Curriculum Enrichment Grant Helps Students Study River Health

Launched under the auspices of the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), Curriculum Enrichment Grants (CEGs) support class-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 in introductory classes a richer sense of the broader implications and applications of work in a particular discipline.

This fall, Sarah Stewart Johnson (SFS-STIA) collaborated with Mark Giordano (SFS-STIA) to take students in three of their courses to the Anacostia River for a boat trip with the Anacostia Watershed Society to study the the health of the river. Students from Johnson’s Environmental Geoscience course and Giordano’s freshman Water Proseminar and his senior seminar, Water Futures, took part. The trip, funded through a CEG, enabled the professors to bring students off-campus to see firsthand issues with water in the DC area and engage with the topic of environmental racism. The following is a reflection from one of Johnson’s students, Isabella Todaro, on her experience traveling to Anacostia for this grant-supported activity. If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or want to apply for a grant for the spring semester, please visit our website


Reflection on Anacostia Boat Trip

By Isabella Todaro, an STIA Energy and Environment major (SFS 2017)

Standing huddled at the front gates, we waited for the vans to take us across town to the Anacostia River for a boat trip. We had so many reasons to be excited as we sipped our coffees, waiting for the caffeine to shake off our morning grogginess. This was the boat trip! We’d been hearing about it since syllabus day and had been told that it was a highlight of the course. We had performed a water quality analysis of the Potomac, and only after we took samples from the Anacostia on our trip could we compare the results. But most of all, we’d been excited to get away from Lau for a day to exchange the browns and grays of our favorite Brutalist study spot for a little adventure and some fresh air.

We boarded the vans (driven by generous student volunteers) and set out toward Maryland. The van ride was a nice tour of DC, and we passed the time scoping restaurants, markets, cool parks, and new neighborhoods through the window and saving them as starred locations in Google Maps, contributing to our ever-growing senior year bucket list. When we finally arrived, we were in a part of town that few of us frequent, but I’m sure many of us will visit again.

The dock was situated in a beautiful park, with a playground and rolling grassy hills. We met up with Sarah Johnson (SFS-STIA), who had brought her family, and waited for the earlier boat to return, the promise of donuts onboard fueling our anxiety. Johnson’s two children, who were so sweet and well behaved—plus, maybe smarter than any of us (they knew the definition of turbidity)—kept big smiles on all of our faces and reminded us of the excitement of a day on the water.

When the boat docked, we met our captain, a gruff man named Jim with a soft spot for river conservation. Jim helped us board (and passed out the promised donuts), and we were off. It was a pontoon boat that meandered slowly down the peaceful river, so we were able to make careful observations and listen closely to all of the wisdom that Jim was sharing with us. The sun filtered through perfectly just-changed leaves, and there was a briskness to the air that was unmistakably fall.

Jim told us about environmental regulations, battles with local government and industry, successes, failures, and his dreams for the river. He had made the health of this river—and his dream of seeing it one day be swimmable and fishable—his life’s work. His passion and personal stake in the future of the Anacostia was impressionable, and when he talked about the river, although he was talking about local government zoning laws and EPA regulations, we were entranced.

Jim had lived on the river his whole life and knows it to be a source of lifeblood for the people that live on its banks and downstream. He knows the impact that the health of the river has on each of their lives, and he personally mourns every piece of trash along the river banks, every wetland lost. But he is also optimistic. The bike path for which he has been advocating for 20 years was slated to open the day after our visit. He proudly told us that the water quality had been slowly improving, and he expected to see this rate of improvement increase even more.

We stopped mid-trip to take our samples, measuring turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen levels, bacteria levels, and temperature. We are waiting to get the results of all of these tests, but soon we will be able to compare the water quality of the Potomac and the Anacostia. Sadly, we can expect the Anacostia samples to be far dirtier, a river that runs through a poorer part of the city and epitomizes the struggle of environmental injustice and racism.

The trip back was more reflective. We all spoke less, watching the beauty of the river pass us by, noticing the sins of pollution that Jim had talked about. When we arrived back at the vans, we were full with new insights, but mostly with new questions about the future of the river, about environmental responsibility, and about our part in all of this.

Finish the Semester Like You Mean It

This time of year, we can clearly begin to see our courses winding down. For some of us, it might be a shock—didn’t class just begin? For others, it might feel like we’re in the last quarter-mile of a very long hike up a very tall mountain. Either way, the end of the semester is coming.

What will you do with it?

The key to a good finish is to see these last sessions not as “playing out the string” but as an opportunity to do some new, substantial, complex, integrative work—work you can only do when you and the students can take a full view of what you’ve already done.

For ideas on how to make the most out of these final sessions, whether by guiding students through a reflection on the course, gathering feedback on how the semester went, or helping students think forward about how course material might inform their future experiences, check out our Ending the Semester page.

