Virtual Reality in the Classroom

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

There is nothing quite like experiencing the immersive, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming environment of virtual reality (VR) for the first time.  While typically associated with the gaming industry, VR is currently expanding its reach by branching out to educational markets. In the “Virtual Reality in the Classroom Session,” CNDLS staff members Julie Salah and Barrinton Baynes discussed their experiences incorporating VR into academic environments. They were joined by CNDLS’ Marie Selvanadin, Alfred Schoeninger, Yong Lee, and Joe King to explain the differences between Augmented Reality  and Virtual Reality.

Incorporating VR into the classroom creates unique educational experiences that benefit learning processes and environments. One of the main benefits of using VR in the classroom is the technology’s ability to transport the user to a place or environment that they would not have access to otherwise. This immersive element can help students focus their attention by lessening or eliminating distractions.   

At the TLISI session, Salah shared an Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL) project titled I Object!, joined by co-creators  Evan Barba (Communication, Culture & Technology) and Tanina Rostain (Law Center). The project used a web-based card game and a VR-simulated courtroom to allow law students to learn the rules of evidence in a trial. Through the virtual environment, the students gained access to a unique, immersive experience that allowed them to role play as a defense attorney and apply their knowledge to simulated situations.

During the 2016/2019 academic year,  Baynes worked with Sarah Johnson’s (SFS-STIA) Environmental Geoscience class to create immersive videos of students taking and testing water samples from the Potomac River. These videos allowed students with disabilities to experience the trip and lab work despite not being able to attend due to safety reasons.

Following the short presentation, attendees got the chance to experience AR and VR for themselves. With different headsets like Google Cardboard, HTC’s Vive, Google’s Daydream, and Microsoft’s Hololens, everyone experienced environments from Johnson’s class videos to an alien invasion, from a bow and arrow mini game to other 360 video content they could find online. Baynes pointed out that 360 video cameras and other VR equipment could be checked out of Gelardin and used on campus, so be sure to visit them to experience VR and AR for yourself!

Curriculum Enrichment Grant Supports the GOVX Prison Reform Project

Launched under the auspices of the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), Curriculum Enrichment Grants (CEGs) support course-related activities that strengthen the intellectual climate around introductory level undergraduate courses. They help faculty and students gain access to the larger DC/MD/VA community, bringing the curricular and co-curricular together to give students a richer sense of the broader implications and applications of work in a particular discipline.

This past spring, Marc Howard (COL-GOV and GU Law School) taught his GOVX course, “The Prison Reform Project,” in which students from Georgetown travel to Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) to learn alongside, and engage in conversations with JCI inmates. The travel to JCI, supported by a CEG, allowed students to combine experiential learning with scholarship around prison reform and criminal justice issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or want to apply for a grant for the spring semester, please visit our website.

In the Spring 2016 semester, I began teaching a non-traditional special course called GOVX 400, “Prison Reform Project.”  The first version of the course met in a maximum-security prison, and the unique collaboration between Georgetown and incarcerated students led to it being featured as the cover story in the Washington Post Magazine.

The Spring 2017 version of Prison Reform Project focused on “returning citizens”—people who have recently come home after a period of incarceration.  The 18 students worked closely together in teams of three, to learn about the struggles and triumphs of reentry, and the students directed and produced six short documentaries to share each individual’s story.  The culmination of the course was the “Beyond 144” documentary screening and panel, which was attended by over 250 people.  The title “Beyond 144” refers to the total combined number of years served by the six individuals profiled in the documentaries.  Students introduced their films in between each screening, and the event concluded with a Q&A panel including all of the returning citizens featured in the films.  

By sharing these stories, the Prison Reform Project aims to raise awareness of the challenges of societal reintegration, and the implications for individuals, families, and communities, as well as to inspire others to involve themselves in efforts to end mass incarceration.

Four recently-graduated Prison Reform Project students have offered their reflections on the unique nature of this course and how it has impacted their lives.

