Mellon Foundation Grants Whittier $750,000 to Advance Digital Liberal Arts Curriculum

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Andrew W. Mellon FoundationWith the goal of empowering faculty to make full and better use of the digital technologies that are reshaping teaching and scholarship, and transforming faculty- student research throughout the liberal arts, Whittier College is launching its Digital Liberal Arts project, “DigLAPoet.” A $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund this initiative over the next four years.

The overall goal of the Mellon project is for Whittier College faculty to integrate the use of digital technologies into 40 courses. This will be accomplished during the four-year grant period.

To support this effort, the grant will aid in the creation of a Digital Liberal Arts Collaboratory that will be housed in the College library. This center is designed to provide faculty, students, and staff with a cutting-edge technology space in which to engage in the collaborative and imaginative work of digital scholarship. Equally significantly, the Mellon Foundation will fund the hiring of a new Digital Scholar who will be based in the Center and a Post-Doc Digital Technology Fellow to be based jointly in an academic department and the Center. These two positions will serve to promote the innovative and evolving use of technology to advance the liberal arts curriculum at the College. The grant will also provide funding for pilot digital scholarship projects, a technology leadership speaker series, software and related technology purchases, student technology liaison positions, as well as faculty stipends and travel.

“This grant represents the culmination of over a year-long preparation process that involved almost half our faculty in one way or another—a truly collaborative effort,” said Dean of Faculty Charlotte Borst, co-director of the program. “This new initiative definitively embodies our thinking about the future.”

Prior to receiving the grant, Whittier faculty and staff engaged in an intensive research process to generate a design that builds on Whittier’s commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and research by broadening the use, effectiveness, and impact of digital technologies.

The new initiative has four principal objectives: increase the number of faculty who integrate digital technologies into their pedagogy; enhance the ability of faculty innovators and “first adopters” to extend their work further and make new innovations; continue to develop an interactive, collaborative faculty and library community supporting the development of new initiatives; and utilize the network of existing relationships with other liberal arts colleges and consortia to share positive results and learn from each other.

Project co-director and Associate Professor of English Andrea Rehn is a campus leader in digital pedagogies. In the last several years, working with Instructional Media Designer and project coordinator Sonia Chaidez, she has carried out numerous digital projects with her students.

Rehn’s first foray into digital pedagogy was a digital storytelling assignment in an upper division literature course. She had students create an introduction to Dickens’s Great Expectations first through mapping the spatial and social mobility of the characters, and then by creating two-minute videos linked to the characters and the places on the map; by engaging in this exercise, students gained a deeper understanding of the relationships among place, character, and social mobility—all essential elements of Dickens’ work.

“Digital pedagogy enables the classroom to become a space of play and discovery, where every student can pursue their individual intellectual enthusiasms, and the class as whole can learn from each of its members,” explains Rehn. “In other words, digital research and pedagogy support the liberal arts college ideal of a community of scholars teaching and learning from each other.”

Click here for more information about DigLA Poet, the Whittier College Digital Liberal Arts project.

For more information about The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, see www.mellon.org.

Founded by Quakers in 1887, Whittier College is an independent, four-year college offering a traditional liberal arts program integrated with both professional and pre-professional courses of study. With an emphasis on diversity, community, and curricular innovation, the College’s primary mission is to endow students with the education, skills, and values appropriate for global leadership and service. Whittier College is a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

Whittier Law School, which is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools, is located on a separate campus in Orange County.