Entering the Jewellverse: A conversation with the president and provost

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Interviewer: Let’s talk about the College’s transition to the digital age. We see people walking around the Hill with iPads, but what is the essence of Jewellverse? What all does it encompass?

Dema:  The aim of Jewellverse is to create an ecosystem of open source learning. There’s not a part of the institution that we don’t want to elevate as a result of this project; we want to transform our ecosystem.

Interviewer: Can you expound on what you mean by “open source?”

Dema: Open source means everybody can contribute and make something better, as opposed to this being a structural ‘I am going to hand something to you, and now that that has been delivered, you are going to accept it.’ Open source means dynamic, working parts that all come back to learning since we are, first and foremost, an educational institution.

Interviewer: What makes this program unique from tech initiatives at other schools?

Dema: It’s one of the distinctives—and I use that word carefully—but we haven’t found examples of other institutions that have taken this exact approach. We will find examples where schools have mostly distributed devices and systems to support a college or school or sub-set within an institution, or maybe they’ve distributed to all students, but it’s a whole different story to distribute to everybody in your ecosystem. For us, that’s trustees all the way through faculty, staff and students—knowing that our students will be alumni—that’s distinctive. I don’t think the transformation works unless everybody’s all in.

A challenge in the K-12 setting is that they have to control access and limit what can and cannot be done on the device. One of the reasons this device is so great for our environment is that we want it to enable access.

Sallee: It’s not just available to address a piece of the student experience, like having a device in a classroom, but that it goes across the entire experience. Whether it’s iPad or another device, but we know this is the future of education, especially a residential, liberal arts one. Your whole life is here. Supporting that is what we’re after. It is important for people to be creating, finding new ways, using the devices to enhance learning.

Dema: The beauty of these devices is we imagine our students’ lives as seamless ones, that they flow between the living and the learning and the athletic without boundaries. We would never want to put limits on that. This is your home.  Put your music on your iPad, put your movies on it, use it for your entertainment and your work. We expect you to want to utilize your device for every part of your life.

Sallee: It doesn’t make sense to take devices—which are designed to open up the world—and close them down. We aren’t giving you a device that connects you to the whole world and then tell you that you can only use ‘this much’ of it.

Interviewer: How did this concept come to life? How did we get to Jan. 2014 when the whole campus was talking about the email from you announcing this initiative, Dr. Sallee?

Sallee: There was a moment after the Pryor Learning Commons opened when some representatives from Apple came and told us that our building was exactly what they were telling people they should be doing. And it was in that moment that we had a realization that not every student had the tools they needed, and there was a huge barrier both to the individual who didn’t have as good a tool and to the class where the tools varied so much from one person to the next. It forced a lowest common denominator approach to technology. We then understood that was not optimal to have a great building and have everyone with different levels of device and platform.

Dema: And we’ve been moving in this direction for the last several years. The conversation actually started among the faculty, when they asked, ‘Can you use technology to enhance learning?’

Our faculty have had iPads since May 2011. We’ve been having important conversations on how technology and environment enhance learning; this is the evolution of the conversation. For me the real ‘aha!’ moment, like Dr. Sallee, was when we opened the Pryor Learning Commons. It was an expression of what we had realized [that] students needed to learn most effectively. That building was embraced so quickly by the community. I think my favorite comment at the opening was from a student who said, ‘I didn’t even know I needed this, but I absolutely did.’ And we thought, what’s the next step?

Interviewer: And so I assume the next step was to fund this project. If I were to purchase this iPad from a store, it would cost me several hundred dollars. How was this paid for?

Sallee: This was all made possible by two donors who made commitments to pay for virtually all of it. One was Shirley Pryor, a longtime friend of William Jewell. We are so grateful, as this is an answer to the questions we are continuously asking: what do students need to learn? How best can they learn it? Are we enabling them to learn it?

Dema: And thus, we distributed 1045 iPads to students, and we have distributed 216 iPads to faculty and staff. We’re moving ever closer to our goal: learning and creating anytime, anywhere.

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