“Participating in the Prison Reform Project was perhaps one of the best decisions I made at Georgetown. It was an extremely impactful experience that I will carry with me for many, many years. I had always been interested in the themes addressed by Professor Howard’s class, but the hands-on experience of working with returning citizens and their families, as well as creating a tangible final product, was extremely rewarding. I feel like I got to know Evans “Chuck” Ray on a more personal level. It is very easy for society to completely dismiss returning citizens as “bad eggs” due to the mistakes of their past, but these individuals are so much more than those mistakes and their lives are so much more complex that many assume. Evans Ray has such a positive outlook on life and has struggled for many years to bring his life to a place that he is more proud of. He has worked hard to build a life for himself and for his family after his incarceration and I admire his tenacity so much. As an aspiring attorney, it was bittersweet to get an up close and personal look at the flaws in the justice system. On the one hand, it is heartbreaking to hear some of the struggles faced by these individuals. On the other hand,  I take it as a challenge, to push the boundaries and work to better the system. I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with these individuals and to tell their stories.”

–  Brittany Neihardt (COL, 2017)

“The Prison Reform Project allowed us all to engage with ourselves, one another, the larger DC community, and the criminal justice system well beyond the depth of any other class I took at Georgetown.”

“Most college classes provide the fundamental basis for discussion of or further engagement with a topic, but they never allow you to take that extra step to actually to confront it. As a fourth year student who felt burned out from sitting in classrooms listening to lectures, the format of the Prison Reform Project allowed us all to leave the sheltered gates of Georgetown and bear witness to one of the many examples of structural and direct violence that exists in DC today. I had the immense privilege of getting to know a man named Ronald, who, after being incarcerated for 42 years, immediately started pursuing his dream of becoming a criminal defense attorney upon his release. Although I hope to work for and with currently and formerly incarcerated populations for the rest of my life, I will never forget Ronald’s tenacity, fortitude, and drive. Ronald’s story is one of six our class was able to showcase to hundreds of Georgetown students through the Prison Reform Project, further deepening our community’s understanding of the inherently exploitative and traumatic nature of the United States criminal justice system. While my memories of each class I took during my undergraduate career have already begun to fade, I will find it hard ever to forget the successes, missteps, laughs, and tears shared during the Prison Reform Project.”

–  Elizabeth McCurdy (COL, 2017)

“The course’s non-traditional activities not only provided learning experiences I otherwise would never have encountered, but also enriched my personal interests and professional aspirations in furthering the questions and solutions posed in this class. In the traditional learning sense, this course provided invaluable lessons in documentary filmmaking, from the beginning stages of constructing storyboards and filming suitable engaging material with the audience in mind, to narrowing down the key points in the documentary during the editing process to leave the viewers with a powerful impression. As a liberal arts and STEM focused student, I never would have been exposed to these lessons without the course’s approach of enabling us to try the filming and editing process ourselves, while leaving room to showcase our own personalities and styles in the documentaries. The course’s impact, however, has been more substantial in shaping my career interests, as well as my own perspective of the legal system and the carceral state.”

“Interacting with previously incarcerated individuals and hearing their stories first-hand drove me to pursue law school after college, focusing on the public sector and this forgotten population, who after this experience is now impossible to forget.”

“I tie daily occurrences I experience to conversations I have had with the subjects of our documentaries, noticing the difficulties that those with a criminal record have to face on a regular basis. My main takeaways from a course focused on individuals and their stories, rather than books and lectures, have been acknowledging the importance of second chances, rehabilitation, and an open-mindedness. I continue to be reminded of these lessons every day.”

–  Joyce Lee (COL, 2017)

“The Prison Reform Project was one of the most memorable classes I took at Georgetown, thanks in large part to the experience of creating and producing a short documentary. As someone with no formal background in filmmaking, the prospect of making a documentary was initially intimidating, but the class’s many workshops and guest speakers helped us quickly learn the basics of shooting and editing footage. The final project allowed me and all of my classmates to effectively share everything we had learned with peers, friends, and family. Our public presentation was a powerful event that brought together people from the Georgetown community and beyond. The unconventional nature of the class made it one of the highlights of senior year and was I was very grateful to have taken it before graduation.”

