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For J-WEL, a year of transforming education

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab connects MIT and the world via collaboratives focused on pK-12, higher education, and workplace learning.
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Members of the pK-12 Collaborative experience hands-on learning approaches during the March 2018 J-WEL Week.
Members of the pK-12 Collaborative experience hands-on learning approaches during the March 2018 J-WEL Week.
Photo courtesy of J-WEL.

On May 2, the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) celebrated its first anniversary. Made possible through a generous gift from MIT alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel ’78, J-WEL promotes excellence in education through three collaboratives that, together, describe a pathway of lifelong learning: preschool to 12th grade (pK-12), led by professors Angela Belcher and Eric Klopfer; higher education, directed by MIT Professor Hazel Sive; and workplace learning under the leadership of George Westerman, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy. Through these collaboratives, J-WEL connects its members, which include schools, universities, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and companies from around the world, with MIT innovators in education to foster transformation in educational systems.

MIT President Rafael L. Reif describes the ambitious goal of J-WEL: “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.”

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. J-WEL’s focus populations include learners in the developing world, those underserved by education such as women and girls, a growing displaced population that includes refugees, and a workforce in need of STEM knowledge and skills.”

A platform for educational transformation

Through J-WEL, members access MIT innovations in course design, pedagogical resources, and learning tools that, alongside policy research, help address current challenges in global education. J-WEL’s three collaboratives develop programs of engagement that are aligned with the needs of member organizations while maintaining the potential for significant global impact. Member engagement includes on-campus interaction at MIT, early access to MIT education research, and access to online webinars and education resources and programs. Through these interactions, members leverage MIT’s unique perspective on educational transformation to address challenges and opportunities in their contexts.

In its first year, J-WEL hosted two member gatherings on the MIT campus, dubbed J-WEL Weeks, in October 2017 and March 2018. Combined, the events had over 220 attendees from 30 countries.The weeks brought J-WEL member organizations together with a wide-range of MIT projects and community members focused on educational transformation. The J-WEL Week presentations, research briefs, panels, and workshops serve as a jumping-off point for reimagining member educational systems.

Engaging the MIT community

In addition to bringing MIT educational leaders together with the J-WEL members at events, J-WEL engages the MIT community to foster educational transformation in other ways. An important element of J-WEL’s work is providing grants for MIT faculty educational innovation and research. Over the past year, J-WEL has awarded over $490,000 in grants to MIT faculty.

In the past 12 months, J-WEL has 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, with more trips planned over the summer term. Additionally, J-WEL supports the work of MIT’s Refugee Action Hub (ReACT), which develops digital and blended learning opportunities for refugees.

Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma comments on J-WEL’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.”

The future of J-WEL

J-WEL’s collaboratives have ambitious plans for the future — engaging with global colleagues to innovate and share solutions for developing curriculum; designing new education and training programs; conducting learning research; and reimagining existing educational institutes and policies. Within this vision, each collaborative has identified key areas of focus: J-WEL’s pK-12 Collaborative will address transformational change in STEM and early childhood education, teacher learning, and computational thinking. The Higher Education Collaborative will focus on curriculum, entrepreneurship, faculty training, e-learning, and issues of access and equity. Additionally, the Workplace Learning Collaborative has created working groups on the impact of learning, the future of “Workforce 2025,” educational technology and platforms, and the design of the workplace learning organization.

Reflecting on its first year of operation, J-WEL Executive Director Vijay Kumar says, “This is just the beginning. It has been an exciting year, pointing to both the tremendous opportunity for making an impactful educational difference globally as well as the hard work ahead to realize it.”

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