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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