University of Michigan Selects New Digital Education Counsel, Provost

Compiled by Ryan Garner
January 30, 2013

In an effort to examine new technology and course delivery methods, the University of Michigan has named Gautam Kaul special counsel for digital education initiatives within the Office of the Provost. Kaul currently serves as a professor of finance, and taught an introductory finance class last year on Coursera, a massive open online course website that attracted roughly 133,000 registered students.

In addition, the university has named Martha Pollack provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Pollack most recently served as the school’s vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs. Her two-year appointment takes effect on May 6, pending approval by the university’s Board of Regents. Pollack succeeds Phil Hanlon, who is vacating the position to become president of Dartmouth College.

"Martha Pollack is an effective leader who understands how to maintain world-class academics through a disciplined approach to finances," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. "Her appointment as provost reflects a deep knowledge of this institution that is grounded in her work as a faculty member, department chair and dean."

Both Kaul and Pollack will work to identify new distance learning initiatives. Coursera has partnered with the university to provide massive open online courses (MOOCs), an effort that was spearheaded by Pollack. MOOCs are still in the experimental phase, and there are questions whether they will be a viable option moving forward. Kaul will oversee the program and provide digital education recommendations moving forward.

At a meeting of the university’s Board of Regents in September, members voiced concerns about providing online courses for free, as the courses could pose a potential threat to the university’s revenue. During the meeting, Pollack noted that the school could begin charging for professional and continuing-education courses.

“MOOCs are an incredibly handy vehicle for packaging up material that can be taught effectively in this style,” said Dan Russell, a research scientist at Google. “Having said that, not all educational material fits into this format equally well.”

Currently, music or theater courses are difficult to offer through an online format, often requiring one-on-one instruction and in-person evaluation. However, Russell thinks that these issues will be overcome as technology advances, giving instructors the ability to meet the needs of online students.

“You will start to see the integration of different sorts of real-time interaction technologies in a sort of collaborative sense and in an individual one-on-one sense that will allow us to evolve in ways that will allow this stuff to happen,” Russell said.


“Online education counsel hired,”, January 24, 2013, Matthew Jackonen

“Martha Pollack selected as next U-Michigan provost,”, January 30, 2013