Faces of UMSI: Adam Levick

A fellowship at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council was the catalyst for Adam Levick’s future in education technology.

Originally interested in pursuing a career in environmental sciences, at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), Adam was responsible for building out the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to benefit staff members. He also led training sessions to show staff members how to take advantage of the improved data infrastructure. The experience not only gave him the opportunity to tap into his long-held interest in education and teaching others, but it was his first introduction to human-computer interaction.

“There was a lot of communication with staff on the design of the CRM system... I was basically doing user research without knowing what it was,” says Adam.

Adam always knew that he wanted to do something related to education. In fact, he’s worked part time as a trumpet teacher for over 10 years. But with his new exposure to HCI, he did some independent research to learn all he could about the field. He came across UMSI during his research.

In his first year, Adam enrolled in Professor Barry Fishman’s Transformative Learning and Teaching with Technology course, which Adam says was crucial for expanding his ideas about the role of technology in education. He also teamed up with fellow MSI student Stephanie Wooten to co-found the student organization Learning and Education Technology at the School of Information (LETSI), which strives to promote collaboration between the diverse stakeholders involved in the creation of education technology.

“We didn’t see a specific student group for technology and education even though the interest existed, especially among the professors,” recalls Adam. “A strong foundation was in place to start LETSI in SI.”

Through networking at LETSI events, Adam learned about the Learning Analytics Fellows Program, which pairs a U-M graduate or postdoctoral student with a U-M faculty or staff mentor, and the two-person team conducts their own learning analytics research. With Associate Professor of Information Kevyn Collins-Thompson, Adam has been conducting research on end of the semester student-to-instructor feedback using text-mining methods.

“We wanted to look more into how students were writing about the course,” he says. “The mean scores students give about a course aren’t nearly as interesting without more context, and this research had the goal of exploring that context.”

Though he says the findings uncovered from the feedback forms are interesting, Adam admits it can be challenging when students do not write a well-constructed sentence and use texting lingo. “Getting a program to recognize sarcasm is a funny need,” he says of the comments.

The results of the research were translated into a project called CourseBoard, which was presented at UMSI’s annual student showcase, ExpoSItion. Designed with fellow MSI student Florence Lee, CourseBoard is a prototype dashboard that visually summarizes student end-of-course evaluations. Comments were divided into categories like lecture, exams and instructor, and then summarized for professors based on the sentiment of the various words students were using.

After completing his master's, Adam will be joining The Office of Digital Education and Innovation (DEI) at U-M as a Market Research and Analytics Analyst. “DEI is unique, and will be at the center of education innovation for higher ed,” he says. “I'm excited to explore new questions at the university with so many talented staff and professors that truly understand how to transform education into something new and better.”