Baseball legend Ty Cobb had a .366 career batting average, the highest of anyone to professionally play the game. It’s of course an impressive number, shutting out household names like Rogers Hornsby, Joe Jackson and even the Great Bambino.
But as Sparrow points out, even a .366 batting average means you’re striking out nearly 7 out of 10 times you walk to the plate. And while that may signal success in baseball, it doesn’t fly in education. “We have to swing for the fences every time,” says Sparrow. “Success means taking risks, learning from those risks and then finding the next best iteration of the innovation.”
Sparrow says her mission is to help students and faculty think about their digital fluency and become creators of content and knowledge rather than just consumers of technology and the content available via the use of technology.
Before joining Case Western, Sparrow was the senior director of networked knowledge ventures and emerging technologies at Virginia Tech. She studied how to bring new technological tools into institutions that typically had limited resources, how those tools could be implemented effectively, and how faculty and staff could be more comfortable using these technologies. Sparrow also looked at increasing accessibility for diverse learners.
Sparrow was instrumental in the creation of a blogging platform at Virginia Tech, as well as a large-scale digital storytelling project, both of which aided her mission of helping students and faculty increase their digital fluency.
“A digital format provides the opportunity for students to become producers and publishers of content,” says Sparrow. “It also gives faculty an opportunity to rethink what the learning outcomes are associated with the project. The current learning outcomes can be supplemented with 21st-century digital skills such as multimedia creation, Web publishing and the creation of personal learning networks.”
At Case Western, Sparrow has continued to investigate and solve the challenges associated with emerging technologies, but she is also focusing on online learning, a subject she says was an area of emphasis for her in the 1990s - way before it became “cool” with greater attention placed on it after the advent of MOOCs.
“What I think is interesting about combining those two positions here at Case Western is that it allows us to have conversations about teaching and learning regardless of the delivery method,” says Sparrow. “Whether its online, blended or face-to-face learning, we’re able to talk about what good teaching and learning looks like, the qualities we need to have in our teaching, the qualities we need to have in our learner and the qualities we need to have in our technology.”
Sparrow is also passionate about supporting faculty by equipping them with the tools they are interested in using. She says providing a rapid response to faculty that want to try a new tool or implement a new initiative is critical to retaining interest in technology and selling its benefits.
She also tries to be a loyal partner to faculty who need help using technology to engage students and reaches out to them to suggest technology that might help them meet their needs - a move that is effective, even if they are wary at first. “One of my faculty members said, ‘Jennifer pushed me off a cliff,’” says Sparrow. “I like to think of it more that we held hands and jumped together.”