“Break the Silence” Teach-in

CSJ and CNDLS Co-Host “Break the Silence” Teach-in as part of the University’s “Let Freedom Ring!” Initiative, Featuring Dr. Ibram Kendi

On Tuesday, January 10, over 65 faculty and staff gathered in the historic St. William Chapel in Copley Hall for the “Break the Silence” Teach-in, one of the many events in the University’s “Let Freedom Ring!” Initiative. Over the past four years, this initiative– one that honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a range of campus events– has included an invitation for faculty and staff across the University to participate in a cross-campus curricular initiative by teaching one of Dr. King’s speeches in classes or other educational spaces. For this spring 2017, Dr. King’s 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietname: A Time to Break the Silence” (original text) (pdf) (audio) is the selected text.

In support of this aim, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) co-hosted a community teach-in to reflect on both the speech and the campus climate surrounding the recent report of the Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation working group, and to encourage and support faculty and staff considering “teaching the speech” or “reflecting on the report.”

The event featured keynote remarks by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award Winner in Nonfiction (2016) and African American Studies scholar specializing in Dr. King’s work. Kendi’s engaging talk detailed the climate before, during, and after this April 1967 speech, discussing Dr. King’s evolution on his stance regarding U.S. participation in the Vietnam War and the role of the war in civil rights work. With Black Power rising and an increase in urban rebellions from 1964 to 1966, Dr. King’s position on the war in Vietnam was impacted by these domestic experiences. With an anti-violence approach to domestic issues, Dr. King knew “[he] could never again raise [his] voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Dr. Kendi then noted that it was only one year after this speech that Dr. King christened the report “Physicians Warning for Approaching Death”, discussing the approaching spiritual death of America. Dr. Kendi asked attendees: “Are we spiritually dead?” Kendi raised the points that five decades after this speech, America is spending more money on war programs, the Cold War has been replaced by the War on Terror, we are spending more money on incarceration than higher education, and income inequality has continued to grow; where are we now as a country? He encouraged all to work to “transcend the labels of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’” that can be constraining, since the choices we face as a people are more fundamental and internal than those labels. Going further, Kendi urged the teach-in participants to pursue ongoing efforts to end inequality and war and to continue to engage in the “long and bitter struggle for a new world.” Kendi called cynicism “the kryptonite of change,” and suggested we must pursue this work in order that our nation is not lost.

Following the powerful remarks of Dr. Kendi, a panel of several Georgetown faculty shared reflections and thoughts on how they were able to (or planned to) incorporate Dr. King’s speech and/or the working group’s report into their classrooms in such a way as to invite engagement with these important issues. The faculty discussed a range of experiences, from how the speech became a tool to discuss wealth, health, and education disparities in a business school class, to how the speech can serve as an opening for a conversation on the concept (and implications) of a society’s memorialization of events. Patricia Grant (McDonough School of Business) noted that her students seemed to really appreciate the opening for a the conversation on inequalities, reaching out to her afterwards to express that gratitude. Elham Atashi (Justice & Peace Studies), who plans to use the speech this year in her course, The Politics of Memory, hopes this experience will help support students’ sense that it is “important to act… to wake history up and have a dialogue about it so we don’t have collective amnesia about the past.” Atashi hopes students will gain tools in her course to truly “become stakeholders and take a role in society.” The final faculty panel member discussed his work engaging with the campus working group report in his fall, Improv for Social Change course. Gibson Cima (Performing Arts) made the report a central focal point for his students in the fall, arranging for exploration into Georgetown’s slavery archives and interviewing members of the University’s working group to capture–and later perform– their experiences. Cima impressed on colleagues in the room that “I cannot emphasize enough what that encounter [to really see Georgetown’s slavery history through the archives] does for our students.”

As a way to conclude the Teach-In on an action-oriented note, Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and Amanda Munroe (CSJ) facilitated a working session for attendees to brainstorm and discuss in small groups their own ideas for incorporating the speech and/or report into their classrooms or campus spaces this spring. This allowed faculty and staff to share with one another their plans, or to gather inspiration for those just beginning to consider this work. Over the course of the full spring semester, there is still time to consider how you might incorporate these conversations into your campus space as well!

To learn more about the curricular initiative, please see the Provost’s email from December 2016, or if you would like to discuss ideas about “teaching the speech” more specifically, please contact Andria Wisler or Amanda Munroe at the CSJ. For more information on upcoming “Let Freedom Ring!” Initiative events, visit the listings here.