–  Julia Kerbs (COL, 2017)

For more information on the Prison Reform Project and to watch students’ documentaries from the course, please visit https://beyond144.com. Marc has also co-written an article about his course and it’s connection to larger conversations on criminal justice for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which you can read here.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism MOOC Relaunches on edX, Registration Open Now, Course Launches October 23

Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service is well-known for educating the world’s leaders. Home to prominent alumni like former President of the United States Bill Clinton and countless diplomats, politicians, and policymakers, the School of Foreign Service—and more specifically the Security Studies Program—continues to attract passionate security-focused students from across the globe who seek to make the world a safer place. This fall, we would like to invite you to join School of Foreign Service Security Studies Associate Dean Daniel Byman—as well as other prominent Georgetown Faculty members—to explore timely, complex, and important questions about terrorism and counterterrorism in the edX course “Terrorism and Counterterrorism.”

Terrorism and Counterterrorism, one of the featured Georgetown-affiliated MOOCs on edX, brings together leading faculty and staff from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service’s Security Studies Program, Georgetown Law Center, Georgetown’s Department of Psychology, The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, and Lauinger Library, as well as individuals with prominent careers in federal agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency. Read more about our faculty biographies.

As we have unfortunately witnessed first-hand, terrorism has gone from a persistent yet marginal security concern to one of the most important security problems of our day: indeed, there are few countries that do not suffer from some form of terrorism. Though many terrorist attempts fail, some groups wage lengthy and bloody campaigns and, in some cases, kill hundreds or even thousands in pursuit of their ends.

Course registration is now available for Georgetown University’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Terrorism and Counterterrorism. The course is a free, self-paced course that runs from October 23, 2017 to March 24, 2018. This course will include topics such as terrorist use of technology, the nature of Al-Qaeda, the emergence of the Islamic State, the effectiveness of various counterterrorism tools, terrorist recruiting, the political context in South Asia and the Middle East, and linkages (or the lack thereof) between terrorism and world religions like Islam.

This course also features several optional sessions such as interviews with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation’s Peter Neumann, terrorism scholar Jacob Shapiro, SITE Intelligence Group’s Rita Katz, New York Times’ reporter Mark Mazzetti, United States Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator Pilot Major David Blair, and former Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism Financing and Financial Crimes Juan Zarate.

In addition to our required course content and optional interviews, this course also seeks to inform your thinking on current events. We will be regularly interviewing experts in the field, use our discussion board to prompt student engagement and discussion, and post relevant stories to our social media outlets regarding current events. We also encourage you to use the course’s features to bring current events related to terrorism to the attention of your fellow students.

Georgetown’s partnership with edX expands the University’s outreach across the globe, reflecting its mission to educate and engage the global community on significant issues and problems facing policymakers. Uniting quality education with technology and innovation, this course seeks to provide students across the entire globe to engage on terrorism and counterterrorism issues with the leading thinkers here in Washington, D.C.

We look forward to welcoming you to GeorgetownX: Terrorism and Counterterrorism, which starts on October 23, 2017.

  • Register for the full version of the course here.
  • Register for the introductory version of the course here.

Contributions to post also made by Brittany Marien. 

Getting Unstuck: Dealing with Bottlenecks and Threshold Concepts

Where do your students get stuck?

Every course has them: those places where students who’ve been cruising pretty comfortably through the material suddenly stop in their tracks. Maybe there’s a session you keep tweaking because, no matter what you do, students struggle at this one particular spot. Maybe there’s one assignment that students regularly bomb. Maybe there’s a certain kind of question you always get in response to the same concept. Or maybe there are certain topics and materials that students balk at not for cognitive reasons but because the work in front of them is so emotionally challenging or unsettling. Whatever it is, you’ve hit a learning bottleneck.

