Aligned with the University’s upcoming bicentennial celebrations, the Office of Digital Education & Innovation announced its intention to adapt 200 University courses to cater to pre-college, residential and lifelong learners by the end of 2017.

The initiative was laid out this week by James DeVaney, associate vice provost for digital and engaged education. Established last September, the DEI is a provost-level office that leverages technology to redevelop the teaching and learning space, both within and beyond the University.

The DEI has already initiated significant changes to class curriculums and pedagogical methods used by faculty members. The Digital Innovation Greenhouse, a branch of the DEI, brings together faculty members, researchers and software developers to develop digital educational tools.

Physics Prof. Timothy McKay, the principal investigator of the DIG, said he was inspired to start the DIG after his own experiences developing ECoach, a personalized coaching tool that provides individualized feedback to students based on their backgrounds.

Likening the DIG to business accelerators, McKay considers it the in-between space where innovative ideas are solidified into digital tools that meet the needs of the community.

“There is a whole process between an invention and a product, or between innovation and infrastructure that you need to fill somehow,” he said. “What we saw was a bunch of digitally enabled, good ideas emerging, but not being able to become really wide-scale projects. We needed a place on campus where a faculty innovator can take a great idea, put it on the table, and work it out so that it grows into something that can be implemented on a broader scale.”

McKay asserts that digital tools like ECoach will continue to be actively marketed to all faculty members.

“As we develop great new models that should spread widely across campus, communities of practice will go out to look for people who might benefit from this and try to bring them in.”

However, according to Information Prof. Barry Fishman, who developed GradeCraft, another DIG project, combining digital innovation with education is not always simple. GradeCraft is a tool that allows faculty members to design their courses using a framework of game-inspired learning and teaching. He acknowledged the challenge of getting people receptive to and involved in course reinvention.

“There are always challenges when you are trying to change teaching or learning practice. People are set in their ways and it takes effort to change,” he said. “Most generally want to be good teachers, and so given the right opportunities and incentives, they will work toward the goal of improving their teaching.”

Faculty members who are interested in enhancing their courses with digital tools can schedule consultation sessions with the DEI office. In addition to employing student fellows and interns, DEI is also looking to appoint student GradeCraft ambassadors to facilitate in courses that use the tool.

DEI is launching a series of academic innovation conversations to give faculty and students the opportunity to pitch ideas with regard to transforming courses with the digital sphere in mind.

With support and interest from all levels of University administration, McKay said he is optimistic that DEI’s goal of transforming 200 courses by 2017 can be met.

“The 200-course goal is one that we think we can easily meet, but is a long way from where we are now,” he said. “The goal is a way to accelerate our experimentation with digital innovation, and accelerate the implementation of proven good ideas.”

Fishman echoed this, recognizing the goal as one that naturally ensues the progress that has already been made.

“It is a natural outgrowth of the scope of work that is currently going on,” he said. “In some way, I would say 200 is probably a modest goal.”


Correction appended: The headline of this piece has been updated to clarify the main goal of the initiative. 

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