Get Backward on Technology

These days there’s always some new technology, something new and shiny, to bring into the classroom. But “new” and “shiny” are not, in themselves, good reasons to adopt a new technology in your classroom; nor are they good reasons to reject it.

Whether we’re talking about a virtual reality headset, a collaborative online game, the ability to bring an outside expert to class through web conferencing, the latest course management system, or any of the countless other advances to consider, we need a good pedagogical reason to take it on.

And so: what if you approached technology with the same principles of backward design that can inform your overall course design? In other words, you could start with your course goals and then look to see whether there are any technologies out there that would help you meet those goals.

For example, maybe you want to free up more class time for active learning; using lecture capture would allow students to access material outside class and come in ready to apply their learning. If you’re dealing with sensitive material and you want to know what students are really thinking during a charged conversation, you can conduct anonymous polls through clickers or Poll Everywhere. Or, maybe you want to make it easier and quicker for you and others to comment on student writing while it’s still in draft form; Google Docs would allow you and fellow students to have electronic access to the drafts, plus the ability to comment directly—and even to comment on other commenters’ comments!

Find still more ideas on the Teaching Commons’ Teaching with Technologies page. You’ll also see videos of Georgetown faculty recounting their experiences using technology to assist them in their teaching—and an opportunity, at the bottom of the page, to share your own!

And, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Shifting Students’ Perspectives for Opportunities Post-Graduation: Reflections from a CNDLS Professional

Jennifer Lubkin Chávez, Program Manager for Technology Enhanced Learning in CNDLS, shares how her undergraduate studies in anthropology continue to inform her work in education. She suggests that recognizing anthropology as a practice, not simply a major or career field, can help students value the skills they have gained through their studies as well as broaden their job search. These were remarks at her alma mater, Washington College, to students being inducted into Lambda Alpha, the national honor society for anthropology.

Good evening. Congratulations to all of the new inductees of the Lambda Alpha Honor Society!

And thank you to Professor Markin for inviting me to speak tonight and for giving me this opportunity to reflect back on the anthropology that I learned here and how it has carried into my career.

It is hard to believe that it’s been nearly 16 years since I graduated from Washington College, and harder still to believe—though it’s wonderful—how much anthropology at Washington College has grown.

Tonight I want to share a little bit about my journey with anthropology—I hope not to be self-indulgent. I’m thinking maybe you will recognize pieces of yourself in this story and so perhaps see some possibilities and some opportunities that you may not have considered before.

I’m not sure when I first heard about the field of anthropology—I came from fairly rural public schools where it wasn’t offered—but somehow by the end of high school, I had become convinced that I was going to study anthropology in college. Perhaps like some of you it was because I had felt like a participant observer all my life, present but not quite belonging, and always wavering between being intrigued and confused by others… But I was convinced, and the Washington College Course Catalog, which described a generous handful of anthro courses, was drool-worthy fodder to my daydreams.

So I make it to Washington College.

Imagine my surprise—and my level of ignorance—to discover that there was no major in anthropology here at Washington College. (This was back in 1996.)

I wasn’t dissuaded. I returned to the course catalog, paying a bit more attention to the information on majors (versus individual courses) and discovered the option to design an independent major. I researched cultural anthropology majors at other schools and wrote up a detailed proposal. Got it approved. And, to the best of my knowledge, was the college’s first declared major in anthropology.

Just a disclaimer from here on out: when I started here, John Seidel hadn’t come on the scene yet, let alone any of the other current professors. There was no archaeology, no GIS. Just foundational classes in cultural anthropology and an occasional seminar. There was one anthropology professor (Jeanette Sherbondy), a few minors, an occasional adjunct. And me. So anyway, when I say anthropology, I’m really talking about my experience with cultural anthropology. Disclaimer done.

So I’m here at WC. I did well in my classes. Loved the readings. Cherished the worldview that was unfurling—a worldview that was totally unfamiliar but somehow totally resonant.

And then.