Sometimes those bottlenecks happen because you’re dealing with a threshold concept in your discipline: an idea or skill that’s central to how your area of study works, without which one cannot progress in the field. These thresholds often require a qualitative shift in thinking, so students will struggle with them. The even tougher thing about threshold concepts—and, in fact, many bottlenecks—is that you, as an expert, often don’t even realize how tricky these concepts are, because you mastered them so long ago. They’ve become second nature to you, and you may have trouble remembering what a novice needs in order to learn.

Luckily, you’re not the first teacher to ever hit these trouble spots. There are things you can do to get past them. First of all, if you’d like some help figuring out where your students are getting stuck, feel free to reach out to us; we’d be happy to visit your class and have a completely confidential conversation with your students through our Mid-Semester Group Feedback (MSGF) sessions. (Click here for more information on MSGF.) To get ideas on how to push through these bottlenecks and how to help students grasp threshold concepts, check out our Bottlenecks & Thresholds page on the Teaching Commons. And, as always, if there’s anything we can do to help, we’ll be glad to do it. Just reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu!

Introducing the 2017-18 Doyle Fellows

In its eighth year, the Doyle Faculty Fellowship Program is pleased to welcome another strong cohort of faculty fellows. The group of 16 faculty kicked off their fellowship experience at CNDLS’ Teaching, Learning & Innovation Summer Institute in May 2017, with dinner, discussion, and delving into their respective Doyle projects.

Faculty apply for the fellowship with a course in mind that they hope to design or redesign with the goal of enhancing or incorporating themes of difference and diversity. They then spend the year in conversation with colleagues across disciplines to tackle questions of pedagogy and practice. Each year, a unique blend of faculty come together, with courses ranging from first-year seminars in the School of Foreign Service to intensive languages in the College to science courses from the School of Nursing and Health Studies. Over the years, the Doyle Program has worked with 110 faculty fellows redesigning 138 courses with a total student enrollment of over 3,200.

This year, the cohort includes 16 faculty from 14 different departments across campus, from Philosophy and English to Mathematics & Statistics and Biology. After the cohort first met in May, they worked on their Doyle courses independently over the summer and met with the Doyle team for summer consultations. September marked the beginning of the cohort’s work together, where fellows dove into discussions about assigned readings and case studies from their fellow colleagues.

2017-18 FACULTY FELLOWS:

To learn more about the Doyle Program, visit our page on the CNDLS website.

Coffee and Conversation With Your Students: The Midnight Mug’s Office Hours Program

For many Georgetown students and faculty, coffee is not simply a want, but a necessity. Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on students’ affinity for caffeine and frequent library visits, the Midnight Mug, located on the second floor of Lauinger Library, developed a unique program for professors and teaching assistants (TAs) to hold office hours at their location. This program encourages students to attend office hours and gives them an opportunity to engage with faculty outside of—what some may perceive—the discomfort of a professor’s office.

The Midnight Mug’s Office Hours program provides participating professors, TAs—and students who meet with them—a $2.50 credit to apply to any purchase at the Midnight Mug—an ideal amount for a coffee, tea, speciality drink, or snack. With the purchase credit, the program hopes to incentivize students to meet with their professors and TAs outside of the classroom.

While faculty and students can always benefit from a drink or snack, hosting office hours in this student-forward space can positively impact faculty-student relationships. The “coffee house” setting that Midnight Mug offers creates a comfortable, approachable space that not only gives students the chance to meet with their professors, but also allows professors and TAs to connect with their students on a deeper level. This, in turn, may enrich the sense of community and fellowship among faculty and students.

And what’s more is that students who have had the opportunity to interact with their professors and TAs in a casual out-of-class setting may feel more comfortable inside the classroom, leading to richer classroom discussion.

