Transform Thinking, Transform the World: JesuitNET Global Partners with JC:HEM and JRS

By Deanna I. Howes, Director of Communications, AJCU

In the picturesque, rolling hills of West Virginia lies an historic building in downtown Wheeling; one might never guess that a team of sixteen people are working here to create something very special -- and very Ignatian. This team from JesuitNET Global works exclusively with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), under the direction of International Director Dr. Mary McFarland, to ensure access to higher education for marginalized populations across the world.

“The academic offerings from JC:HEM reach intelligent and engaged students around the world, who live at the margins of society. Courses are built on the cornerstones of ‘global thinking-multicultural perspective-Ignatian pedagogy-high quality-low cost.’ They would not be possible without the expertise of subject matter experts and the incredible team of professionals with JesuitNET Global,” said Dr. McFarland.

According to Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), 51 million refugees are forcibly displaced across the world, including 26 million in Africa. Many live in camps with limited opportunities for career growth or education. But JC:HEM is working hard to change that. Through partnerships with JRS and JesuitNET Global, JC:HEM brings to life the dream of many refugees and other marginalized people who wish to pursue higher education.

After receiving a grant to fund course development last year, McFarland contacted JesuitNET Global’s Executive Director, Cindy Bonfini-Hotlosz, to discuss how to coordinate her team in the design and production of online courses for refugees in pursuit of their diplomas. Bonfini-Hotlosz had spent years overseeing course production for online programs at Fordham University and Gonzaga University through her role with JesuitNET, the Jesuit distance education network affiliated with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities [AJCU]. Over time, she assembled a talented team of instructional designers, technologists and video production assistants who could do the job.

“This work is critical – not only to those we serve, but to us as we move forward in an age when resources can be measured and costs can be contained,” said Bonfini-Hotlosz, who now serves in an additional role as Chief Information Officer of JC:HEM. “The solutions that work at the margins inform and improve our ability to scale.“

Last summer, Bonfini-Hotlosz put her team to work to begin developing thirty online courses to comprise a liberal studies curriculum, including concentrations in business, education and, beginning in 2015, social work. The courses needed to be academically challenging, visually appealing, ADA-compliant and rooted in Ignatian pedagogy. The latter criteria is, of course, what makes the JC:HEM online diploma program so unique.

Under the direction of JC:HEM’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Neil Sparnon, an International Curriculum Oversight Steering Committee convened to answer the question, “What does an educated person need to know to contribute to the world today?” Their conversations helped them to build the core competencies of a curriculum that drives the work of JesuitNET Global.

Bonfini-Hotlosz’s instructional designer, Amy Pinkerton, is a 2013 Wheeling Jesuit University graduate who works with subject matter experts (SMEs) to incorporate Ignatian pedagogy and multimedia learning theory into their courses. Many of the SMEs are professors of Jesuit colleges and universities, including Dr. Anne Nebel of Georgetown University, who designed a course on academic writing, and Dr. Patrick Daubenmire of Loyola University Chicago, who designed a course on integrated science.

Although Pinkerton came to JesuitNET Global with a degree in psychology and familiarity with multimedia learning theory, she received training in Ignatian pedagogy through the Competency and Assessment in Distributed Education (CADE) program, led by Bonfini-Hotlosz. Pinkerton says that the training took several months, but helped to guide her work with the SMEs. She said, “The best part [about this job] is the incredible opportunity to work one on one with SMEs to take their thinking process, refine it and share it with cultures across the world. You put it in a way to help students understand [and learn].”

The SMEs create content and submit their courses to Bonfini-Hotlosz’s art director and production assistants, who work together to format them for videos and PowerPoint presentations. Many of the SMEs record video lectures, which the production assistants edit and post on a private YouTube channel. While YouTube serves as the video host, the courses are hosted on BlackBoard, and students who take them are enrolled through the online Banner registration program. Georgetown University has generously provided JC:HEM with Banner and server space.

The process of building a course from start to finish lasts roughly six months and involves considerable audio-visual enhancement. According to Bonfini-Hotlosz, "The trick with all of our courses is to make them universally applicable and for us to be able to facilitate a global dialogue. [Students] can learn from art and analyze it by looking through new eyes."

Dennis Packer is the art director for JesuitNET Global; he arrived at GCS from NASA, after working in studio art in Hollywood for decades. A 2014 graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Ryan Tichenor is one of Bonfini-Hotlosz’s youngest staff members and works as a production assistant. Together, he and Packer find images to match text in PowerPoint lectures and create multimedia materials to accompany the courses. Tichenor said, "The most rewarding part of working here has been combining creativity and education."

The day-to-day work of JesuitNET Global staff is never the same, nor is it ever easy. The technology and equipment available in refugee camps are considerably less sophisticated than those in the United States. Bonfini-Hotlosz said, “We still struggle with all kinds of variables that we never thought of…The power will go out and if the power goes out, the internet goes out and that's disheartening for the students." Students travel great distances to access the computers in the refugee camps for their online courses and often rely on their own self-motivation to complete their education.

JC:HEM has a network of coordinators who facilitate the on-site learning experience. Volunteers from JRS, Gonzaga University, John Carroll University, Regis University, Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco have donated equipment, time, and services. Georgetown University has provided a complete online student unit records system that has helped JC:HEM extend its course offerings.

Although the JesuitNET Global staff keep production costs low, their work is supported entirely by grants to JC:HEM. In December 2014, Deene Yenchochic, JesuitNET Global’s Chief of Staff, launched an online giving campaign via GoFundMe, called 12 Days of Giving. By exposing a broader audience to JC:HEM through this popular platform, Yenchochic hopes to see it grow and expand to other refugee camps across the world.

A young organization, JC:HEM has considerable support from the Society of Jesus: the Secretary for Jesuit Higher Education, Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., co-chairs the JC:HEM board with the International Director of JRS, Rev. Peter Balleis, S.J. Regis University is the accrediting institution for the JC:HEM online diploma in liberal studies.

JesuitNET Global also enjoys close ties with Jesuit colleges and universities through the many SMEs they have recruited to design courses. Bonfini-Hotlosz says that these relationships across the AJCU and global Jesuit networks are key to JC:HEM’s growing success. She said, “What's interesting is the power of our connections with the faculty at our schools who have come forward to work together. We know the correlation between education and poverty: high education means low conflict."

JC:HEM's tagline sums it up quite simply: “Transform thinking, transform the world.”

For more information on JC:HEM, please visit: www.jc-hem.org.