And then #1: I attended the American Anthropological Association (AAA) conference, held that year in Philadelphia. And I took away two searing impressions: (a) presenters, standing at a lectern, espousing their theories on distant, foreign cultures as if they were fact, never revealing potential alternate interpretations, never admitting to their ignorance, and never offering credit to the people who generously shared their world and (b) audience members who proved their self-worth through long-winded, hyper-critical questions. I hope AAA has changes in these nearly 20 years. But even if it hasn’t, I don’t say these things to warn you off anthropology—what I didn’t understand then but I do now is that those were some individual anthropologists, but that wasn’t anthropology. Still, at that time, I did have trouble recognizing how I might fit…

And then #2: I studied abroad. Though at the time my heart was enamored with Granada, Spain, my finances (or lack thereof) ruled in favor of Ecuador. With deep thanks to the Society of Junior Fellows and my sister—who let me run up her credit card—I spent five months in Quito. As someone who had never traveled outside the US and rarely traveled inside the US, barely able to introduce myself in Spanish, I wasn’t prepared for culture shock. Heck, I wasn’t prepared for the challenge of buying a shirt in a market, let alone conducting fieldwork. I came home glad to have gone, much more fluent in Spanish, much more cognizant and respectful of the challenges of living and working in another culture with another language…and weighed down by a feeling of failure.

With the emotional residue of my study abroad experience piled on to my impression of anthropology— coupled, I should say, with my limited knowledge and understanding of the field—I abandoned my plans to eventually pursue a PhD.

Burnt out from an intense four years, I also delayed—indefinitely, as it turned out—my education practicum to finish my certification in secondary school social studies. Instead, I followed an alternate career path, working in digital imaging for a few years here in Chestertown.

And then.

And then a few years in, I realized it wasn’t for me. And I didn’t know what was next. I was facing possibly the toughest time in my life. I was convinced of what I didn’t want to do. Unsure of what I did. Still in Chestertown, I took the opportunity to visit Linda Cades and Vicky Sawyer in the Career Center. They stepped me through several exercises to help clarify my interests and while, disappointingly, there was no big, red, blinking arrow pointing to a particular career, what did come out of it were three words that became a touchstone for me: culture, language, education.

I mulled these words as if they were a math equation adding up to a career direction. What I *should* have done was take Linda and Vicky’s advice to just pick something, anything, any maybe, and try it for six months. Put a date on the calendar to meet with friends to explain either why I was staying past six months or why I was moving on. I should have done that. Highly recommend it. Instead, I spent a year mostly sleeping on my sister’s couch. And revisiting that touchstone: culture, language, education.

And eventually the equation did resolve: As a plan F that became a plan A, I applied for the Peace Corps and a year later—the processing period has been reduced, by the way to a few months—I was in Azerbaijan as a volunteer teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

Fast-forwarding, I served in the Peace Corps for 27 months, came to Washington, DC, for a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at American University, taught immigrants for a year at a local community college, taught international students at Georgetown University for six years, and now have been working at Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (what we call CNDLS)—basically our center for teaching excellence—for the last couple of years where I’ve worn a few different hats: helping faculty integrate technology into their teaching, shepherding faculty projects like course redesigns and the development of MOOCs (massive open online courses), and working as an instructional designer in the development of online courses.

In my ten years in English as a Foreign Language, I navigated culture shock (and reverse culture shock); interacted daily with people from other countries; intentionally worked to establish a shared, learned culture within my classroom; and returned again and again to the tools of anthropology and qualitative research to understand the classroom context and the student experience. In some way, I was doing a bit of anthropology every day. Not in the same way I would have if I’d done that PhD, but still finding the same anthropological principles bubbling up to inform both my approach and my understanding.

But it’s only been in these last couple of years—working with faculty across disciplines and, more so, working in an office environment with staff from different disciplines—that it’s really hit me how important anthropology is in my work.

It’s not about the degree. Or the job title. It’s about the skills and the worldview that you bring. It is the unique work that you can do because of your background in anthropology.

Let me give a few examples. At Georgetown, we’ve been trying to create a culture shift with faculty and technology—trying to encourage them to explore and experiment with technology in order to develop innovative, potentially more effective approaches to teaching and learning. As one small piece of this, we are encouraging faculty to try out some technologies we’re piloting, for instance a video annotation tool. We bought a license for the tool, made it available, wrote up some support documentation; we’re filming a little trailer video. But whether I think about this as adoption of one new tool or as one small bit of a culture shift, here is the truth that rises up: culture is learned, culture is shared, and personal interaction is the primary mode for learning and sharing. (Sound familiar?) Which leaves me with the question: where in our approach is the interaction happening? And what am I going to do about it?