All professors and TAs can sign-up by filling out this Google form. For any questions, please contact officehours@thecorp.org.

The Art (and Science) of Outstanding Mentorship in Higher Education

 

Mentorship is one of those “easier said than done” concepts; we know it is important to do, receive, and cultivate, but it is often difficult to know “getting it right”, or to make time for it at all! In an aptly titled keynote, Dr. Brad Johnson of the United States Naval Academy spoke at TLISI 2017 on the art of mentorship, urging attendees to focus less on the title of mentor and more on the actions that are the foundation of a mentoring relationship.

At last year’s TLISI, Brandon Busteed from Gallup delivered a keynote address on the well-being of students, noting the key findings that led to their flourishing and well-being after college. The largest impact was seen in students who strongly agreed they were “emotionally supported” during college—the odds of these students being engaged in their work and thriving in their overall well-being doubled. Busteed identified three specific measures that were factors in the emotional support:

  • At least one professor who made me excited about learning 
  • Professors cared about me as a person
  • A mentor who encouraged my goals and dreams

Note: for those curious, according to Gallup’s study, only 14% of all graduates experienced all three of these during college. Find the full Gallup-Purdue Index here.

It is no surprise that mentorship appears as one of these key contributors. Here at CNDLS, these important concepts of mentorship, student growth and development, and the connection between life and learning are part of our mission, as well as the mission of the larger landscape of postsecondary education. A college degree is more than information gained; it is personal development and growth with the ultimate aim of lifelong flourishing. And we know that successful mentor relationships can contribute to this.

In his keynote, Johnson shared many of the benefits of a mentoring relationship for both the mentee and the mentor. Mentees have been shown to do better academically, be more committed to their field of study, and are more confident productive. There is also an aspect of “social heredity” and “paying it forward”—that those mentored tend to mentor more themselves in the future. Johnson notes that there are both intrinsic and extrinsic research-supported benefits for mentors as well: from increased career satisfaction to accelerated research productivity, more publications and presentations, and a stronger network.

Despite all the benefits of mentor/mentee relationships, Johnson cautioned attendees against being too quick to “title” the relationship. A common question is “what role am I playing?” (e.g. advisor, role-model, mentor, research advisor, etc.)—and interestingly there is often a disconnect between students and faculty; faculty think they are mentoring a student, but the student does not see the relationship that way. Johnson advises us to step back and encourages us to think of the role of a mentor as “more of a quality of relationship than a distinct category.” It is not about the title but the quality of the interactions. His advice? Let your actions speak for themselves, and let the mentee name the relationship. What matters are the interactions that lead to benefits for both parties, not the mentor title.

Johnson also shared some mentoring best practices from his years of research; below are just a few recommendations:

  • Take time with mentees
  • Be accessible
  • Provide affirmation and encouragement
  • Incorporate explicit “teaching moments”
  • Help with “unwritten rules” in a culture
  • Challenge your mentees
  • Self-disclose (when appropriate, e.g. sharing a coping moment)
  • Allow mutuality and collegiality (over time)
  • Protect mentree when necessary
  • Narrate growth and development for mentee (help them see trajectory of growth)
  • Practice “humility”—don’t be “too perfect”

Addressing mentor myths head-on, Johnson was also sure to answer the common question “but do cross-race, cross-ethnicity, cross-gender, cross-sexual orientation relationships work?” with a research-supported “YES!” While these might be a bit slower to establish, the outcomes are identical, if not slightly better, in these cross-cultural mentoring relationships. The biggest advice Johnson provided was to practice cultural humility instead of presuming cultural competence to help create authentic relationships. Given the reality of demographics in higher education, these sort of cross-cultural mentoring relationships (across gender, ethnicity, etc.) need to take place in order to make opportunities in academia more accessible to all.