All the best as things come to a close—and, as always, let us know how else we can help!

 

This fall, 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.

Fall Inclusive Pedagogy Series Continues with Sessions on Syllabus Design and Student Identity Formation

Key to the design of any classroom is the syllabus that guides the course and the students that make up the classroom itself. CNDLS continued its Inclusive Pedagogy Series with a focus on each of those elements during two workshops in early November—”Syllabus Design for Inclusivity” and “Social Identity Formation and College Students.”

Creating an Inclusive Syllabus

On November 1, Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and James Olsen (CNDLS) facilitated “Syllabus Design for Inclusivity,” highlighting  the role of the syllabus as a tone-setting tool for the classroom. According to Olsen, a course syllabus is the “first word in a larger conversation”—it is one of the earliest encounters students may have with the course, and often is their first impression of the faculty member. With that in mind, a syllabus is more than an administrative exercise, but rather an intentional tool for course design.

Ohnona and Olsen provided examples of content to include in a syllabus, as well as various templates for possible syllabus statements (accommodation statements, class participation guidelines, etc.). A common theme and challenge to participants was to “think of the message you are sending”—whether that be with an accommodation statement or an articulation of the course’s learning goals. Also discussed was the role of the new Engaging Diversity requirement within the undergraduate core curriculum. Attendees were encouraged to consider how they might articulate a learning goal around inclusivity for their course(s) using the model of backward design.

Understanding Student Identity Development

While a syllabus is one way to prepare and cultivate an enriching classroom environment, an understanding of the process of student development and social identity formation also contributes to a rich learning space. Students are grappling with their own identities and views on difficult topics throughout college; therefore, creating a classroom conducive to that exploration can both support students’ development processes and take advantage of students’ curiosity and interest in connecting the world to their own lived experiences.

On November 10, Joselyn Lewis (CNDLS) and Daviree Velázquez (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access), led an Inclusive Pedagogy workshop on social identity development during emerging adulthood. Their session included an overview of several identity development theories, drawing on various fields of study—from psychology (Erik Erikson) to sociology (Kenneth Feldman and Theodore Newcomb) to social psychology (G. R. Adams and S. K. Marshall) and even developmental ecology (Urie Bronfenbrenner).

Lewis and Velázquez also discussed the more recent impacts of post-modernism/post-structuralism and multidisciplinary lenses which helped establish more recent concepts of intersectionality and multiple dimensions of identity. To the latter point, the two led an exercise in social identity awareness to help illustrate the importance of considering one’s own identity development over time. Lewis and Velázquez asked participants to consider their own sense of self, and the most salient factors of their identity today in comparison with the aspect(s) that were more—or less—salient during their own college years. The discussion that followed highlighted the powerful impact on student learning faculty can have when they create opportunities for students to “see themselves” in the curriculum, discussions, and community of a given class.

The Inclusive Pedagogy series will offer its final fall semester workshop, “Gender Identity in the Classroom: Strategies for Inclusivity,” on Tuesday, November 29 from 12:30pm to 2pm in the HFSC Herman Room. This session will be facilitated by Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and Julian Haas (LGBTQ Resource Center). To RSVP, learn more about past sessions, and find additional resources, please visit our website.

Charged Learning Spaces: Teaching After the Election

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many classrooms have become charged and fraught spaces. Regardless of the subject matter, students carry their feelings and opinions into the room. Some may be elated and others may be shaken, grieving, and fearful; any of these feelings (and more) might affect students’ ability to learn. In some cases, particularly where the election is germane to the topic of the course, students will likely want to discuss it, and of course these discussions could become contentious and emotionally precarious for students who are personally invested.

CNDLS has heard from many faculty wondering how to handle such discussions or seeking to debrief with others in their wake. Whether or not you’ve already taken the time to acknowledge or analyze the election with your classes, we’re hoping that a few resources might be helpful as you navigate these newly-complicated learning spaces. Our Teaching Commons page on Difficult Discussions could be a good place to start, and below you’ll find a number of pages from other teaching and learning centers focused on the same issues and, in some cases, this particular post-election moment.

Looking for a few highlights? Brown University advocates addressing the situation directly: “Generally, research suggests that students find helpful instructors’ efforts to acknowledge issues of deep campus concern, whether using a small amount of class time (like a brief acknowledgement) or more extended portion of the course (like a planful discussion.)” Then, as the University of Michigan suggests, “if you do choose to engage students on this topic, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom.” Meanwhile, Vanderbilt University reminds us that, “if we are to be effective in our teaching and if we are to model coping and wellness for our students, we need to practice self-care ourselves in the face of the stresses this election has placed on our role as educators.”