Yesterday, a program administrator on campus came in for the video shoot for the trailer. Our media team is great; they’ve done dozens of this type of thing. They didn’t need me there to get the video done. But here’s what I found out by listening, observing, and then, in those few wrap up minutes, asking a few questions: their implementation of the tool in online courses flopped…but in talking about what students wanted instead, there might be an alternative and highly effective way to implement the tool; I learned about a professor who tried the tool a couple years ago, dropped it because one feature didn’t work well then, and hasn’t tried it again since; and I learned about another department that could really use some support but are unlikely to ask for it. Suddenly, by choosing to listen, I’ve laid the groundwork for a number of interactions, and they’ll likely lead to other interactions, and given time and effort, I will have come to both know a part of the whole and—stepping perhaps a bit away from the participant-observer and into the activist role—I will have come to help transform this community.

We also have our own little subculture at CNDLS. We have our own realms of insider and outsider knowledge, our own norms and ways of showing our belonging, and our myths—and here I mean myths as our fundamental truths: learning is at the center of everything we do; decision-making happens in dialogue; and innovation is something to strive for. But the curious thing about work cultures is how fast the cast of characters change as staff leave and new hires onboard. As these individuals change, do the myths hold as truths…or do they become empty narrative, with other, new truths emerging? What role do I have…do we have, as members of a community and as anthropologists, to sustain our truths? What am I going to do about it?

Starting to see a theme? ;)

So at CNDLS, another area we help foster at Georgetown is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (or SoTL). Basically, this is the idea of teachers across a variety of disciplines doing research about teaching and learning. Which is a fantastic idea…and a bit problematic. Though faculty are experts and skilled researchers in their own fields, they often pore over texts and numbers; they aren’t necessary experienced researchers with human subjects. And then on top of that, there’s a strong bias in academia toward quantitative research. And then on top of that, classroom research is simply logistically difficult.

So what often ends up happening both at Georgetown and across the educational research spectrum are projects focused on quantitative measures with small numbers of participants and, unfortunately, claims of broad implications. In other words, something quite counter to ethnography, with its deep description, grounded analysis, and contextualized implications.

What has emerged over the last maybe twenty years, is a shift in some fields toward mixed methods—some qualitative and quantitative. On the positive side, a mixed-method approach can help make research both more feasible and more persuasive. On the down side, the term “ethnography” is often usurped to mean any kind of interviews. Unless someone has studied anthropology, read a full ethnography, and been transformed by it, it’s hard to convey the power of ethnography. And in any case, it’s not realistic (and I suppose not desirable ;)) to turn everyone into anthropologists. Instead, I ask faculty to describe their classrooms and their students; I listen to their deep description, and I value it. I question what the numbers mean, what the test measures, what aspect of performance the numbers represent, and how that does or doesn’t relate to learning. And I suggest alternative ways they might structure the study or additional data that might inform the results. That’s what I’m doing about it.

What are you going to do about it?

You certainly could go on and become an anthropologist or an archaeologist or a linguist or an ethnomusicologist. Or you could be a teacher or a researcher or an instructional technologist or an instructional designer or a project manager. Or you could choose a whole other career entirely. Whatever you choose will have room for anthropology. And anyway, in the way that something learned cannot be unlearned, anthropology is likely to stalk you your entire life.

You’ll be having a conversation with a colleague and that piece of your brain will fire: “ethnocentrism alert.” Or you’ll see colleagues come and go, see them promoted or not, see who gets burdened by work and what earns prestige, and you’ll be like “yeah, the feminization of poverty really sucks.” Or, on a more positive note, you’ll be the one saying “hold on, can we back up a sec?” and asking good questions no one else is asking. As long as you are a human working among humans, anthropology will rise up to meet your work.

Because anthropology is not just a discipline, a degree, or a career field. It is a practice.

So let me tell you the hardest thing about practicing anthropology: …wait, wait, wait, first, let me set the context, that—at least in my experience—very, very few people know what anthropology is or appreciate it, and if they don’t appreciate it, they don’t want you to do it because it’s time consuming and complex and hard to measure. So here’s the hardest thing about practicing anthropology: recognizing for yourself the skills that you have because of your practice of anthropology, valuing those skills, and helping others to value them, too.

Here are just a few of your skills: You understand the importance of context. You know how to gather systematic observations and how to analyze those observations separate from your internal dialogue. You look for what is hiding in plain sight. You articulate norms and taboos. You question what aspects of culture—and whose culture—are in play.

Don’t write that in a cover letter.

But recognize that you do have skills, important skills, that a lot of people don’t have. And then think about how those skills would be useful and unique in whatever job you are applying for. And put that in your cover letter.

And then once you get your job and you’re moving up the career ladder, go back and read your cover letter. Because every day in your work, you will likely feel the pressure to conform, to think like everyone else, to agree when everyone agrees, to see things the same way everyone sees them.

