J-WEL: Celebrating one year of transforming education | MIT J-WEL

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J-WEL: Celebrating one year of transforming education

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On May 2, 2017, MIT and Community Jameel announced the establishment of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL). Today, we celebrate our one-year anniversary. “J-WEL is a major addition on campus that is enabling us to carry out the biggest aspiration we have - to educate as many people in the world as possible,” explains MIT President Rafael L. Reif.

J-WEL effects educational change worldwide through our three member-based collaboratives, organized around the lifespan of a learner: preschool to 12th grade (pK-12), Higher Education, and Workplace Learning. The future of these communities are interconnected, and part of J-WEL’s distinctiveness springs from our ability to convene the three communities to solve educational challenges that affect all learners, from preschoolers to those already in the workforce. Pointing to the opportunity that J-WEL presents, Fady Mohammed Jameel, president of Community Jameel International, says, “We are acutely aware of the importance of transforming education and learning at all levels, and equipping individuals — both young and of working age — with the skills and abilities needed for the future. This means schools, universities, educational environments, and employers working together with one common goal.”  


A platform for educational transformation

J-WEL is situated in MIT’s Office for Open Learning, which aims to transform teaching and learning at MIT and around the globe through the innovative use of digital technologies. Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma commented on our lab’s expansive growth over the last year: “J-WEL is quickly becoming MIT’s platform for educational transformation with the world, not just for digital learning, but for any kind of educational change--from addressing education’s relevance to the changing marketplace of competencies to coming up with ways to reach the most underserved learners.”

To achieve this goal, we work with member schools, universities, companies and learning organizations around the world to collaborate with MIT faculty and staff in order to identify educational challenges and opportunities with local applicability, as well as the potential for significant global impact. Together, members and MIT colleagues define goals, identify educational research topics, develop solutions, and generate implementation plans—iterating across multiple years of engagement. In particular, we seek to serve the needs of underserved populations, displaced learners, and a disrupted workforce.


One year’s work

Through a sustained engagement including on-campus interaction at MIT, early access to MIT education research, access to online webinars and education resources and programs, members leverage MIT’s unique perspective on educational transformation to address their learning needs. Our members, along with MIT faculty, staff, and students, have participated in the two J-WEL Weeks held to date. J-WEL Weeks involve intense collaborations that provide members with first-hand access to MIT’s educational resources and expertise for educational transformation, and support members in articulating goals and implementation plans attuned to their unique contexts. Together, the October 2017 and March 2018 J-WEL Weeks involved over 220 attendees from 28 countries.

J-WEL’s mission to transform education for all can also be seen through the research and projects it funds in education innovation. Over the past year, we have awarded over $490,000 in grants to MIT faculty for research and projects in education innovation at the pK-12 and Higher Education levels. Our Workplace Learning Collaborative will issue its first round of grants later this year. One of the J-WEL’s Higher Education Collaborative grants was awarded to Azra Akšamija, Associate Professor of Art, Culture, and Technology, for her work, “Culturally Sensitive Design: Art and Innovation in the Refugee Camp.” This project developed an introduction to art and design practice and methods course for MIT students, with a focus on innovative responses to conflict and crisis. The course results in the making of objects that advance the quality of life in refugee camps, in particular Al Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Akšamija, herself a former refugee, discussed the project’s significance: "What are the cultural and emotional needs of refugees that are not met by humanitarian assistance? Sometimes they are equally, if not more important, than food. People will risk their lives to see an art exhibition; it makes them feel human."

Our pK-12 Collaborative awarded a grant in education innovation to Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Wallace. His project, “Tailoring STEM for Girls with Social Impact,” recognizes that presenting STEM content as socially impactful is vital in increasing girls’ participation in STEM fields. Wallace’s project will develop associated curricula to share globally, helping to minimize gender inequities in STEM worldwide.  

Over the past year, we have also engaged with the MIT community through collaborations with organizations such as MIT’s International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), which works with J-WEL to send student ambassadors abroad. Students in J-WEL’s Global Ambassadors Program have already traveled to Jordan, South Africa, and Italy. Additionally, we support the work of MIT’s Refugee Action Hub (ReACT), which develops digital and blended learning opportunities for refugees.


The future of J-WEL

Our three collaboratives have ambitious plans for the future. The pK-12 Collaborative will focus on transformational change in STEM and early childhood education, teacher learning, and computational thinking. Commenting on teacher learning, Eric Klopfer, Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Writing and Faculty Co-Director for pK-12, said, “We try to think of teachers as a really important part of this whole system and not just as deliverers of information to students but, rather, as active learners themselves, active participants who have their own desires to learn and their own desires to think about how they practice.”

Hazel Sive, Professor of Biology and Faculty Director of the Higher Education Collaborative, commented, “We have many people approaching us at MIT, and who we are reaching out to from the MIT Africa Initiative, who are interested in education, and in collaborating with us on their education systems, or potentially building new universities.”

Our Workplace Learning Collaborative will advance research into major challenges faced by companies today, including how to upskill employees and identifying how learning officers can showcase the value of their initiatives. Principal Research Scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy and Workplace Learning Faculty Director, Dr. George Westerman, comments, “We have the learning officers from some of the top companies in the world who are going to spend time attacking these problems together.”


Global collaborations

Through our lab, member organizations can engage with global colleagues to innovate and share solutions for developing curriculum, designing new education and training programs, conducting learning research, and reimagining existing institutes and policies. We would love for you to join us on this transformative journey.

Learn more about becoming a J-WEL member.