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January 2022 Director Update

Dear Center for Academic Innovation Community,

Whether your attention is focused on campus, your community, or the world, the latest flip of the calendar may have barely registered. A new year has arrived but much feels the same.  Uncertainties persist, exhaustion and fatigue remains, and we continue to seek consistent and compassionate leadership. The baggage we carry into January is heavy and presses down on our shoulders differently. 

One constant every January is the celebration of Martin Lutuer King Jr. — his life, legacy, and the gifts he provided. In a time when we must engage in difficult conversations across our communities, his gifts are more valuable than ever. Moreover, if we have learned anything from the first two years of this decade, we know that in 2022 we need to reflect and act upon these lessons not only on a Monday in January but throughout the year. 

In 2014, we established the academic innovation initiative with the goal of creating a culture of innovation in learning at U-M in order to redefine higher education at a great public research university. Almost immediately, we realized how complicated,and important, our journey would become. For we can’t redefine learning in the future without asking “for whom?” Through our work across our curricular innovations, educational data and research, and educational technology portfolios, we’ve had many successes as well as failures as we’ve sought new ways to extend academic excellence at Michigan and expand our public purpose. In so doing, we’ve dramatically expanded our working definition of the U-M community. This is inspiring, impactful and also increases the degree of difficulty when we ask ourselves whether we are meeting the needs of our learning community. 

With the help of the many new voices joining our team and our community over the years, we’ve sharpened our focus to anchor on outcomes, viewing academic innovation as a process and a set of tools and products to create a more healthy and just world. This raises a most complicated question and worthwhile pursuit: What is Justice? And again, for whom? 

This question will continue to motivate our work in the year to come and well beyond. As we position U-M for a blended future — one enriched by an extended global and virtual campus and enlivened by increasingly immersive residential experiences — who will be a part of our community? Who decides? Who participates in new learning experiences? Who shapes, creates, and facilitates those experiences? As data-driven and pedagogically-passionate evangelists of inclusive learning, how will we ensure effective advocacy for ideas that work for the populations we intend to serve, and learn with and from? 

We hope you will help us to address these most pressing questions. In the year ahead, you can also join our Michigan Online learning community as we aim to learn for justice and learn for good. Michigan Online is for everyone. Jump in and engage with millions of learners around the world and deepen your understanding of the people, structures, and systems around you to take action for a more equitable future:

The portfolio of learning experiences on Michigan Online only continues to grow. In December, we completed our latest call for proposals.  As a result, we are excited to partner with U-M faculty who will develop a new collection of online courses and course series that address the fundamental global challenges facing our increasingly interconnected world. The world is facing unprecedented challenges but also showing remarkable resilience and perseverance. We are excited to develop these courses to offer perpetual learning and connection to a global campus community that is motivated to acquire new skills and expertise needed to confront the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Stay updated on all of these exciting new courses by joining our Michigan Online email list

Finally, as many local, national, and global challenges stretch with us into a new year, we are eager to refocus our efforts to help our learners and partners to acquire new skills to address these challenges and build strong communities, institutions, and organizations. To strengthen leadership at all levels we’ve launched courses like Leading Diverse Teams & Organizations and are expanding access to learners through Michigan Online. To help individuals and teams work more effectively together we are expanding the use of CAI designed tools like Tandem. To identify precise opportunities for potential curricular changes that could address observed inequities in the classroom, we’re expanding the use of Course Equity Reports which leverage enrollment and outcome data in a given course to reveal patterns in student engagement. 

As we continue to extend U-M’s mission and transform education to improve health and justice, we are grateful for your continued engagement, partnership, and support. Thank you in advance for helping to advance our mission in the year ahead. 

Go Blue!


James DeVaney

Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Founding Executive Director of the Center for Academic Innovation