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ILP Institute Insider

April 9, 2018

Collaborating to promote excellence in higher education

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab builds a global partnership to advance university learning.

Eric Bender

In an era of dazzling advances in science and engineering, higher education for future scientists and engineers is evolving rapidly as well. MIT has now formed a collaborative for higher education that brings together leaders around the world to create and share advances in learning.

The Higher Education @ J-WEL collaborative is one part of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), an ambitious program initiated by Community Jameel, a social enterprise organization chaired by MIT Corporation life member Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel ’78.

J-WEL was launched in May 2017 to jointly evolve and share best practices in pre-college, higher education, and workplace learning. “The notion is to set up a global community of educators who collaborate, discuss, and transform education in their own systems and across the world to promote success of students,” says Hazel Sive, professor of biology and faculty director of Higher Education @ J-WEL.

Hazel Sive
Faculty Director,
Higher Education, J-WEL;
Professor of Biology

In its higher education effort, J-WEL gathers leaders “who are thinking deeply about their own education systems and interested in collaborating with us at MIT,” says Sive, who is also former Associate Dean for Science at MIT.

“Higher education takes students beyond their initial education and gives the opportunity to find out what is really important and interesting to them,” she says. “It's about getting skills that are necessary to move into careers. And it's about building responsible leaders for their own community and for our planet.”

One bedrock value of J-WEL is equity in education. “Higher education should be accessible to all students,” she emphasizes.

The power of MIT higher education
Sive points to five MIT attributes that together provide a unique platform for higher education.

“The first is that we educate problem solvers, the currency that makes our students so employable not just in the field of their major, but in many different fields,” Sive says. “Second, we use hands-on learning. You make things, you build things, you test things, and you get a deep sense of the subject. Third, MIT has an entrepreneurship culture par excellence. Fourth, we are at the forefront of digital tools and blended learning, devising new ways of educating students. And fifth, we think about the science of learning and do research into learning.”

These five methodologies provide a strong basis for collaboration that benefits MIT as well as J-WEL members. “J-WEL is an opportunity to build new relationships with global colleagues,” Sive says. J-WEL also provides opportunity for MIT faculty to think about how they teach and provides grants to promote education innovation.

Matching up with MIT
J-WEL members collaborate with MIT faculty and staff to design and build curriculum, programs, and institutes; attend twice-annual J-WEL Weeks that gather educational leaders around the world; and engage in deeper-dive collaborations with MIT faculty and staff aimed at specific outcomes.

Within the higher education collaborative, J-WEL can provide members with a needs co-assessment to define the highest priority goals that would most effectively transform a university or education system.

Next, MIT can provide broad and deep resources to help meet the outcomes of the needs co-assessment. “We are developing many workshops that range from a few days to a couple of weeks,” Sive says. “They can be designed for faculty, senior administration, or staff. They encompass a whole range of topics such as designing curriculum, designing a blended learning classroom, and how to do high-impact research.”

“We draw on our larger community of MIT faculty and senior staff who are working at the frontiers of education,” Sive adds. “The process of developing modules with which to collaborate with our global colleagues is evolutionary, it's very exciting, and it will never get stale.”

“We're really interested in collaborating with global colleagues on particular research projects,” she says. “If you'd make a change in your education system, what effect does it have at your university? How do your students learn? What kinds of outcomes can you measure? How do they compare to outcomes we might see here at MIT?”

The first set of J-WEL Grants in Higher Education Innovation were awarded in February 2018. Associate Professor of Architecture Azra Akšamija will lead the development of a new interdisciplinary foundational course in art, design, and technology for inhabitants in refugee camps. In another project, Professor of Material Sciences and Engineering W. Craig Carter, will advance a suite of software tools that helps students learn to code in the context of their major subjects. And under a third grant, Physics Professor Christoph Paus will employ open-source microcontrollers linked with simple sensors and electronic devices to train students in how to build and interpret real-world experiments.

J-WEL also offers opportunities for MIT students, both on campus and abroad. The J-WEL Global Ambassador program is a collaboration with the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program, in which students work with universities who may be J-WEL members.

Numerous universities are joining as J-WEL members. “Last October, we welcomed to J-WEL Week, a signature event on the MIT campus, a spectrum of universities from six continents, twenty-two countries,” Sive says. “The community we are developing understands the importance of higher education, and that collaborating with MIT will bring a new view to their education systems. We learn from one another, and together transform higher education towards greater access, affordability, and achievement.”

“All around,” she concludes, “J-WEL is an education fest, with practical and important outcomes.”

Read more about J-WEL here.