Growing Academic Innovation in a Digital Innovation Greenhouse

DANCE Talk Series

Speaker: Timothy McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, Education; Director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse
Date: April 10, 12 noon EDT (view in your time zone)
Live Talk Video and Live Chat (YouTube Live)


In an age of digitally mediated education, it is possible to personalize education at scale, even when teaching thousands of students. Approaches to personalization span a spectrum from supporting individual agency to instructional tailoring by expert systems. At the University of Michigan, faculty members have created an array of innovations which span this spectrum, including tools like ECoach, the Academic Reporting Toolkit, GradeCraft, and MWrite. Each emerged from a research group as a promising seedling.

To support their growth, we have created a Digital Innovation Greenhouse - an education research and development lab - which nurtures projects from innovation to infrastructure. I will outline the origins and status of DIG, describe the team of sixteen software developers, user experience designers, and behavioral scientists who make it work, and give some details about the projects mentioned above. These tools are all in use with tens of thousands of students on the UM campus and are beginning to spread to other campuses as well. Our R&D identity is essential to DIG: every one of these tools is both a development project and a platform for educational research.

Speaker Bio

Professor McKay is a data scientist, with extensive and various experience drawing inference from large data sets. In astrophysics, his main research tools have been the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Dark Energy Survey, and the simulations which support them both. His team uses these tools to probe the growth and nature of cosmic structure as well as the expansion history of the Universe, especially through studies of galaxy clusters. He has also studied astrophysical transients as part of the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment.

In education research, McKay does learning analytics: working to understand and improve postsecondary student outcomes using the rich, extensive, and complex digital data produced in the course of educating students in the 21st century. In 2011, his team created the ECoach computer tailored support system, and in 2014, he launched the REBUILD project, a college-wide effort to increase the use of evidence-based methods in introductory STEM courses. In 2015, he founded the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, an education technology accelerator within the UM Office of Academic Innovation.