Instead, keep approaching the unfamiliar. Keep seeking ways to be comfortable amidst the uncomfortable, and uncomfortable within the comfortable.

Let anthropology stalk you. Let it pull you into a unique space between worlds—because from that unique space, you can do unique, valuable work.

 

Remarks at the Lambda Alpha Honor Society Induction Ceremony
Washington College
March 1, 2017
By: Jennifer Lubkin Chávez

Putting Well-Being in the Lesson Plan

When students enter the classroom, they show up in their full complexity, with many layers and intersecting identities. In other words, they don’t just bring their intellects, which of course are not separable from all the other things that characterize people—background experience, hopes, concerns, physical and mental health (and/or health issues), and lots more. This is why Georgetown calls on us to “educate the whole person.”

That call animates a lot of work here at CNDLS. For one thing, we work with faculty to develop “Engelhard courses,” which are courses that integrate a conscious attention to student well-being. But making the classroom a healthy place doesn’t require a total overhaul. For faculty who want to take smaller steps—getting to know students a little better, thinking more deliberately about what students carry with them into the classroom, offering small opportunities for reflection or mindfulness—we’ve collected some thoughts and opportunities on the Teaching Well-Being page on our Teaching Commons. That page can also direct you to campus safety net resources for any of your students who might be experiencing significant personal difficulties.

All the best to you and your students—and, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Ignatian Pedagogy: The Meaning of Reflection

How can we make learning mean something? How can we go beyond conveying information to helping students grow in understanding and wisdom?

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At a Jesuit institution like Georgetown, we might turn for answers to the rich tradition of Ignatian Pedagogy. This contemplative approach to teaching is rooted in the sixteenth-century spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius—and it continues to offer paths to deeper learning today. In a class steeped in Ignatian Pedagogy, students move through a repeated cycle of experience, reflection, and action. They take the time to connect course material to other things they’ve studied, to their own lives, to the world outside the classroom, to societal concerns. In turn, these connections help to guide them as they decide what to do next, including everything from in-class decisions (e.g., what topic to focus on in a paper) to larger academic pursuits (e.g., what to go on to study) and their lives more generally (e.g., what kinds of jobs call to them; what they want to do with themselves in the long term; how they want to improve the world for others). Of course, all these decisions lead to new experiences and more opportunities to reflect. As the cycle continues, meaning emerges at every step along the way.

At CNDLS, we’d be happy to help you think about how to include Ignatian Pedagogy in your course. To find out more, visit the Teaching Commons’ new Ignatian Pedagogy page. And, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Really, Though: How’s the Semester Going?

The typical greeting on campus these days involves the question “How’s the semester going?” There are common answers, too, maybe involving how fast time is going by, or how much the grading is piling up—but, beyond those habitual observations, it can be hard to be sure just exactly how class is going. Most students at Georgetown are game, can-do, and polite—so how can you know what they’re thinking about their learning experience?

Well, you could wait until the end-of-semester evaluations—but why not find out sooner? Maybe there are mid-semester course adjustments that could improve things along the way. But first you have to discover what, if anything, needs adjusting.

CNDLS can help. One of the services we offer is Mid-Semester Group Feedback Sessions (MSGFs). When a faculty calls on us to do an MSGF, the first step is that one of our staff—an experienced teacher—meets with the faculty member to discuss any questions they have about the students’ experience of the course; second, the CNDLS staff member goes into class to talk to the students about their experience; third, there’s another one-on-one conversation with the faculty member to debrief. The whole thing is informal, and can’t end up in your file; it’s purely intended to help you grow as a teacher. People who’ve used this service get a lot out of it—insights into their students’ learning processes, feedback on particular pedagogical strategies and assignments, ideas for new things to try to get more people more involved. Find out more about MSGFs on the Teaching Commons.

There are also things you can do on your own—invite a friendly departmental colleague in to observe your class informally, for example, or collect some brief anonymous feedback yourself. Our Teaching Commons also has a Gathering Teaching Feedback page that can help you with ideas.

Here’s to a great semester—and, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Keeping Goals in the Picture

In the bustle (and sometimes chaos) of the semester itself, it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day details and forget the bigger picture. But of course there is a bigger picture, and it’s the answer to this question:

What do you want your students to achieve in your course?

The answer to this question comprises your learning goals, and they’re an important touchstone whenever you find yourself mired in the muddle. They serve as a reminder—what’s the aim of my class again?—and they’ll help guide the choices you make as a teacher.