And finally: mentorship models can differ! One of the most frequently cited obstacles to good mentoring (as voiced by the mentor) is time. This is true, and time is limited. So, Johnson suggest that we think carefully and strategically about the relationships we choose to invest in, and make sure you are invested. This can take many forms—it could be a traditional mentorship model, peer mentorship, or a multi-leveled group such as a research team with mentoring within each tier. There are many methods to explore, and it is worth considering: what would work best for you?

For more of his thoughts and research on this subject, we invite you to explore some of Johnson’s books:

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

Teaching in Difficult Times Workshop

Wherever you locate yourself on the political spectrum, there’s no avoiding the fact that the current semester is beginning against a national backdrop of stress, conflict, and challenge. Our students are feeling these stresses, naturally, and so are we—both outside and inside the classroom.

With all this in mind, on Thursday, August 31, CNDLS hosted a “Teaching in Difficult Times” workshop open to faculty and staff. This was a version of a workshop we’ve run several times before, sometimes in the context of a provoking news event and sometimes not. This time we were particularly focused on the August white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the political and national response afterward, because we knew these things would be on the minds of many people in our community.

Indeed they were. Through the facilitation of CNDLS’ Michelle Ohnona and James Olsen, staff and faculty voiced many concerns, including those about students who might be pained and distracted by recent events, about the difficulties of navigating charged conversations in the classroom, and about the difficulties faculty face engaging students in difficult discussions at a time when universities are under public scrutiny. Attendees and CNDLS facilitators offered thoughts and strategies for how to address these concerns and create a learning environment where difficult discussions can be productive. Facilitators and participants discussed specific techniques for setting up and maintaining a classroom culture conducive to engaging in difficult discussions, as well as handling both planned conversations and unplanned conflict with attention to student and faculty well-being.

The times are difficult as we launch into a new semester. But CNDLS is committed to helping create and maintain a campus where all of our faculty and students can get the support they need for learning to happen even—or maybe especially—when the world around us is fraught. For resources, check out our resource page on teaching in the aftermath of Charlottesville, or our Teaching Commons pages on Inclusive Pedagogy and Difficult Discussions, or feel free to reach out to us directly. As distressing as the national situation may be, you’re not in it alone.

Reflection: Turning Information into Meaning

Is the semester already starting to feel like a blur?

Even early on, ideas and conversations accumulate quickly, and students (and faculty, too) may be doing all they can to keep up. Students may not be taking the time—they may not have the time—to integrate everything they’re learning or to connect it to other areas of academic engagement or their lives beyond the classroom.  

This is why you might want to consider building opportunities for reflection into the learning experience.

Reflection boils down to making space for students to process what they’re taking in and connect it to other things they’ve learned or experienced, and/or to future decisions they might make. The research shows that reflection helps students learn. More than that, though—it supports them as they turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into meaning.

These kinds of opportunities can come in lots of different shapes and sizes: during class time or as part of homework; via formal/graded assignments or quick, casual check-ins; aloud or on paper or in the student’s head; in small groups, individually, or as a whole class. You could ask students to pause at the end of a lecture or discussion to write down what they think the three main points of that section were, and these could be shared aloud in small groups or with the class as a whole and/or compared to your understanding of the main points. Students could write reflection papers tying together two different topics from the class, or tying a class topic to something they learned elsewhere. Students could be put in pairs to discuss possible pros and cons for a certain methodology you’re exploring. They could write down and submit anonymous thoughts about which of your teaching techniques and assignments are most helpful to them in their learning.

The possibilities are close to endless—and they include possibilities for faculty too. You might find it useful, for example, to stop and think about what connections you’re hoping to draw between the ideas you’re presenting, or about how well the students seem to be handling the material, or any of a number of other things.

Find more ideas on our Teaching Commons’ new Reflection in the Classroom page. And feel free to reach out to us here at CNDLS with any questions, or if there’s any other way we can help. In the meantime, we hope your semester is off to a good start and that you’ll find some time to reflect on how it’s all going!

