story. He called it a “holy shit moment”: that point in which the reader learns something new/surprising/fascinating/helpful or just plain memorable. It’s not enough if the story matters to the writer, if it’s lyrically written, or even if it’s newsworthy. If the reader doesn’t want to tell a friend about the story the moment they finish reading it, you’ve lost an opportunity. It’s an elusive moment, both in journalism and in the classroom, but I’m constantly searching for opportunities to connect my courses to students’ lived experiences.
In my whistleblowing course, for instance, I invited Bastian Obermayer, the journalist who broke the Panama Papers, to discuss the ethical dilemmas he faced when an anonymous source leaked 2.6 TB of financial data to him, and how that Pulitzer Prize-winning story was only possible through innovation and international collaboration. Dayo Aiyetan, a Knight-Wallace Fellow, discussed whistleblowing in his home of Nigeria, which contextualized the attacks on journalism and whistleblowing we are witnessing right now in the United States. In my journalism courses, one of my favorite exercises is to visit the Joseph A. Labadie Collection on campus and explore minority and underground newspapers from the 1950s and 60s. As one student said last semester, it was shocking to see articles on police shootings from the 60s that looked like they could have been published in 2017, but inspiring to see this legacy of truth-telling for social justice.
As both a working journalist and an educator, that’s the type of Bradlee moment I hope to facilitate.
5. What questions and activities do you hope to explore through your new role? How do you hope to work with faculty and student innovators?
The University of Michigan has a powerful history of public engagement, and in my new role I am excited to be part of what I believe is the next chapter of that legacy. There are two areas of focus, in particular. As folks reading this most likely already know, the first Teach-In took place here on campus in 1965, starting a movement that spread to 40 other universities. Today’s Teach-Outs update this model for a digital era, and I’m thrilled to be part of this team both in terms of hosting interviews and also envisioning the next iteration of the form.
The University of Michigan also has a powerful history when it comes to storytelling and journalism. Our campus was home to what is generally believed to be the first newspaper writing course in the United States—then called “Rapid Writing”— in 1890-91. Journalist alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winners Eugene Robinson, Ann Marie Lipinski, Lisa Pollak, and many, many more. Today, the prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellowship brings journalists from around the world for a year of study and collaboration with faculty on campus, and Wallace House also honors the next generation of new journalists with the Livingston Awards. Comparable programs at Harvard and Stanford connect their fellows with journalism initiatives at those universities. Unfortunately, though, the journalism program at the University of Michigan was shuttered in the 1990s. In this new role, I’ll be thinking through what an updated model might look like, and how we might honor our legacy and also be at the forefront of innovation. I hope to help both faculty and students became better storytellers, regardless of their area of expertise or professional goals.
More broadly speaking, I am looking forward to conversations around campus about what, in my opinion, might be the defining issue of our time: the meaning, and responsibilities, of citizenship in the modern era. Core democratic institutions—the public university and the free press—are being decried by elected officials as the enemy of the people. I might be biased, in that my new hybrid role involves a foot in both of those worlds, but I’m proud of how both journalists and educators have responded to those attacks—a reexamination and reaffirmation of the civic responsibility that drives us.
6. What else should Academic Innovation affiliated faculty, staff, and students ask you about?
Anything. Really! I’m happy to chat about digital storytelling, literary journalism, or how I approach tailoring narratives for diverse mediums ranging from TED to the evening news. Also: restoring vintage motorcycles. If it happens to be outside of my wheelhouse, we can learn about it together.
This article was originally posted on 3/6/2018 on Inside Higher Ed
James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation
Six years ago, inspired by a big idea to democratize higher education, the University of Michigan (U-M) became a founding partner of Coursera. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were born. While the issuance of MOOC death certificates by skeptics is only rivaled in frequency by those filed by South Park writers for Kenny, MOOCs consistently find ways to survive and indeed thrive in nurturing environments.
MOOCs are far from dead. Rather, they appear to hatch derivatives. Sean Gallagher of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy refers to this as “the new ecology of credentials”, a landscape transforming rapidly as we move from the early knowledge economy to the digital, AI, Gig economy. Which leads those of us close to the action to reflect often upon the original big idea for MOOCs. Typically stating a goal to “democratize” is followed by “access to” something. In hindsight, it’s clear we hadn’t fully considered the potential of what we might be democratizing. What, in fact, are we scaling? Is it content and courses? Curriculum and credentials? Communities and college towns?
With today’s announcement, we are now much closer to saying “all of the above”. MOOCs may have initially provided learners an opportunity to simply peer into the university. Now MOOCs and MOOC derivatives (e.g. Teach-Outs, specializations, MicroMasters, MasterTrack, etc.) are helping universities to expand how they think about engaging with the world. For U-M, this is entirely consistent with top institutional priorities around academic innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and public engagement. We are the global, inclusive, public research university.
The real innovation of the MOOC era is not the unbundling of academic degrees that first captured massive attention, but rather the re-bundling that results from serious academic R&D – the creation of new communities and credentials for all levels. In announcing Michigan’s new degrees this morning at the Coursera Partners Conference, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda contextualized these latest innovations as evidence that, “the future of work and the future of learning are converging.”
