What’s Old Is New in 2019

sunset over Perkins library

Happy New Year, and welcome back to campus.

Research, teaching and service are the three pillars of research universities. Duke’s version of this triad was articulated in James B. Duke’s founding Indenture:

provide real leadership in the educational world… [educate] students of character, determination and application … [pursue] teaching and scholarship that would most help to develop our resources, increase our wisdom, and promote human happiness.

What’s old is new in 2019. Learning Innovation’s mission is to help Duke students learn more, and to help more people learn from Duke. To accomplish this, we use modern technologies and evidence-based approaches – in the very same three ancient pursuits.

To highlight some of our 2018 contributions to Duke and beyond, and to indicate where we’re headed, I reflect on three new projects that launched in 2018 that are representative of our achievements and emblematic of our aspirations. This is not a summary of everything we do, nor even the most important things – just the projects that took off in the last year, and therefore give a sense of our trajectory.

Teaching and Learning

One year ago, we launched Coursera for Duke, a first-of-its-kind program that made our online courses and certificate credentials available free to Duke students, faculty and staff. That model took off in 2018, and a dozen universities worldwide have followed our lead. As of the beginning of 2019, we have 4,101 online course enrollments among 1,834 individual learners, who collectively spent 19,482 hours learning. Our mean feedback score is 4.9 out of 5.

Coursera for Duke provides the digital education infrastructure for the +Data Science program, which aims to train the whole Duke community in machine learning techniques for applications in every discipline. And it underlies our broader co-curricular strategy, which aims to enhance learning through growth mindset.

Last month we expanded Coursera for Duke to the 173,000 members of the Duke alumni community. While Forever Learning Online is still in a soft launch phase, we have high hopes for it this year as part of our effort to build a system of lifelong learning that starts as a Duke student and continues with alumni throughout their lives, wherever they are.

We see Forever Learning Online as a means of strengthening our global community, reimagining Duke as a platform for learning and community and supporting our alumni through professional and life pivots with just-in-time infusions of knowledge and community. To accomplish this, we’ll need to deepen our partnerships with the Duke Alumni Association, the Career Centers and the leadership of our schools.


In 2018, Learning Innovation expanded its educational R&D with the launch of a signature project, WALTer (“We Are Learning, Too” – a quote from our partner Prof. Bridgette Martin Hard). WALTer simplifies the process of doing learning science research at Duke through new technology, templates and processes. The project is a partnership of Learning Innovation, faculty researchers and the Institutional Review Board (IRB). WALTer helps faculty quickly gain consent from students to participate in research, accelerates IRB review through pre-approved language and makes it easier for faculty to do blinded research in courses. Our aim is to advance the science of learning while protecting student data privacy and control.

Last year, 12 Duke faculty participated in WALTer. Our goal in 2019 is to make WALTer a successful open source project adopted by many universities. In the coming months we will publish an open source toolbox and share the project more broadly with the higher education community. We are partnering with the Empirical Educator Project, a collaborative that promotes evidence-based teaching and learning, to help disseminate WALTer.

To support the scale-up of our educational R&D efforts, we have created a new leadership role on our team, Associate Director for Research, Evaluation, and Development. We promoted Learning Innovation’s Kim Manturuk to inaugurate the position and develop a strategy. Next week Grey Reavis will join Kim’s team as R&D Project Coordinator.


In the summer of 2018, Learning Innovation supported an innovative approach to global education. Together with the Global Education Office and two faculty leaders, we brought a group of Duke students to Berlin for a program combining thinking and doing.

The students took two courses on migration and refugee issues, taught by Prof. Erdağ Göknar of Duke and Prof. Banu Gökarıksel of UNC-Chapel Hill, the co-directors of Duke in the Middle East in Europe. The morning coursework offered core knowledge and methodological frameworks from literature, politics, sociology and demography. Then, each afternoon, the students traveled to the offices of Kiron, a non-profit organization that provides digital higher education (including online Duke courses) for refugee learners. At Kiron, the students did hands-on projects in marketing, technology, learning design and fundraising. This learning-by-doing complemented the coursework and enabled the students to interrogate the intellectual frameworks with direct experiences on the ground.

Study abroad experiences too often lack an authentic connection to the people and places where students travel. At the same time, service learning too often lacks context and a rigorous methodological framing. By merging study abroad and service learning into a single, thoughtfully-designed program, the “Berlin model” solves these problems.

Students (from Duke or other institutions) can apply to participate in the Duke in the Middle East in Europe program this summer.

We have big plans for 2019.

This spring, in partnership with the Graduate School, we will begin the Bass Digital Education Fellowship for Duke PhD Students. Through training and internships this new year-long fellowship will provide PhD students with valuable skills and experience in the growing area of digital learning design and teaching.

For Duke faculty, we’re also accepting applications for the next classes of Active Learning Fellows and the next Course Design Institute. For incoming Duke Kunshan faculty, we’ll offer another iteration of our DKU Learning Innovation Faculty Fellowship.

This semester, we’re also rolling out a beta version of Kits. Kits is a strategic partnership between Duke Learning Innovation and the Office of Information Technology to build a next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE).

Learning technologies across higher education have traditionally focused on meeting faculty’s teaching needs through the Learning Management System (LMS). With Kits, we are designing for a more pluralistic and diverse ecosystem of technologies that support more specific learning experiences. We aim to give faculty, staff and students scalable, excellent, and integrated choices, not a single, forced enterprise “solution.” Our premise: learning happens best when appropriate tech is paired with evidence-based pedagogy. That’s the human-machine combination we aim to support.

We’re developing Kits in the open and sharing our progress on GitHub. We’re also recruiting for a Kits Product Manager who can help us realize this vision of a better digital ecosystem for learning. If this resonates with you, apply for the Kits Product Manager job.

To follow along with these projects, and everything we do, check out our Year in Progress, which we update regularly.