Austin College Receives $500,000 Mellon Foundation Grant

By: From Wire Reports
By: From Wire Reports

SHERMAN—Austin College has been awarded a three-year $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of “Collaborative Pedagogies in the Digital Age.”

The Mellon grant will provide opportunities for faculty to enhance their courses through digital content, projects, and connections. Digital storytelling, blogs, podcasting, wikis, electronic notebooks, website creation, and digital film production will become an even more integral part of courses in many disciplines. Technology will allow faculty and students at Austin College to collaborate in real-time with experts and colleagues around the globe and to create digital projects that bring expanded meaning and outcomes to their studies. In addition to hardware and software updates, the grant will provide funding for a full-time instructional technologist to help in the development of courses. Also, national and international experts on digital pedagogies will convene at Austin College in a biannual colloquium supported by the grant.

Austin College President Marjorie Hass said the new Mellon grant represents a significant step forward for the College’s emerging strategic plan. “We must prepare to teach ‘digital natives’ by better harnessing students’ familiarity with technology for pedagogical purposes,” she said. “This Mellon grant will give our faculty and students the training and tools necessary to collaborate more effectively with each other and with our local and global partners.”

“This grant will allow us to strengthen our foundation for teaching and learning in the 21st century and to offer cutting-edge, hands-on opportunities that will equip students to serve and lead in a digitally connected, globally linked, and rapidly changing world,” said Patrick Duffey, dean of Humanities and director of the Mellon initiative on campus.

Already, as part of a planning grant, faculty and student groups have undertaken the sorts of collaborations the new grant will support. Students in the religion course “Mapping Cultures: Tibet” were focused on Tibetan and other Asian cultural interactions and cultural preservation. Throughout the semester, students collaborated with staff at the Crow Collection of Asian Art and connected through video chat with international art and cultural preservation organizations abroad. The result was a co-curated exhibit of bronzes juxtaposing digital displays developed by students and using iPads and QR codes. They also prepared digital storytelling videos, an interactive map with objects in the exhibit, and a 3D simulation of collection objects.

Development of the Grant
The program of digital collaborations will develop over a period of three years, with an average of nine faculty members participating each year. According to Sheila Pineres, vice president for Academic Affairs, the faculty at Austin College remains committed to enhancing the residential liberal arts through the use of digital pedagogies. “The Mellon grants allow Austin College to develop courses and partnerships that enhance our hands-on learning and extend a knowledge base of digital literacy,” she said.

The number of digitally enhanced courses in any given year will vary, depending on the number of individual collaborative projects awarded each year. One recent Austin College example is “Mapping Tibetan Cultures,” in which students worked with the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas and with scholars around the world to create a digitally enhanced museum exhibit on Tibetan culture. A second example is "Writing Mexican-Americans into Seventh Grade Texas History,” in which Austin College students created digitally enhanced lesson plans to tell the story of Mexican-Americans and their contribution to the history of Texas. Over the life of the program, as many as one-third of faculty members may offer digitally enhanced courses resulting in dozens of course offerings for Austin College students.

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