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November 2020 Newsletter

Dear Center for Academic Innovation Community,


The world is reeling. Exhaustion brought on by a historic year shaped by the pandemic and increased awareness of structural inequalities has left people drained to the point of emotional and cognitive dehydration. With the few drops of energy remaining, we find ourselves reprioritizing our time and recommitting ourselves to what matters most. As we head into the final month of 2020, I’m inspired that so many are choosing to turn toward learning and action. This is reason to be hopeful.


I extend gratitude to the innovators and learners on campus and around the world who have looked to the Center for Academic Innovation during this tumultuous time to give and receive. Our community is one built as much on a foundation of reciprocity as it is on creativity. An innovation system designed for social good calls upon all its members to be compassionate and collaborative. Knowledge-in is knowledge-out, and the possibility frontier only extends as our global community grows and the power of reciprocity reinforces a culture of innovation in learning.


We see reciprocity leading to impact on campus.

In 2018, we launched Michigan Online to create new opportunities to support learning at all levels. We created opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to enjoy free access to U-M’s growing catalog of online courses. Faculty innovators worked with us to design online courses and our campus community responded. Since then, 32,000 learners from the U-M community enrolled in 66,000 courses and more than a quarter-million hours of learning.


Through these investments, faculty innovators and instructional teams helped us create a sustainable model for Michigan Online. We’re now excited to be able to extend the catalog much further. Through our strategic partnership with Coursera, U-M students, staff, and faculty now have unlimited access to Coursera’s growing catalogue of more than 3,700 Guided Projects, Courses, Specializations, and Professional Certificates from university and industry partners all over the world. We are already seeing students explore new interests beyond the curriculum, staff taking advantage of high-quality professional development opportunities, and faculty enriching courses with excellent content from a wide range of experts.


We are also seeing incredible examples of value exchange on campus as faculty innovators work with CAI to design and develop educational technology and as instructional teams and program administrators across campus leverage those technologies to explore critical educational opportunities and problems. Design and iteration are informed by a community bound together by commitments to academic excellence, diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Many of these efforts are leading to much-needed exemplars of resilient teaching and design. Faculty across campus and at many institutions around the world are using GradeCraft to support gameful instruction and allow students to make meaningful choices about how they progress through a course, take on work that challenges them, and feel connected to both peers and instructional staff. We’re seeing more opportunities to support gameful instruction during the pandemic as faculty seek harmony between student wellness and academic excellence.


Faculty and instructional teams are also strengthening courses and programs on campus by adopting ECoach. We’re seeing ECoach adoption expand beyond courses and programs to groups like the Michigan College Advising Corps to other institutions like UC Santa Barbara, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, and the University of Minnesota. In Ann Arbor, multiple schools and colleges are working with CAI to leverage GradeCraft and ECoach together as a competency-based platform supporting program-level learning objectives.


As faculty adopt other tools developed with the CAI team – like ViewPoint, Problem Roulette, and Atlas – they bring creative ideas and use cases that inform the prioritization and design of new features. ViewPoint has continued to evolve as a result, and it is now being used across residential courses, in large-scale simulations including the Ford School’s Integrated Policy Exercise and the Ross School’s Leadership Crisis Challenge, and in online courses developed by the School of Social Work and the School of Public Health. Our team has modernized the interface for Problem Roulette’s Exam Study mode, and a new Group Lobby feature is on the way, all informed by new faculty from a wider range of disciplines highlighting the needs of students and contributing to an organized and agile approach to learner-centered design. Atlas – which displays data about the U-M curriculum to guide U-M students, instructors, and staff in decision-making – now boasts a collection-sharing feature that allows advisors and students to compose and share collections of courses with one another.


The suite of CAI tools – all developed with significant contributions from faculty and students – is proving to be especially valuable during the pandemic as we turn to resilient design, which is guided by three principles: designing for extensibility, designing for flexibility, and designing for redundancy. We’re learning a great deal about the effective use of resilient design principles during this pandemic and expect to take many of these practices with us as we design for future learning environments that will live beyond this crisis and withstand a range of other challenges and disruptions. Educators can learn more about these resilient design principles in our open course Resilient Teaching Through Times of Crisis and Change.


We see reciprocity leading to impact around the world. 

Through the pandemic, we’ve been honored to provide support to educators around the world and to expand access for learners. But to be clear, value creation moves in multiple directions. Through our open learning portfolio, we have now seen nearly 14 million course enrollments from more than 8 million unique learners. Educators and learners around the world engage in these courses and strengthen their own understanding of effective course design while also enhancing the experience of their peers. The overall portfolio and the experiences available to our community are much better as a result.


Our iterative and inclusive approach to course design has been particularly effective in reaching learners from India. Among those 8 million learners, there are now more learners from India (+1.4M) than any other country, including the U.S.  We’re excited to further expand our community of learners from India through a new collaboration. Today, in partnership with Coursera, we launched Future of Work Skills for India, a call for online learning proposals from U-M faculty.


Indian learners have disproportionately embraced online learning opportunities during the pandemic as educational systems around the world have radically transformed their approaches to education delivery. Like our partners at Coursera, we are inspired by the millions of learners in India seeking access to online education, and by the Indian businesses, governmental institutions, and universities helping learners obtain skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We don’t see this slowing down any time soon and are eager to welcome more Indian learners to the U-M community. Through this call for proposals, we expect to increase the number of high-quality learning opportunities aligned to skill development for learners in India and throughout the globe.


We launch this call for proposals as we conclude a very successful call for proposals coordinated in partnership with FutureLearn. We’re thrilled with the results and have identified new open learning experiences that we will launch in 2021 with faculty from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, The College of Engineering, and the School of Information. These courses cover topics such as using art media for social justice; ethics in engineering; black performance as social protest; 3D modeling; and programming in python.


We see reciprocity as a critical value well beyond the pandemic.

We are putting ourselves in a position to expand the power of our community as we pull ourselves through and beyond the pandemic. Our community of faculty innovators, including those who work with us through the Academic Innovation Advisory Committee, are helping us to increase the diversity of our community of scholars and practitioners who innovate with CAI; to evolve our open learning and online/hybrid program strategy; to establish CAI as a hub for enabling and conducting academic and educational research, and to further develop our capacity to establish and sustain mission-aligned external partnerships. Faculty participating in our Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship (PEFF) program is helping to create an interdisciplinary, intergenerational learning community focused on public engagement. Applications to participate in our PEFF second cohort are due Dec. 1.


We have learned a great deal about academic innovation, resilient design, and the needs of our growing global community during the pandemic. As was the case before March 2020, our model for academic innovation is fueled by the members of our community who so generously contribute and thoughtfully engage in the work of our Center. We are especially grateful for this spirit of reciprocity, which gives us reason to be hopeful as we turn the page on 2020 and look ahead to a better future.


How are you practicing gratitude during the pandemic? Did you know that gratitude can increase innovation, quality, productivity, employee engagement, and well-being?  As the weather turns colder, consider spending some time with us in our new Practicing Gratitude Teach-Out which is available now through Dec. 21 and focuses on the power of positive psychology and gratitude on our personal health and in our communities and organizations.


James DeVaney

Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Founding Executive Director of the Center for Academic Innovation