Pushing Digital Boundaries

If Jim Groom has his way, every college student will dive head first into the digital realm. The director of UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies is well on his way at the University of Mary Washington, where more than 1,200 undergraduates from seven universities have joined an online digital storytelling course known as DS106. This community class is just one of his unconventional initiatives that earned Groom recognition among 12 “innovators who are transforming campuses” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“We are pushing boundaries,” he said. “We are making our students citizens in a digital age.”

In DS106, students create and complete each other’s assignments and interact with students from across the world. The course has spawned more than 18,000 online posts and an assignment bank with nearly 300 contributions, not to mention a radio and TV station. Groom even launched a successful online campaign to raise $4,200 for a new server that would bolster the online course.

“The class is interesting in that in it’s not a ‘Jim Groom experiment,’ it’s a collaborative effort,” he said, calling the course an “early thinking experiment.”

The course dovetails with his work in DTLT, a research and development and faculty support unit of the university.

“This is crucial to our cultural moment,” he said. “We have found ourselves in a position that we can really make a difference. The faculty at Mary Washington make it possible and we have students who are willing to experiment.”

The willingness to experiment and evolve is at the heart of ‘edupunk,’ an expression Groom coined. ‘Edupunk,’ as Groom sees it, is the idea that everyone within a university should come together as a community to create and shape its digital identity. In the end, Groom hopes the work of DTLT makes others think more creatively about teaching and learning.

“We are cultivating life-long learners,” he said.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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