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Elle O’Brien awarded Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize

Outline of a award ribbon with text "2022 Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize, Elle O'Brien, Lecturer and Research Investigator." Portrait photo of Elle O'Brien.

Thursday, 04/28/2022

University of Michigan School of Information lecturer and research investigator Elle O’Brien was awarded the 2022 Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP) for her innovative approaches to improving student learning.

Faculty are nominated by students, faculty and staff. The TIP is awarded to projects that focused on either anti-racist and inclusive teaching or remote and hybrid teaching developed in response to the pandemic. The winners will receive $5,000 from the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the University Library.

O’Brien’s project “Slack Bots for Remote Asynchronous Education” focused on engagement in asynchronous settings — whether that be in the classroom or in industry.

Technology workplaces often hold daily standups, where team members update their colleagues either in person or virtually on a Slack channel. O’Brien wanted to give her Master’s of Data Science (MADS) capstone students this authentic professional experience, so she added bi-weekly video standups to her course. Classmates were asked to leave comments on two other teams’ standups. 

To ease the burden of managing so many student evaluations, O’Brien wrote software using the Slack developer toolkit in Python to get automated reports about standup participation. 

“I wanted to spend more time interacting with MADS students about the substance of their data science work,” says O’Brien. “Automating the process of checking for submissions means I have more brain space to keep tabs on team progress, ask questions, and help teams get unstuck.”

Qiaozhu Mei, the director of MADS, describes O’Brien’s innovation as a “game changer” for the program. Student engagement in asynchronous courses is often a challenge, but in O’Brien’s capstone with standups, “interactions between teams are kept at a high level despite the large size of the class.” Mei anticipates that the practice will be quickly adopted by other MADS courses.

“I’m excited that other instructors and software developers at U-M might want to help grow the toolkit,” O’Brien says, adding that receiving the TIP award was very encouraging. “It’s a signal that the work I put into the bots and the Capstone course design was well spent. There’s plenty more work to do but I know we’re on an interesting track.”

Sarah Derouin, UMSI public relations specialist


Read more about the 2022 Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize in the University Record.

Learn more about UMSI’s Master of Applied Data Science Capstone course.

Learn more about UMSI’s fully online Master of Applied Data Science program.