New program, office to advance digital education and innovation


As the digital age has changed the way students learn and interact with the world, U-M has encouraged faculty to explore creative ways to enhance the student experience through personalized, engaged and lifelong learning.

With the recent establishment of an Office of Digital Education and Innovation, university leaders hope to further these efforts by providing the resources and support for faculty to experiment with programs, technology, digital communities, learning analytics and other innovative means, as they to lead the way in transforming higher education.

“The University of Michigan has this opportunity to really differentiate and refine what it means to be a great public research university in an age fueled by technology, fueled by connection, fueled by evidence and analytics,” said James Hilton, vice provost for digital education and innovation.

U-M faculty are well on their way to assuming this leadership role, says James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for digital education and innovation, who notes that those who have used learning analytics, flipped classrooms, gaming approaches, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and many forms of engaged learning have established a solid foundation.

Visit this website to learn more about the new Office of Digital Education and Innovation.

“The Office of Digital Education and Innovation is working with faculty to help them further test out new ideas that redefine residential education in a digital age,” DeVaney said. “U-M maintains an institutional ethos that embraces experimentation. Through leadership in curricular innovation, learning analytics and digital infrastructure at scale we enable engaged, personalized and lifelong learning for the entire Michigan community.”

He said the office will coordinate what now is a decentralized approach to digital education, so that ideas and methods can be shared across the university and beyond.

One way the office will advance digital education and innovation is by working through the Unizin consortium, organized by U-M and three other major U.S. research institutions to improve the way educational content is shared across universities and delivered to students.

Among other goals, Unizin will provide a common digital infrastructure that will allow universities to use the most innovative technology available today. It will allow faculty to store and share intellectual material while maintaining intellectual property control, and will provide students with a wealth of online material, delivered in a variety of formats.

The DEI also will continue U-M’s involvement in Coursera, a popular online learning platform offering courses for the general public and some private online classes. Since it started in 2012 with three universities, including U-M, Coursera has reached nearly 1.5 million students around the world.

To expand digital teaching and learning options, U-M recently partnered with NovoEd, another online course platform similar to Coursera that involves students in collaborative learning through engagement.  The platform will allow faculty to experiment with methods that provide students with an opportunity to interact and collaborate on course material.

Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, professor of astronomy and director of the LSA Honors Program, serves on an advisory group that will guide the new office and has been working for some time at the intersection of digital education and learning analytics. He knows what can happen when one faculty member designs a successful tool. McKay developed a program that uses learning analytics to tailor the classroom experience for students in large introductory courses.

“Take ECoach. We created a tool and used it first in physics. Then we found a few more classes that let us explore the challenges of meeting different needs, without being too overwhelming.  Interest has grown, and now we’re ready to use it in 20 different places on campus with 10 different variations. And that’s getting too big for me to manage,” said McKay, who also chairs the Learning Analytics Task Force.

“All of this emerged organically. What DEI can do is bridge that gap between innovation and infrastructure. We’ll have in this resource the expertise to translate something from a tool used in an enthusiast class to universitywide use. Part of the work of the DEI will be to develop, support and foster enthusiasm for these approaches.”

Faculty can find access to resources on the DEI website, including information about consultative services, funding opportunities, and the expertise available to assist faculty with strategic planning and growth, new program design, development and evaluation, learning analytics and research, and digital production and media.

The website also features a number of insights from faculty who already have developed innovative tools for using technology in teaching and research. Sample comments include:

• Margaret Wooldridge, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering: “At the University of Michigan I’ve been able to do things I would not have been able to accomplish at any other university, primarily because of the resources that we have available, and in particular I am talking about the experimental resources that we have available here.”

• Chuck Severance, clinical associate professor of information, School of Information: “That’s what’s fun about the University of Michigan, for me, is that an idea can get feeding from outside and be in a nutrient-rich environment where you meet good people, where people can react to you, where you can get support, all kinds of cool things can happen.”

• Stephanie Teasley, USE Lab director and research professor, School of Information, on the learning analytics data available to understand the learning procees: “There was a lot of data, and it’s very rich data, because nowadays people are doing a lot of their learning while interacting with computers. We don’t have to design very specific applications for them to use.”

DeVaney likens the mission of the office to an internal tech transfer, organized to allow faculty to incubate good ideas to advance teaching and learning, many of which will succeed and some that may not.

“U-M is a community bound together by a commitment to discovery. Our approach to digital education and innovation is both scholarly and practical. Similar to the role of tech transfer in taking research discoveries to the marketplace, DEI enables an environment that capitalizes on distributed innovation at the broader institutional level to rapidly spread ideas, models and strategies across the U-M community and beyond,” DeVaney said.

“We’re coming at this from a number of angles, and it requires really thoughtful faculty; it requires energetic students, and it requires a culture that allows for experimentation. And we think we have all of that at Michigan,” he said.

McKay is optimistic more faculty will embrace the challenge of digital education and innovation.

“We went from a system where solo people were delving into this to a small community. We’re going to see the level of engagement with data grow over the next few years.”



  1. Loy de Mello
    on September 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Please email the date of commencement and duration. Thank you.

  2. Oludayo Dahunsi
    on September 16, 2014 at 2:02 pm

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