Today U-M announced the intent to design two new fully online master’s degree programs and a new online cohort-based pathway to advanced degrees and career advancement called the MasterTrack Certificate. Let’s consider this latest re-bundling effort within the broader context.
U-M seeks to address global problems in pursuit of a more equitable world. If we can agree that global problems do not fall neatly into the academic disciplines, it should follow that the increasingly diverse needs of learners would be difficult to address through a set of unmalleable academic offerings. If we are serious about diversity, we need to be equally serious about inclusivity as we design new programs, and laying a foundation for learners with vastly different starting points, learning styles, and learning objectives.
So in 2012 we began to adopt ‘unbundling’ as part of our language. Many chose the fear narrative and heard unraveling. We chose the opportunity narrative and have been re-bundling ever since with an evolving mix of learner-centric offerings. Because experiments regularly fork into new experiments, it is easy to lose focus. As we move at a rapid speed, we find it is critical to anchor in our vision for a preferred future – one that points U-M in the direction of expanding access, designing for inclusivity, personalizing at scale, and reimagining two-way public engagement. We took a major stride toward this future today by announcing two new degrees and pioneering the MasterTrack offering. Along with our MOOC portfolio, our expanding Teach-Out Series, and our MicroMasters programs, learners have more opportunities than ever to be a part of a Michigan learning community.
We’re just getting started. And the world future of work and future of learning show no signs of slowing down. Given what is known and all that is uncertain, our goal is to build a global, inclusive, public research university that is future proof!
As we move toward this future, it’s clear that there is a time for acceleration and a time to struggle through experimentation – advancing learning and recording failure along the way as only Universities do.
And now, an adorable tangent on barriers to entry, speed and pace.
My six-year-old daughter is beginning to love soccer. Before each practice, I ask her how she will train today. She pauses predictably, smirks and tilts her head to the right, and with one eye visible responds, “like a cheetah-rocket!” Never heard of one? Well, for those who haven’t spent time with a six-year-old lately, these are two things that are, like, really fast. So when you put those two things together, it would stand, that you get something even faster.
When my daughter first showed signs of doubt that she could compete with the “big kids” (seven and eight-year olds are Goliath to a six year old David), we focused on getting in the game. She needed to belong. We talked about the way she would enter the pitch. After some epic brainstorming, she refused to choose between ‘like a cheetah’, and ‘like a rocket’. “A cheetah-rocket would be faster, Dada,” she stated decisively. She’s now in the game. She wants to try and she know she can. She’s ready to learn.
I think about our learning curve on the soccer pitch often as the higher education industry evolves with competing narratives of opportunity and fear.
At the moment, I’m helping my daughter to gain confidence. Soon I’ll need to help her understand that learning is hard and that part of the human experience is to struggle through new lessons. We’ll need to slow the game down to understand each component. Speed and learning don’t often go well together.
We are steadily lowering the barriers to entry in higher education. We unbundle to grant cheetah-rocket speed to all. Access, belonging, opportunity, personalization. As we re-bundle, we need to create new opportunities that advance learning rather than enable the tyranny of convenience. This will take serious experimentation in order to establish the best mix of learning opportunities and credentials for the economy ahead.
With my daughter, I need to help her slow down and understand the fundamentals at her own pace in order to lay a sound foundation for learning. Similarly, MOOCs provide a foundation for self-paced learning. As we continue to experiment, we need to make sure this foundation is flexible.
Importantly, for universities in this moment, it turns out that speed as a lever goes in multiple directions. Universities need to continue to gain comfort with good risk taking. A burst of cheetah-rocket speed now and then can help us to accelerate experimentation in pursuit of our ultimate goals. Yet we also need to apply good methods and R&D principles to make sure we pace ourselves when appropriate and ultimately reach our desired destinations. Do we have the confidence to set the right pace and embed good pedagogy as we continue extend our reach? We have made significant progress in expanding our reach, but we haven’t yet cracked the code on embedding good pedagogy at scale. This will be a primary focus in the next wave of experiments.
For U-M, we’ve envisioned a preferred future that allows us to be more global, more inclusive, more public. Many ways in. Several ways through. Clear outcomes and value.
Today we took another step forward in the great re-bundling and it is clear that there is a long road ahead. Good things take time. As we continue to experiment and design learner-centric programs and learning communities, we intend to make design choices that support informed decision-making for learners, increase affordability, increase acceleration, increase frequency and quality of feedback, and replace a capstone mindset with project-rich learning experiences throughout.
Experimentation is far from over. As we launch this latest set of programs, several questions are on my mind:
- Given what we expect in the future of work, can we create pathways to continuous competency?
- How will our evolving product mix fit together for different kinds learners?
- Is there tension between access/on-ramps and deep learning?
- How should we incorporate real-world projects into rich, rigorous, and agile curricula?
- How will employers evaluate sub-degree credentials?
- What are the best ways to engage learners and employers in the design of learning experiences?
- Are we addressing the audiences that need us most?
