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U Michigan Adds Office of Digital Ed and Innovation To Improve Tech Use

The University of Michigan (U-M) has added an Office of Digital Education and Innovation (DEI) in an effort to help faculty use technology and digital programs more creatively.

"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 James Hilton, vice provost for digital education and innovation, in a prepared statement.

An attempt to centralize efforts currently spread across the institution, the office will provide "the resources and support for faculty to experiment with programs, technology, digital communities, learning analytics and other innovative means, as they lead the way in transforming higher education," according to a news release.

Tim McKay, a physics professor at U-M, is a member of the new office's advisory group, chair of an analytics task force and creator of an analytics tool for large introductory classes that he says is an example of why the DEI is needed.

"Take ECoach" Said McKay, in a prepared statement. "We created a tool and used it first in physics. Then we found a few more classes that let us explore the challenges of meeting different needs, without being too overwhelming. Interest has grown, and now we're ready to use it in 20 different places on campus with 10 different variations. And that's getting too big for me to manage."

"All of this emerged organically," added McKay. "What DEI can do is bridge that gap between innovation and infrastructure. We'll have in this resource the expertise to translate something from a tool used in an enthusiast class to university wide use. Part of the work of the DEI will be to develop, support and foster enthusiasm for these approaches."

DEI will work with the Unizin Consortium, a group of four research universities focused on influencing the digital learning landscape. The non-profit consortium offers member institutions cloud-based infrastructure services using open technology standards. Other members of Unizin include Colorado State University, Indiana University and the University of Florida, with more institutions joining in the near future, according to information on the organization's site.

"Among other goals, Unizin will provide a common digital infrastructure that will allow universities to use the most innovative technology available today," according to information released by U-M. "It will allow faculty to store and share material while maintaining intellectual property control, and will provide students with a wealth of online material, delivered in a variety of formats."

Other partnerships that will be managed through DEI include those with Coursera, a MOOC platform that U-M has worked with since its launch in 2012, and NovoEd, an online course platform with an emphasis on collaboration.

"One of the clear strengths of the University of Michigan is our institutional ethos that embraces experimentation. Through leadership in curricular innovation, learning analytics and digital infrastructure at scale we enable engaged, personalized and lifelong learning for the entire Michigan community," said James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for digital education and innovation, in a prepared statement. "Our approach to digital education and innovation is both scholarly and practical."

More information about DEI is available at digitaleducation.umich.edu.

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