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Jeff Grabill is “engineering collisions” in the classroom, wants to “turn students on their ears"

Lou Anna K. Simon, Jeff Grabill, Mark Hollis

“What the learning environment of the future is going to look like is going to be enhanced by technologies, but they’re not magic.  They’re not going to make things radically different,” MSU’s associate provost for teaching, learning and technology Jeff Grabill tells Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon and Spartans Athletic Director Mark Hollison MSU Today.

“Really high-quality learning experiences for our students are engaging experiences, and they’re caring experiences.  They’re experiences that challenge students and that inspire students to achieve their dreams.  They’re highly interactive and highly engaging.  That’s what matters.  The question then about the future learning environment is how do we construct more of them on this campus and on every campus?  And how do we construct them with greater fidelity so students are more likely to have an engaged and caring experience?

“And what is the value-add of digital technologies to that?  And I think there are spaces where digital technologies add tremendous value in areas of feedback, connectivity, engagement and communication.  But that can happen in a very intimate face-to-face experience and in a very large experience, too.”

There’s more to learning than content delivery, adds Grabill.  And he explains what he means when he says he focuses on “engineering collisions” in his classroom.

“I want students bumping into each other and into ideas more frequently, not less frequently.  Socializing the learning experience is a priority.  If technology helps us with that, then I’m interested in it.  If it gets in the way, I’m not.”

Grabill describes the mission of MSU’s new Hub for Innovation and Learning that’s tasked with “helping MSU reinvent itself as a learning institution.” 

Grabill was a pioneer in the world of writing for the digital space.

“Nothing has been more exponentially powerful or good for the place, role and meaning of writing in our lives than the computer braided with a network,” he says.  “We write more now than we’ve written in any generation in human history.”

As he looks to MSU’s future, Grabill “would like to see an important cultural shift in terms of how faculty and students understand their relationships with each other with regard to teaching and learning. 

“I would like to see that cultural shift be one in which we have created much more inclusive learning environments on this campus so the increasingly diverse students who come to us recognize that this is a home for them and that this is a place that will care for them, and that they can join this community of scholars.

“I’d like to see a much more caring and rigorous learning experience for students so that they understand that when they come to this campus, that they’re going to be turned on their ear.  And this campus is committed to changing their lives for the better.

“And I would like to see us widely recognized as leading the pack with regard to wise, careful and effective use of learning technologies and the effective use of learning analytics so that we make really strong evidence-based decisions about what we teach, how we teach and where we teach it.

“And it’s important that we be very risk tolerant with regard to the experiments that we’re willing to engage in and our ability to learn from them quickly.  So we see learning experiences on this campus that aren’t just 15 weeks and 3 credits.  We want to use time and space in very creative ways so that students recognize that to come to East Lansing is to come to a special place.”

Grabill feels that MSU has the ability to become a lifelong learning resource for Spartans everywhere.  “And this is where computer networks and digital technologies will allow us to reach Spartans wherever they are in the world.”

MSU Today airs Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on AM 870.

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