Learning goals probably already affect many of our pedagogical decisions, either implicitly or explicitly. We assign certain readings because we want our students to assimilate relevant information; we give students problem sets because we want them to be able to solve those kinds of problems; we ask for essays because we want to foster critical thinking and writing skills. We intend that students who pass our courses will know and understand certain things and be able to do certain things—and maybe even that they’ll feel certain things. But here’s another question: have you ever spelled out those goals?

Maybe you’ve been explicit, listing your learning goals on the syllabus; we think that’s a great way to let students know what they should be striving for. Even if you haven’t consciously articulated your goals, however, there’s still time. As you launch into a session or a new section of the course, you can tell the class what you’re hoping they’ll get out of it. And you can use this touchstone—goals—as a way to make sure that your teaching choices are the right ones, supporting your students as they try to reach the mark. It’s also important to keep track of students as they go, to make sure they’re making progress and, ultimately, achieving those goals.

For more on all this, consult the Teaching Commons—we’ve got a Learning Goals page and an Evaluating Student Learning page that can get you started—or, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

The Coming Storm: Snow, Emails, and Other Forces

We’re not too deep into the semester, but you may already be buried.

Maybe you’re under a pile of emails—or voicemails, or requests for appointments outside your office hours. Things can get overwhelming. Hopefully you’ve already established some guidelines for your students in terms of how and when you want them to communicate with you outside of class; if not, it’s probably time to establish them now. We discuss this and other issues on the Teaching Commons Communication and Contact page.

One hurdle this time of year is the possibility of snow and the issue of instructional continuity. With January almost behind us, it can be tempting to think we’re done with winter. But we’re still in the season of extremely unpredictable weather here in Washington, D.C., and there’s always a decent chance of a city-burying storm—or, in D.C., even just a couple of inches of snow—that will close the campus down. At Georgetown, the expectation is that we’ll keep the learning going even when classrooms are closed and you’re unable to meet in person. Both the Instructional Continuity and Tools pages provide a plethora of ideas on ways to stay in touch when it’s not possible to get to campus.

As always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Teaching Through Political Change and Tension

This week of the Presidential Inauguration is likely to be a challenging one for many students. Those who are concerned about the incoming administration may well be distracted and upset, and those who are excited about the change could well feel defensive and tense. In some classes—e.g., political science, history, sociology—these issues might come out naturally because of the subject matter, but this will probably be on students’ minds regardless of the course, and may burst out even in situations where politics isn’t directly relevant to the material.

Rather than waiting for something to bubble up, you could open a dialogue intentionally. At CNDLS, we think that difficult discussions are a good thing, if they’re handled well—if respect is maintained, if classroom norms channel talk away from attacks and toward ideas, if people get the chance to feel heard. Please visit our Difficult Discussions Teaching Commons page for ideas and resources. Contentious discourse can be constructive! 

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Even if you don’t want to open a full conversation about the particular political moment, this will be an important time to keep an eye on student well-being, and aim to support it. Our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being may help you think about how to approach the classroom going forward, and it also contains links to important campus safety net resources.

All the best as you teach your way through this tricky time. As always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.

Building a Course for Everyone

No two courses are ever the same, even if it’s one you’ve taught over and over again, even if you’re not planning to make any changes. That’s because every time you teach a class you’re teaching a new group of students. Each group comes with its own range of learning styles, abilities, experiences, motivations, and perspectives.

Of course, you won’t know what those ranges are until the semester’s in motion. But you don’t have to wait until mid-semester to account for that diversity. Right now, before anything begins, you can design a course that allows everyone to learn.

That goal is the heart of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy. The idea is to be proactive rather than reactive, building accessibility into the structure of the course. Making a course accessible involves providing students with multiple ways to express themselves and interact with the material through a variety of the following:

  • representation—varying the way you present material on the page, aloud, visually, and so on;
  • engagement—providing different ways for students to invest themselves in the material, such as theoretical problems, real-world simulations/case studies, and applied work outside the classroom; and
  • expression—offering multiple ways for students to convey what they know, such as papers, written exams, oral exams, presentations, and performances.

There’s a lot to consider, as UDL is relevant to every aspect of a course. But even modest, targeted changes in these areas will broaden the reach of your teaching, and it’s certainly easier to take these things on before the semester begins.

We’re happy to help in any way we can. Find out more on our UDL page on the Teaching Commons. And, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything else we can do!

Welcome to the spring 2017 semester!