UM’s Schlissel launches new initiative

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel on Wednesday challenged faculty and staff to venture further into digital technology and innovation, hailing them as the university’s next frontier in educating traditional students and lifelong learners.

Launching the Academic Innovation Initiative during the annual Leadership Breakfast, Schlissel harkened to UM’s legacy of leadership and encouraged university researchers, teachers and practitioners to evolve further with students, their studies and university partnerships and networks around the world.

“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.”

Also during his 30-minute speech, Schlissel announced a university initiative to tackle solutions to poverty, previewed a summit Thursday to enhance university diversity and introduced Rob Sellers, a UM vice provost, as the university’s first chief of diversity.

The president also spoke of an effort to enhance environmental sustainability by establishing a new school to replace and broaden the School of Natural Resources and Environment and announced that UM football games will be zero waste, starting next season.

“Great universities tackle and aim to solve great problems,” Schlissel said.

To create a culture of innovation in learning, Schlissel said the academic innovation initiative would build on the work done by faculty and the Office of Academic Innovation, with successes such as:

■ECoach — a program with a genesis in UM’s Physics Department aimed at more success through a personalized education — is now being used to help more than 15,000 students in many courses at the university. The National Science Foundation recently gave $1.9 million to the program to address equity in STEM courses.

■UM’s massive-open online courses (MOOCs) have increased to nearly 100 classes, reaching more than 5 million online users around the globe.

■Three new MicroMasters in education, social work and information. Launched last month, 20 MOOCs across the three programs will allow learners to advance their professional skills or earn a master’s degree after getting admitted to those programs.

■In ART 2.0, the university has used data for its courses and the students who take them to better understand 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,” the president 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.”

Provost Martha Pollack joined Schlissel in charging the Office of Academic Innovation and a steering committee with identifying investments and solutions aimed at enhancing the university’s impact and shape the future of higher education.

Pollack outlined a vision that included a more tailored learning experience for students, increased opportunities for young people to get a glimpse into campus life and prepare academically, and pointed out the university’s social and outreach mission, which includes online learning opportunities.

“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.

Undergraduate education could possibly more closely resemble the way in which many graduate students are taught, added James Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation whose office will lead the initiative.

“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.”