UMSI faculty helping to shape U-M’s new Office of Digital Education and Innovation

Through their involvement with U-M’s new Office of Digital Education and Innovation (DEI), School of Information faculty members Barry Fishman, James Hilton, Charles Severance, and Stephanie Teasley are exploring creative ways to enhance the student experience with personalized, engaged and lifelong learning.

The DEI initiative partners schools and academic units across U-M to create new digital programs, experiment with digital tools and platforms, and assess their academic impact. 

DEI will work closely with the USE Lab directed by Teasley, research professor at UMSI, which will allow the office to use learning analytics in the design and evaluation of digital initiatives, to develop predictive models and in-course interventions, to compare outcomes, and to assess impact. 

University leaders hope the establishment of DEI will further these efforts by providing the resources and support for faculty to experiment with programs, technology, digital communities, and other innovative means, as they lead the way in transforming higher education. DEI will also provide targeted financial support, consultative services and align community interests and expertise.

"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 Hilton, vice provost for digital education and innovation and professor of information at UMSI.

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

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

  • "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,” Teasley said.
  •  "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,” said Severance, clinical associate professor of information.

Severance’s work promotes and develops standards for teaching and learning technology. He teaches massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform and is an advocate of open educational resources to empower teachers.

Fishman, professor of information at UMSI, serves as the co-chair of the Digital Innovation Advisory Group, which provides guidance to DEI and reviews and develops new strategic, programmatic and operational digital educational initiatives.

His research interests align closely with the DEI mission, as he studies transformative teaching and learning enabled by technology, including video games. His GradeCraft project is a learning management system dedicated to support the use of games in the classroom, encourage student engagement, and aid instructor workflow.

James Devaney, assistant vice provost for digital education and innovation, said DEI will coordinate what now is a decentralized approach to digital education, so that ideas and methods can be shared across the university and beyond, likening the mission of the office to an internal tech transfer, organized to allow faculty to incubate good ideas to advance teaching and learning.

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.

This article is adapted from an original article by Laurel Thomas Gnagey of the University of Michigan News and reprinted with permission from U-M News Service.

Posted September 2, 2014