As digital education moves to the forefront of innovation initiatives on college campuses, the University has launched a new digitally minded program this semester.

The Digital Innovation Greenhouse will push to facilitate growth in academic software on campus.

In January, the University’s Third Century Initiative’s Transformation Grant awarded $1.4 million to the Digital Education and Innovation department to form DIG. The funding from the grant covers three years of work, which will allow the greenhouse to work on initiatives such as opening up data about courses to students, improving online tutoring efforts like the E2Coach program, and helping academic advisers assist students through Student Explorer Advising.

By using these programs, Rachel Neimer, assistant director for the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and DIG’s Communities of Practice team lead, said she hopes teachers will better be able to assist students through new programs.

“I think this is an exciting way to create new tools to help instructors with the most challenging part of their teaching,” Neimer said.

Physics Prof. Timothy McKay, DIG principal investigator, said one of the main focuses of DIG is to focus on bringing digital innovation and data-driven programs to full-scale implementation, as opposed to scattered use across the University.

While the University staff and faculty members behind programs like E2Coach or Student Explorer would like to have them available to everyone, they don’t currently have the capacity to do so on their own.

“They build something that works, they test it out in that class, they show that it’s effective, and then they start to talk about it,” McKay said. “When they talk about it, everyone else wants to use it. (The) problem is that (the) faculty member isn’t really here to make a tool like that available to everyone on campus.”

Through DIG, McKay said he hopes the programs will grow from limited availability to having nearly unlimited ability.

While DEI’s home sits on the eighth floor of Hatcher Graduate Library, DIG will have a lab on Washington St. McKay said he envisioned DIG as a step in between the initial creation of a project and its implementation.

“The purpose of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse is to take things from innovators and grow them up to maturity, to provide the support that’s needed to do that, to have the right kind of interaction between developers and users to make sure that as they develop it, it gets better,” he said.

James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for Digital Education and Innovation, said while the program currently focuses on the innovators and making it easier for teachers to help students, he wants to emphasize creating a community that incorporates student voices in a number of ways.

“Will students be involved?” he said. “Yes, as developers, as interns, as personalization fellows to support the kinds of projects the greenhouse is focusing on initially.”

Mike Daniel, DEI director of policy and operations, said the greenhouse is currently in the process of hiring its staff, and plans to begin work in the fall.

Overall, Niemer said, the greenhouse is a logical next step in aiding student teaching and learning, especially at a large-scale university.

“One of the things we know about the science of learning is that personalized feedback really helps learning,” she said. “And it’s just really hard to do in a large class.”

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