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21st Century Learning

Michigan Invests $1.4 Million in Innovative Instructional Technologies

University of Michigan Physics Professor Timothy McKay is the principal investigator in the Digital Innovation Greenhouse project.The University of Michigan will spent $1.4 million over the next three years to find ways to implement innovative instructional techniques throughout the campus.

A grant from the university's Third Century Initiative will fund the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG), which is now hiring staff members and planning to expand into a new laboratory on campus.

Over the next few years, the DIG will look into a number of programs. Two already in place that its leaders hope to develop are Student Explorer Advising and the E2Coach program. Physics Professor Timothy McKay, the principal investigator on the project, said the goal is to take the two programs, which now have relatively limited scopes, and make them accessible to more students.

McKay said the Student Explorer Advising program makes use of the massive amount of data the university has on students to both identify those who may need remedial attention as well as those who may be ready for more significant challenges than his or her current course load is offering.

"It's about knowing exactly what's happening with students in real time and getting them the help they need," he said.

E2Coach takes similar student information and identifies the best way to communicate with students who may need some advice on their academic studies.

"Sometimes the professor isn't the best person to communicate with students," McKay said. "Sometimes it's another student. The key part of E2Coach is to match a person who needs advice to the right person to give them that advice."

Rachel Niemer, DIG's team lead and assistant director of the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, said the greenhouse is the logical next step to student success at a large university.

"One of the things we know about the science of learning is that personalized feedback really helps," Niemer said, "and it's just really hard to do in a large class."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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