U-M president calls for Academic Innovation Initiative to set education strategy for the future

October 5, 2016
Written By:
Laurel Thomas

ANN ARBOR—Calling it a next step in the evolution of the University of Michigan’s leadership in teaching, learning and research, President Mark Schlissel launched the university’s Academic Innovation Initiative today.

Speaking at his Leadership Breakfast for faculty and staff, Schlissel challenged them to further embrace digital technology and other innovation in the work they do with students, in their laboratories, and in interactions with individuals and communities across the globe.

Citing U-M’s legacy of leadership—as the first university to operate its own hospital and have a chemical laboratory—the president said the initiative would build upon the work done by individual faculty and the Office of Academic Innovation (formerly the Office of Digital Education and Innovation).

“Academic innovation is where creativity, comprehensive excellence and our aspirations for societal impact all come together at the University of Michigan,” Schlissel said. “Our new initiative will formally help us consider how we can leverage networked access to information, new modes of communication and data analytics to strengthen the quality of a Michigan education, tailor it to the needs of each individual student, and enhance our impact on society.”

Some of the Office of Academic Innovation accomplishments to date include:

  • A program called ECoach that started as a way to offer personalized education to physics students, with a goal to help more of them succeed, is now being used to help more than 15,000 students in multiple courses at U-M. The program just received $1.9 million from the National Science Foundation to advance equity on campus, especially in big science classes.
  • U-M’s portfolio of massive-open online courses (MOOCs) has increased to nearly 100 classes that have reached more than 5 million online users.
  • Three new MicroMasters in education, social work and information were launched last month. Twenty MOOCs across the three programs will allow learners to advance their professional skills or, upon admission to those programs, accelerate time to earn a master’s degree. 
  • U-M has gathered large amounts of data about its courses and the students who take them and provided much of that information in a program known as ART 2.0. It allows for better understanding of the educational background and experiences students bring to classes, and lets students determine if a course fits their goals and abilities. 

“We can now make education for learners of all life stages as dynamic as the global job market they will need to navigate,” Schlissel said. “Our Academic Innovation initiative will help us apply all of this—the data, the access and our outstanding faculty talent—in service of higher education and society at large.”

Schlissel and Provost Martha Pollack have charged the Office of Academic Innovation and a steering committee with working over the next year to identify investments and solutions that will enhance excellence and impact at the university, and shape the future of education.

“It’s really important to provide an excellent education to all of our students—those on campus, those who’ve not yet come to campus, and those who are lifelong learners,” Pollack said.

She shared broad goals for a more tailored experience that could help current students engage more fully with course materials. Pollack said the vision should include increased opportunities for young people to get a sense of what higher education is like and become college-ready. And she talked about the potential for the university’s social and outreach mission, which includes providing learning opportunities through digital means for alumni and other lifelong learners across the world.

James Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation whose office will lead the initiative, sees the possibility of an undergraduate education that more closely resembles the way in which many graduate students are taught.

“I hear an opportunity to explore ways of teaching and learning that take the very best advantage of the gift of face-to-face learning. To move students more quickly from content mastery to experimentation, creation and analysis. To help them develop a rich array of skills and habits of thought,” Hilton said. “To learn in ways that are only possible at a research university—a community bound together by a shared commitment to understanding that which is not yet known.”


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