So what are we democratizing? It turns out for U-M, our efforts are focused on scaling the great public research university in pursuit of a more equitable world. Neither MOOCs nor degrees are dead. Instead, we have entered an era of experimentation that will result in a new collection of credentials needed in a future where, as Mark Searle, Arizona State University Provost said so memorably in his keynote this morning, “universities are known for who we include not who we exclude”.
Monica Miklosovic, Iteration Manager
Megan Taylor, Research Associate
Steve Welsh, Learning Experience Designer
The Office of Academic Innovation aims to broaden access to higher education by building new models for pre-college learning that are open, both in terms of easily accessible content for college preparation, and make pathways to higher education transparent to all populations. We value opportunities that challenge us to explore how we can continue to broaden the use of our digital tools and engagement in pursuit of this aim. This winter an opportunity arose for our office to partner with the Wolverine Pathways program to provide scholars in the program with a unique opportunity to engagement with the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series. This partnership with Wolverine Pathways was a great way for us to collaborate with curriculum designers in Michigan public schools to custom-tailor our Teach-Out curricula for younger learners.
Following the model of the Teach-In, which originated at the University of Michigan, Teach-Outs are brief but highly participatory online learning experiences designed to bring the public together to learn about, and discuss, current issues in society, such as health care, the opioid crisis, media literacy, and understanding extreme weather. As the Teach-Out Series approaches the culmination of its first year, Academic Innovation has launched our 10th Teach-Out with many more currently in design and production. Along the way, several groups, including public libraries and senior centers, have contacted our office seeking to adapt the Teach-Outs for face-to-face learning opportunities. We are continually striving to discover new ways to engage learners and open our courses and learning opportunities
The University of Michigan’s Wolverine Pathways program is a free, year-round youth outreach program that partners with families and Michigan schools in Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti. Wolverine Pathways provides diverse learning experiences and leadership opportunities that support admitted students’ success in high school and prepare them for college and their future careers. Wolverine Pathway scholars who successfully complete the program, apply, and are admitted of the University of Michigan will receive a full, four-year tuition scholarship to the university.
In November 2017, Megan Taylor, a Research Associate in the Office of Academic Innovation, met with Dana Davidson, the Project Coordinator of Wolverine Pathways, to discuss and explore opportunities for the Office of Academic Innovation to partner with, and support, the Wolverine Pathways Program. In a series of exploratory meetings, Dana expressed she was looking for a unique and engaging curriculum for eighth and ninth grade students in their upcoming winter session. After initial discussions, we soon arrived at the idea of incorporating material from the Teach-Out Series, and adapting the curricula specifically for the needs and interests of the eighth and ninth grade Wolverine Pathway Scholars.
A Partnership for Pre-College Learners
In reviewing the series of Teach-Outs, both teams identified digital literacy as an important component of academic and social preparation among teens. American teens face daily choices about how they approach and engage with information, as well as their activity on social media. With this in mind, we identified the Fake News, Facts, and Alternative Facts and Privacy, Reputation, and Identity in a Digital Age Teach-Outs as ideal fits for the Wolverine Pathways students. Working with curriculum designers from Michigan public schools, we designed a plan to integrate the Teach-Outs into a curriculum that would fit the Wolverine Pathways environment and structure.
While Teach-Out content was originally designed for an online, global audience, the Wolverine Pathways team plan to use this content in a face-to-face classroom with an age-specific cohort. Rather than viewing videos on personal devices, the class might watch together on one screen. Instead of discussion taking place on a web forum, the conversation may be prompted and moderated in-person by a teacher. After consulting with the Wolverine Pathways curriculum designers, the Academic Innovation team created a repository of videos and new documentation for all text-based content so Teach-Out resources could be used in a flexible way by teachers interacting with students face-to-face.
The initial introduction of Teach-Out content to Wolverine Pathways teachers was well received, and both teams are excited to see how it will impact the students’ ability to gain digital literacy. Following the 2018 pilot, we hope to continue partnering with Wolverine Pathways to adopt future Teach-Outs for their students. By observing and evaluating the pilot curriculum, and building on our partnership with the Wolverine Pathways team, we hope to develop more learning opportunities to support Michigan public school programs and pre-college learners.
What does public engagement mean to our community?
Join us for one of three dates in January and February for the Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series. At the University of Michigan, we take action to engage the public in many ways. How can we understand and organize our collective efforts to better learn from each other and mobilize for greater impact?
Please join us! All faculty are welcome to join us in a working meeting to help shape and define a University of Michigan system-wide understanding of public engagement.
- Wednesday, January 30,1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Kalamazoo Room, Michigan League)
- Wednesday, February 6, 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (East Conference Room, Rackham Graduate School)
- Thursday, February 7, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (West Conference Room, Rackham Graduate School)
RSVP for any of the above sessions HERE.
If you will not attend, but would like to ensure other faculty receive an invitation to attend, please complete THIS FORM.
**Note: If you attended previous sessions in the CPE series, you are welcome to attend these meetings, though they will cover some of the same material. Please email email@example.com with questions.
The Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series is sponsored by the Office of Academic Innovation, Office of the Vice President for Communications, Office of Government Relations, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, and the Office of Research.