Leveraging student data to support academic innovation

With the Academic Innovation Initiative (AII), the University of Michigan brought together what once was a series of organic, one-off instances of innovation into a more deliberate, dynamic group. This hub for technological and academic innovation serves as sandbox, network, and library for further development. Lisa Emery, Associate Registrar at University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, shared the story of this initiative at the 2017 Technology and Transfer Conference.

“In the last 10 years, there has been so much new technology, new tools, and more data,” Emery said. “With that, a few faculty started trying to teach classes differently.”

For example:

  • A mechanical engineering instructor started making videos when she realized some students weren’t getting a concept and she was answering the same question over and over in her office hours.
  • Another engineering professor developed a mobile-friendly “problem roulette” with five years of previous exam problems so students could study in brief increments while traveling on the bus.
  • A statistics professor built a tool to track different tasks students should be doing -- a kind of beta learning management system.
  • A political science professor designed a series of projects and ways students could be assessed, allowing them to customize their own curriculum.
  • A physics professor developed an e-coaching online tutoring system where students could report how much they studied, compare it with their grade, and it receive semi-personalized suggestions for studying needs.

“All these instructors wanted to help and were doing these things. They usually had a grad student build the tool in whatever language the student knew, and it would last just as long as that student was there,” Emery said. “So these tools weren’t scalable at all.”

Pretty soon, these instructors started an informal networking group, meeting for lunch a few times a semester, and instructors would share what they were doing. Emery, working in IT at the time, learned about the group and started joining the lunches.

In celebration of the university’s bicentennial [2017-2018], grants were available for innovative teaching ideas. This informal group applied and received funding, creating a steering committee tasked with recommending how to support these innovations and find better ways to teach students. The funding allowed the group to meet every other week, and even fly in some people working on other innovative ideas. The group started to grow, was given a small space--then a bigger space--and ultimately developed into a cross-university group devoted to academic innovation.

Now the AII has established three labs:

1. The Digital education and Innovation Lab (DEAL), which specializes in MOOCs, video production and consulting on videos.

2. The Gameful Learning Lab, which provides a campus hub for collaborative scholarship, consultation and implementation of gameful design in higher education, giving students more control of their education and assessment options.

3. The Digital Innovation Greenhouse, where faculty who have developed a cool tool can share their idea for potential expansion. This greenhouse includes pioneering adopters (faculty, students, staff) and DIG developers (designers, behavioral scientists) so they can collaborate to make tools adaptable.

“DIG starts by assessing the tool from the technology side of things -- is this possible to make it so it would be more widely adopted?” Emery said. “Then it’s examined by people who specialize in usability. These designers ask: How would we brand it for UMich? How can we make it more useable? And they utilize focus groups with students who have and haven’t used the tool.”

In addition to the AII, Emery’s presentation covered other exciting initiatives at UMich, including Academic Reporting Tools (ART) and Michigan’s “Beyond Grades: Future of the Transcript” endeavors.

To learn more about Emery’s presentation, download the handouts for “Leveraging student data to support academic innovation" through the AACRAO Engage mobile app. If the app is not already on your device, search for AACRAO Engage in the mobile app store.