Southwestern University has received a $700,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will be used to help its students and faculty members exploit digital technologies and explore new approaches to learning and teaching.

“Our students grew up in a digital world but they need guidance in applying technologies to intellectual work,” said Pam McQuesten, who serves as Southwestern’s chief information officer. “And our faculty members need support as they experiment with integrating these new technologies into their teaching.”

Over the next three years, McQuesten plans to create a “Digital Collaboratory” that links Southwestern’s faculty with digital scholars, instructional technologists and librarians both ON campus and at other schools. The Collaboratory will be housed in Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center and will be staffed by three postdoctoral fellows who will be funded by the Mellon Foundation grant.

The postdoctoral fellows will organize workshops, bring in outside experts, and offer personal consultations to faculty, students and staff.  

McQuesten noted that Southwestern already has many of the pieces in place to help implement this new project. For example, it already has a GIS computer lab in its library that was funded by a previous grant from the Mellon Foundation. In May 2012, Southwestern received a $1.3 million grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which focuses on transforming science teaching through an inquiry-based learning approach. That grant has been helping faculty begin to experiment with using digital technology in blended learning.

“At a time when technology and education translates to MOOCs (online courses) for many institutions, Southwestern is focusing on a different approach,” McQuesten said. “We are using this grant from the Mellon Foundation to create a climate of digital innovation as we enhance the learning experience for our students and help faculty expand their teaching in new directions.”

McQuesten said the Digital Collaboratory “fits perfectly” with the vision of Dr. Edward B. Burger, who assumed the presidency of Southwestern July 1. One of President Burger’s goals is for Southwestern to be seen as a national innovator in pedagogy.