UMSI professors win outstanding educator awards from Coursera

“Applied Data Science with Python,” an online course specialization developed by four professors at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), has won a major award from Coursera, a leading online learning platform.  

Christopher Brooks, Kevyn Collins-Thompson, Daniel Romero and VG Vinod Vydiswaran won Coursera’s Outstanding Educator Award for Innovation for the highly successful specialization.

Out of thousands of courses and specializations, this one “has truly demonstrated innovation in creating a great online learning experience through the use of executable code blocks and Jupyter Notebooks, as well as A/B testing the effect of gender bias,” the announcement read.  "We appreciate the hard work that you’ve invested in sharing your expertise with learners on Coursera and want to use this award to congratulate you.”

Romero accepted the award at the Coursera Partners Conference at Arizona State University on March 7.   

Daniel Romero

Romero said he thanked Coursera upon accepting the award “for creating the environment that allowed educators like us to innovate and have global impact. I also want to thank UMSI and U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation for providing the support that make this specialization possible.”

Brooks said the specialization employed two major innovations.

“One of the innovations we made in this course was research on how learners interact with content and how we can make a more inclusive educational environment,” said Brooks. “The global classroom is incredibly diverse, and we wanted to capitalize on the opportunities the platform made available to do randomized controlled trials.”

VG Vinod Vydiswaran

The UMSI team conducted two trials, Brooks said. One examined video interventions for inclusion; the other looked at internationalizing the datasets the team used for certain assignments.

In the trial, “learners received data relevant to the region they are from instead of the normal data from North American we originally planned.”

The second innovation was “the tight integration of the Jupyter Notebooks – the data science working environment – with the course content,” Brooks said. “This was in partnership with Coursera, and led not just to high satisfaction from learners, but also allowed us to make the course more accessible to the different devices learners use,” such as tablets, laptops, etc.

“This really lowered the barrier to access for learners.”

The award comes just as the University of Michigan announced plans to explore offering three new online master’s degree options – a first for U-M in partnership with Coursera.
The proposed degrees are a Master of Applied Data Science from UMSI; a Master of Public Health from the School of Public Health; and a Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate, a new program created by U-M and Coursera that allows learners to gain certification or apply to complete a master's degree on campus.

U-M already offers 120 MOOCs (massive open online courses). UMSI leads in U-M’s MOOC space with nearly 40 online courses.

The Coursera award comes as online learning increasingly expands to include fully-accredited online degree programs along with the MOOC courses. In fact, these three proposed, new online degree plans were formally announced at the March 7 conference as well – all in all, a good day for UMSI and U-M.

Vydiswaran said that at least 150,000 learners have interacted with the specialization, which is only about a year old.

“I am thrilled that our conscious efforts throughout the development of the specialization, including platform choices and pedagogical components to encourage inclusivity, was recognized by Coursera – and has been well received by the learners.”

Christopher Brooks is a UMSI research assistant professor.
Kevyn Collins-Thompson is associate professor of information at UMSI and associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering.
Daniel Romero is assistant professor of information at UMSI; of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering; and of complex systems, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
VG Vinod Vydiswaran is assistant professor of Learning Health Sciences, Medical School, and UMSI assistant professor of information.

- Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist

Posted March 12, 2018