Academic Innovation notes strides as U-M hits online enrollment milestone


In the four years since the University of Michigan announced a centralized effort to promote digital learning and two years after U-M’s president announced Academic Innovation as a major initiative, the university has experienced more than 7 million enrollments in online learning opportunities that involved people in 190 countries.

In addition, there has been impressive participation from faculty, staff, students and alumni in the various courses and programs, and in use of tools developed or scaled for additional employment through resources provided by the Academic Innovation program, leaders say.

“We’ve made significant progress over the last four years in fostering a culture of innovation in teaching and learning at U-M,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation.

“In partnership with faculty, staff and students across campus, we have created a new ecology of credentials and a set of tools to advance learning and personalization at scale. With continued collaboration across our community we will continue to grow our model and evolve our portfolio as we move with our community of innovators toward the creation of problem-solving communities that are interdisciplinary, intergenerational and interprofessional.”

Academic Innovation has released statistics that show how much those beyond the university and within the campus community have embraced online learning with development of massive open online courses, course series, online degrees and current topical learning opportunities known as teach-outs.

The numbers also show the impact of several digital tools that have been developed or grown to scale on student learning at U-M and other institutions, such as ECoach (personalized education), GradeCraft (gameful learning), M-Write (writing to learn), Problem Roulette (practice exam problems), Viewpoint (learning simulations), and ART 2.0 (academic decision making).

Some of the stats include:

• 159 online learning experiences, which include individual courses.

• More than 160 U-M faculty members leading 112 collaborative initiatives.

• More than 155 faculty members adopting digital tools developed at U-M.

• More than 90 educational institutions adopting digital tools developed at U-M.

• More than 72,000 participants in the Teach-Out Series, which launched in 2017.

• Academic Innovation launched Michigan Online, a new portal for all of its content, in late spring and also offered free course certifications to faculty, staff and current students. The offer was expanded to alumni in the fall. In that short period, members of the U-M community have created more than 8,400 user accounts on Michigan Online and have generated 2,900 course enrollments and completed 600 courses.

• Eighty-five percent of undergraduates have used at least one tool.

Junior Jenna Bazil was in a class on the anatomy of movement science that used GradeCraft, a tool that supports gameful instruction. GradeCraft course design allows students to choose how they will progress through the class in a style much like a well-designed game. The tool encourages risk, as students take on assignments based on how they best learn.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” said Bazil, a Spanish and movement science major. “You’re very much in control and aware of your status in the class at all times. Whether through a test score, a paper or going to class, you knew what you could do to succeed in the course.”

Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of education and of information, and his then doctoral student Caitlin Holman, associate director for research and development at the Office of Academic Innovation, initially developed GradeCraft for Fishman’s classes. It now is used in nearly 60 U-M courses and reaches more than 2,000 students annually, which Fishman said is thanks to help from learning experience designers, developers, project managers and others at Academic Innovation.

“Michigan faculty have deep expertise … in their areas of scholarly focus. Designing, developing and deploying something for real-world use requires a broad range of different kinds of expertise,” Fishman said.

“The Office of Academic Innovation creates a space for discovery, integration and implementation that leads to both greater creativity and greater synergy across emerging ideas. To put it simply: A good idea at Michigan has a much better chance of becoming reality than at just about any other higher education institution.”

Don Peurach, associate professor of education, worked with the Academic Innovation team in 2016 and 2017 to design and launch the School of Education’s “Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement” MicroMasters program.

“What I most value in my association with the Office of Academic Innovation has been the opportunity to engage with talented and committed designers, researchers and leaders in imagining and pursuing new approaches to online engagement for learners on campus, across the country and around the world,” Peurach said.

“This goes far beyond designing courses to include finding new ways to re-create the University of Michigan community in the online space, so that learners engage socially and develop the same types of deep relationships as our campus-based learners.”

Brenda Gunderson, a senior lecturer in LSA, is leading the launch of a new Statistics with Python three-course specialization through the Coursera online platform that will cover Understanding and Visualizing Data, Inferential Statistical Analysis, and Fitting Statistical Models to Data.

Gunderson, too, has high praise for her Academic Innovation partners that put the specialization together in under a year, and that helped grow ECoach, a personalized education tool developed initially by Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of physics, of astronomy and of education. Gunderson was one of the first faculty to use the tool that has helped more than 21,000 students in nine campus courses, and in three courses outside of U-M.

“Thank Goodness for Academic Innovation — a place where promising tools can receive the needed support and grow in ways that would not otherwise be possible,” she said. “Being able to have a place where faculty can research and receive support for new ways of teaching and learning, to help us make better choices is a gift and a necessity for us to grow as an educational community in this digital world.

“The people who make up Academic Innovation — they help me learn, they give me hope, they give me courage to try new things, they help me be a better teacher and educator, they make me smile and laugh.”


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