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Innovation Roundup Highlights Technology, Learning Strategies and Interdisciplinary Collaboration


ATLANTA (Feb. 12, 2016) — A recent update of the White House Strategy for American Innovation indicates more than half of the total increase in U.S. productivity growth from 1948-2012 stemmed from innovation and technological change. This benchmark underscores the relevance of programs and projects at Spelman College, such as the Innovation Lab, which support innovative ways to think, teach and learn.

Relocated in January from the Albro-Falconer-Manley Science Center to new space in John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts Center, the Innovation Lab, or makerspace, is a hub of creativity where Spelman students and faculty hone ideas and delve into hands-on projects such as a lapel pin, solar panel system and desk lamp using high-tech tools like a 3-D color printer, wire bender and CNC router. Jerry Volcy, Ph.D., director of the Innovation Lab and Brown-Simmons Professor in the Department of Computer Science, will apply a new $11,000 grant from Associated Colleges of the South towards the development of a Faculty Learning Community. This initiative will study the use of makerspaces by interdisciplinary faculty at liberal arts institutions, specifically Spelman and Morehouse colleges, for instructional purposes.

Dr. Volcy noted Spelman’s makerspace will have a role in keeping students, across disciplines, current in technology. “Being able to use technology is becoming less of an option and more of a requirement,” he said. “I liken it to computer literacy some 20 years ago. The trend towards proficiency is expected to progress as technology evolves.” As director, Volcy’s long-term goal is to expose every student, at some point early in her academic career, to the equipment in the Innovation Lab, and have her come away with the ability to manufacture a product using tools in the lab.

Spelman’s progress in innovation also includes the award of a $2.7 million First in the World grant from the U.S. Department of Education to bolster metacognition instruction or “thinking about thinking.” The grant, administered beginning in fall 2015, allows Spelman faculty and staff to deepen their commitment of educating the whole woman by implementing metacognitive practices. Faculty-student engagement will be strengthened via techniques that guide students to a greater awareness of their own thinking and learning processes. The grant funding will be used to incorporate new teaching and learning strategies into the Spelman curriculum and student experience, and train faculty and peer tutors on “metacognitive learning,” with the goal of increasing the campus “growth mindset” and other positive student outcomes.

The program is led by Francesina Jackson, Ph.D., director of Spelman’s Center for Academic Planning and Success, and Jimmeka Guillory, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. They plan to track the impact of metacognitive instruction on first-year students, so that incoming students can learn these skills and apply them throughout the four years of their undergraduate academic career and beyond.

Additional innovative achievements:

•    Brianna Fugate, C’2018, has been accepted as an Epicenter University Innovation Fellow. A national community of student leaders, EUI Fellows work to ensure their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future. Fugate, a computer science major, will join the Epicenter’s 452 Fellows at 131 schools who are founding clubs, hosting events and workshops, collaborating with faculty on new classes, creating student makerspaces, and providing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. The Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students at their schools to learn about entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation.

•    Two Spelman professors have been awarded Faculty Advancement Grants by the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) for pedagogical innovation and collaboration. Alexandria Lockett, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, received $10,500 to integrate Wikipedia editing into first-year composition courses at ACS colleges. Kai McCormack, Ph.D., GSTEM director and associate professor of psychology, will use a $12,000 grant develop the course, Research in Primate Behavior, which will bring together students from Spelman, Centre, Rhodes and Morehouse Colleges, and the University of the South to study feral green monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve.

•    Trisha Barton, C’2016, is conducting research in stress reduction by blending 3-D technology, art and education. As a volunteer, she organizes art workshops for secondary school students placed in the Fulton County Juvenile Court system. A psychology major, Barton advocates for investment in youth education that integrates technology, social justice and reinforcement of positive social behavior. Her aim is to learn how to create comfortable environments that lessen tension in collaborative settings such as workplaces and schools.

•    Sandra Butler, associate vice president in Spelman’s Media and Information Technology division, took part in the inaugural Leading Academic Transformation (LAT) Summit during the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2016 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in early February. The goals of the summit were to: explore and frame dimensions of next generation digital learning environments; introduce the new EDUCAUSE teaching and learning-related institutional benchmarking indices; and co-design LAT community of practice engagement strategies.

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