New U-M office to boost digital education, innovation

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ANN ARBOR—A new Office of Digital Education and Innovation at the University of Michigan will bolster personalized, engaged and lifelong learning by helping faculty explore creative ways to use technology and digital programs.

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 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, said James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for digital education and innovation. He added that those who have used learning analytics, flipped classrooms, gaming approaches, massive open online courses and many forms of engaged learning have established a solid foundation.

"One of the clear strengths of the University of Michigan is our 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," DeVaney said. "Our approach to digital education and innovation is both scholarly and practical."

DeVaney 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 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, who is serving on an advisory group that will guide the new office, has been working for some time at the intersection of digital education and learning analytics.

McKay knows very well what can happen when one faculty member designs a successful tool. He 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 is chair of 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 university wide use. Part of the work of the DEI will be to develop, support and foster enthusiasm for these approaches."

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