Shipley Center Breaks New Ground 2022

Today’s higher education classroom continues to evolve. Students desire greater connectivity, creativity, and innovative learning environments. Faculty are answering that call by experimenting with new technologies and introducing these digital capabilities into their classrooms. Boston University’s Shipley Center for Digital Learning & Innovation stands at the forefront of this evolution.

“The Shipley Center is working with faculty to design more inclusive and personalized learning models and inspire active student engagement while offering better support for learning communities and tighter integration of learning experiences inside and outside the classroom,” says Chris Dellarocas, Boston University’s associate provost for Digital Learning & Innovation and the Shipley Professor of Management at the Questrom School of Business.

The Shipley Center was established through a generous $8 million gift from BU Trustee Emeritus Richard Shipley (Questrom ’68, ’72). Working closely with Educational Technology and the Center for Teaching & Learning, the Shipley Center offers instructional design, digital media production, educational technology discovery, project management, and funding support to faculty and leadership across all three BU campuses.

“It’s been a fantastic inaugural year for the Shipley Center with our successful incubation of  Online MBA and our increased capacity for catalyzing residential educational transformation,”  says Center Director Romy Ruukel. “Our funded pilot projects have ranged from technological infrastructure for active student engagement in language learning to generating interactive experiences in theatrical productions and developing impactful resources for better preparing students for organic chemistry courses,” 

From Incubation to Innovation

The Shipley Center kicked off 2022 with a variety of initiatives. At the top of the Center’s list of accomplishments is the successful launch of Questrom’s Online MBA (OMBA) — Boston University’s first low-cost, online degree at scale.

In May 2022, more than 300 students from the founding cohort graduated. The OMBA incubation torch was passed, and BU Virtual — the new umbrella brand for the University’s online graduate degrees and certificate programs — was born. 

Assessing the Large-Lecture Course Landscape

In February 2022, Ruukel embarked on an exploratory project to better understand BU’s high enrollment classes. . . Over six months, she interviewed more than 50 BU educators across all schools and colleges to learn more about the challenges and painpoints of teaching and learning in large courses. . Four primary themes  emerged: the challenges of active learning in auditoria, the challenges and team versus individual teaching, concerns about cheating/academic dishonesty, and student mental health.

Ruukel says she is looking forward to continued networked conversations with BU faculty and students and brainstorming solutions to some of the emerging and ongoing issues.  

Shipley Center Media Studio in Full Production Mode

Throughout 2022, the Shipley Center media production studio located at 540 Commonwealth Ave. hummed with activity. Dozens of campus-wide partners received multimedia production support on projects including Newbury Center’s Terrier F1RSTS training modules and important initiatives and programs for student mental health  and Deaf studies. 

Supporting BU’s Next Generation of Innovators

Innovation takes time, creative energy, and, in many cases, funding. The Shipley Center funded and managed a number of innovative pilot projects this year — from professional education programming and online digital-badging initiatives to theater software, active learning resources in chemistry, and many more. Here’s a brief look at several of the Shipley Center’s 2022 projects.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Prepare with C.A.R.E.

 The Prepare with C.A.R.E. (Chemistry Active-learning Resources for Educators) pilot project was launched in 2019 and is designed to leverage novel educational technologies and pedagogies to support students’ learning and outcomes as they progress to upper-level chemistry courses.

In partnership with the Educational Resource Center (ERC), OrgoPrep, a program that features a hybrid self-study and live webinar format, leverages C.A.R.E. modules that address known areas of difficulty. The peer-led, hybrid program is offered at no cost over the summer and has resulted in students’ increased confidence, retention, and performance.

“The C.A.R.E. project had a breakthrough year in 2022,” says project lead and Director of General Chemistry Binyomin Abrams. “In our third year of the project, we have helped more than 1000 BU students to get ready for organic chemistry,” Abrams says. “Students report drastically lower anxiety, a 100% increase in confidence, and significantly higher course grades in CH203.”

According to Dellarocas, the C.A.R.E. is a standout — “a blueprint for the kind of projects that Shipley aspires to be doing with more faculty.” “C.A.R.E. aims to close the achievement gap of students in organic chemistry by creating an optional program of interactive videos and online ‘office hour’ sessions that students can opt-in before the course.”

Novel Technology for the Theater: Random Actor

The Random Actor pilot project launched in November 2021. Initiated by Clay Hopper (CFA ’05), a College of Fine Arts (CFA) senior lecturer in directing, and James Grady, BU Spark! creative director and a CFA assistant professor of art and graphic design, with creative support from visiting artist Paolo Scoppola, the novel Random Actor technology creates live, interactive stage projections for real-time design, eliminating the need for designers to write code.

The technology served as the visual centerpiece for the May 2022 Exit the King theater production and coursework at BU’s School of Visual Arts, School of Theatre, and Center for Computing & Data Sciences.

“The Random Actor project is our first collaboration with CFA and a showpiece of the Shipley Center’s mission of enhancing the undergraduate experience at BU through the creative use of technology,” says Dellarocas.  

Building Connections & Community: Yellowdig for Language Learning

Language learning requires meaningful social interaction between students. This and a need for greater classroom connectivity sparked the Yellowdig for Language Learning pilot project. The project, led by Alison Carberry and Sue Griffin, master lecturers with BU College of Arts & Sciences, explores the effective use of the Yellowdig platform in Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish language courses and its ability to foster meaningful, community-building interaction between students.

 “Yellowdig creates community and facilitates interaction at all levels — beginner, intermediate, and advanced,” Carberry says. “Yellowdig also provides opportunities for more introverted students to engage more actively with their peers and with the course content.” Learn more about Shipley Center projects.

Removing Barriers: ACT Grants

Inspiring creativity and experimentation, the Shipley Center, in partnership with the Center for Teaching & Learning and Educational Technology, launched the ACT initiative — a low-barrier funding opportunity designed to support small, low-cost, technology-enabled projects up to $5,000. 

In recent years, a growing number of faculty have approached us to help them fund licenses for educational technology tools they wanted to experiment with in their classes, but BU did not officially support these initiatives,” Dellarocas says. “ACT Grants will support such experiments.”

Since the program’s launch, several projects have been funded. Kathryn Spilios, director of Instructional Labs and director of the Learning Assistant Program, was one of the first grant recipients.

“[The grant] not only enhanced my interaction with students but also enhanced meaningful student interactions with each other in a large introductory STEM class with 260 students,” Spilios says.

Looking Ahead

2022 was a groundbreaking year for the Shipley Center — one rich in new programming, community partnerships, and the incubation and support of dozens of projects.

“As we look forward to our Center’s second year, we are excited to encourage playful experimental uses of technology in the classroom, take on pilot projects that personalize student experience in high-enrollment courses, and leverage learning analytics to better support student success, well-being, and belonging on our campus,” Ruukel says.

For more information about the Shipley Center or to inquire about programs and services, email