The Teaching Commons is CNDLS’ online compilation of teaching ideas and resources, covering everything from how to start a semester on the right foot to how to end productively and everything in between—and it’s always growing. Here on our blog we’re highlighting some of what’s new and freshly relevant there.

Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation: How Georgetown’s Past is Shaping its Future

As members of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, Adam Rothman (History) and Marcia Chatelain (History) are doing what few professors of history are able to do—study the history of their own institution as the focus of their research. The two sat down with Eddie Maloney, Executive Director of CNDLS, for the opening plenary of the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute to discuss what they learned and discovered as part of the Working Group.

In the summer of 2015, President DeGioia asked Chatelain and Rothman to join fourteen other colleagues from the Georgetown community to first engage with and learn about the history of the institution’s ties with slavery, and then later to make recommendations to guide Georgetown in its ongoing work. Chatelain talked about how this approach—first learning themselves, as few in the group are scholars on slavery, and then allowing what they learned to guide them in making recommendations to acknowledge and respond—set the tone for their work going forward. She spoke about the importance of understanding the context of slavery at Georgetown, how many higher education institutions, along with our nation, were built and maintained on the backs of slaves, and how crucial it is to acknowledge the contribution of so many, without whom Georgetown would not exist.

The core purpose of the Working Group is to teach the entire Georgetown University community about our history with the institution of slavery. While scholars and historians are not surprised by the Jesuits owning slaves, the average person is. Rothman discussed how the Working Group is helping to answer questions and meet people where they are surrounding this history.

The information wasn’t buried or hidden; much of it is housed within Georgetown itself. But Marcia challenged the audience, and our community as a whole, to remember that this is reality. It is both the history of a group of people—individuals and families—and the history of our institution, and it must be remembered. While this has not been the focus for many years, the current climate at Georgetown and in our country is allowing us to really explore and understand this legacy in ways that were not previously possible.

Because the Working Group is large and comprised of a diverse set of members from all around campus, it has been able to harness the ideas and methods of many different fields. This concept of many “points of access” is a principle that the Working Group members are trying to pass on to the community. Both panelists discussed how each of us needs to engage with this history, in whatever way we can to provide new and different ways of understanding; we need to be creative, bringing new and innovative methods to approaching the subject.

Chatelain and Rothman both gave examples of how widely varied groups and departments have begun this process, including Academic departments and faculty around campus: the Classics department translating original documents from archaic Latin to English; the McDonough School of Business using these documents to teach about ethics and reparations; Performing Arts using the material for plays and documentaries. As Rothman said, this history is too important to leave to just the historians or just the scholars. It is our history, and we have a responsibility to access it.

“We know a lot now, but not everything.” said Rothman, “We still have a lot to learn.” When discussing moving forward, they passionately agreed that more is yet to be done. The Working Group’s report should be the start of something ongoing, a way of thinking about and teaching this legacy that will continue and shape Georgetown’s future.

While funding is needed for things like new classes, digitizing the historical documents, perhaps creating a teaching fellowship devoted to the memorial, and a physical memorial, funding for these pieces is only one part of this work. What makes Georgetown unique, and a significant part of our identity, are the Jesuit values foundational to the institution. Engaging with the descendant families is part of Georgetown’s commitment to acknowledging our past, and Chatelain has found that one of the most important ways we can honor that commitment is by drawing on those Jesuit values when engaging in this work. We have to remember not to just act as an institution, like a bank or a corporation, approaching this with a set of rules and preconceived steps for attrition, but rather as people.

Finally, Rothman left us with this important idea: “As much as we could use a built memorial to the history of slavery here on campus, we need living memorials more. We need active engagement every semester, every year, that refuses to allow us to forget this story again.” The Working Group and its report are only part of this process, and part of this community. The 272 slaves who were sold are part of Georgetown’s story and legacy, and their history is our history. As we go forward, we should all consider how we are individually and collectively engaging with and are part of this process as students, faculty, and staff at Georgetown.

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!