U-M and Coursera Launch Extended Reality-enhanced Courses

The University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation in Ann Arbor and California-based Coursera are partnering on 10 new courses enhanced by extended reality (XR) technologies.
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The University of Michigan will be offering 10 new courses enhanced by extended reality (XR) technologies. // Stock Photo
The University of Michigan will be offering 10 new courses enhanced by extended reality (XR) technologies. // Stock Photo

The University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation in Ann Arbor and California-based Coursera are partnering on 10 new courses enhanced by extended reality (XR) technologies.

The new courses are designed to help learners develop skills critical to the future of work and society, and leverage XR technology to provide a level of immersion only possible in virtual-, mixed-, and augmented-reality environments. The classes embrace technology that will help lead online learning for the next 10 years.

The first set of XR-enhanced courses will launch in early 2023 and will include: “Feedback Loops: How to Give and Get Better Feedback,” taught by Patrick Barry, program director of writing and academic support and a clinical assistant professor of law; “People, Technology & Future of Mobility,” led by Liz Gerber, professor of public policy and political science; and “Advancing Health Equity Through Continuing Education,” taught by Ebbin Dotson, assistant professor of health management and policy.

The XR-enhanced courses will provide a social learning environment that enables role-playing simulations and the ability to practice critical skills, including high-risk, high-cost education opportunities such as health care skills.

All 10 courses will be a part of the center’s upcoming Michigan Online Future of Work Academy, created in collaboration with U-M faculty innovators and the center’s teams, including extended reality software developers, learning experience designers, behavioral scientists, and media designers.

“Learners and learning organizations must be agile and acquire new knowledge and skills to understand, shape and prepare for the future of work,” says James DeVaney, the founding executive director of the Center for Academic Innovation.

The Future of Work Academy is a flexible, noncredit curriculum online designed to help people prepare for a new professional future. The XR-enhanced courses within the academy will feature immersive or interactive technologies, such as interactive 360 video, virtual media production, mobile phone augmented reality and virtual reality simulations.

“As we enter our 10th year of partnership with Coursera, we’re excited to continue our strategic collaboration and drive the global learning and skills revolution,” Devaney says. “Coursera is a leading voice and platform in online education and offers easy access to millions who need to learn these skills.

“The Center for Academic Innovation is a leader in open learning and immersive storytelling. Together, we will leverage XR technology to bring online learning to the next level. A new kind of scalable immersion that allows for deeper understanding by combining learning design, engagement, art, presence, and storytelling.”

According to Gerber, “By building my course with XR in mind, I can highlight cutting-edge technologies — self-driving cars, electric airplanes — that most global learners will have only read about and showcase them in a new way. Through XR, we hope to make these technologies come alive by immersing learners in a much richer visual experience.”

Barry says he’s “excited about the opportunities for low-stakes practice that XR opens up, especially when it comes to a high-stakes skill like the ability to give and receive quality feedback. Virtual technology offers a wonderful way to expand — and enrich — how we train future generations of workers.”

In identifying the 10 courses for the Future of Work Academy, leaders at the Center for Academic Innovation focused on human skills, emerging technologies, and specialized vertical content for growing industries like health care. Learners will be able to use their mobile devices and computers and will not need special equipment to access the course content.

“We’re really excited about the topics that have emerged as part of this initiative,” says Lauren Atkins Budde, director of open learning initiatives. “The topics we selected represent a wide spectrum of disciplines and teach skills that will be key to healthy and thriving workplaces and communities.”

The Center for Academic Innovation has focused on exploring, promoting, and innovating the use of extended reality technologies in online and residential curricula.

Jeremy Nelson, director of the Extended Reality Initiative, has engaged with faculty on the potential of extended reality in teaching and learning at the university since 2019. He helped secure funding for dozens of projects from 11 of the 19 schools and colleges utilizing XR in the classroom.

“Over the last two years, we have focused efforts on bringing XR to residential learners on the Ann Arbor campus, and now we bring immersive learning at scale,” Nelson says. This will be a major undertaking and we are realistic in our aspirations. We will be pushing the boundaries in many areas and are excited to have a partner like Coursera to work with on shaping the future of learning and the future of work.”

Online and residential courses already launched using XR technologies include XR for Everybody (available on Coursera), the School of Nursing to augment procedure training, and the College of Architecture to explore design challenges using a virtual environment.

U-M also offers a Graduate Certificate in Extended Reality in partnership with the Center for Academic Innovation and the School of Information. The center also checks out equipment, including VR headsets, and cameras and regularly consults with faculty on XR technology and projects.

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