More resources:

University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning
Post-Election Resources and Support (Post-Election Community Conversation Topics)

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
Returning to the Classroom After the Election

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Teaching in Response to the Election

The Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching
Resources for Teaching the Presidential Election and Other Controversial Topics

The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University
Teaching After the U.S. Election

Michigan State University Academic Advancement Network
Resources for Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom

We hope you’ll find these resources useful. As always, let us know how else we can help.

CEG in Action: Students Explore Environmental and Food Activism in Southwest DC

Want to add a co-curricular activity to your course, but need additional support? Have a guest speaker in mind who would be perfect for your course, but your department doesn’t have funds available? Over the years, CNDLS has awarded hundreds of curriculum enrichment grants (CEGs) to faculty across departments in support of engaging class-related activities in introductory undergraduate courses.

On October 17, Yuki Kato (Sociology) and students from the Environmental and Food Justice Movements seminar used a CEG to travel to Southwest DC and explore community gardens and meet with local activists. This visit highlighted the intersection of environmental and food justice, the compounding impact of structural inequalities on social injustice, and the importance of local involvement, coalition building, “positionality” recognition, and sustained self-care for activists.

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To learn more about this incredible example of community-based learning in action, check out Kato’s post on the course blog. If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or applying for a grant of your own, please visit our website or feel free to get in touch—we’re happy to talk!

Inclusive Pedagogy Series Continues to Offer Opportunities for Learning and Reflection

On October 19, Missy Foy (Program Director, Georgetown Scholarship Program) and Patricia McWade (Dean of Student Financial Services) joined Maggie Debelius (CNDLS, English) and Heidi Elmendorf (Biology) for the third part of the Inclusive Pedagogy Series, “Who Are Georgetown Students?” This gathering of faculty and staff was an opportunity to share and discuss undergraduate economic diversity at Georgetown, emphasizing the range of financial need among students.

Highlighting the importance of Georgetown’s need-blind admissions process, Dean McWade opened the session with an overview of undergraduate demographics, including a breakdown of financial aid. Foy discussed many of the potential challenges of the college experience that can often be harder on low-income and first generation students, including dealing with family issues, struggling to find a “fit” on campus, and working through feelings of guilt, imposter syndrome, and dual identities. The Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) was highlighted as an example of university initiatives to increase economic diversity and provide much needed support for students. In connecting to what this diversity means for our classrooms, Debelius and Elmendorf spoke to experiences from their own teaching about the real-life impact of financial stressors on low-income, working-class students. They reminded participants to be careful in making assumptions because we don’t—and can’t—know all the details of each student’s experiences, but we can and should strive to find ways of being more open and inclusive in all conversations and activities, both in and outside the classroom.

The series continued on October 26 with “Self-Awareness & Implicit Bias,” facilitated by Daviree Velazquez (CMEA) and Joselyn Schultz Lewis (CNDLS) in collaboration with the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program. Velazquez first asked faculty, staff, and graduate student participants how they might define implicit bias, then followed with a case study of this bias in action in the classroom. Lewis and Velazquez also offered up perspectives on recognizing and measuring bias, inviting participants to think about how they would respond to issues of diversity and inclusivity in their own classrooms. The structure of the workshop encouraged attendees to challenge their own biases as a tool for teaching, and to investigate what connections exist between their bias and privileges derived from their social identity. Introspection was emphasized as a method for examining and dismantling one’s own bias in the classroom.

Across both sessions, participants were challenged to increase awareness both of themselves and others. It is in taking time to make space for these conversations and reflection that understanding and more effective pedagogy can be born, and we invite you to join in the conversation with the next two workshops:

Georgetown Students, Social Identities, and Stereotypes
Thursday, November 10, 2016 — 3 PM – 4 PM
Car Barn 427
RSVP

Facilitating Difficult Discussions
Monday, November 14, 2016 — 12:30 PM – 1:45 PM
HFSC: Herman Room
RSVP

Please check out our full list of workshops and descriptions here—where you can also RSVP! If you have any questions or accommodation needs related to one of these events, please contact Laura Dunn at laura.dunn@georgetown.edu.

From PODS to Canvas: College Deans Move Advising Manuals Online

As part of the 2016 Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI), CNDLS once more offered Productive Open Design Spaces (PODS), a series of design-centered workshops giving faculty and staff the time and space to collaborate with colleagues on curricular and pedagogical projects of their own design. Facilitated by the Education Design Lab, PODS comprises a four-part exploratory process discovering “what is, what if, what wows, and what works” for proposals from teams across campus. More than 40 faculty and staff worked in groups to draw connections between shared ideas, generate design criteria, present a mini pilot, and develop sustainable plans to execute their projects during the academic year.

One of these projects—proposed by Erin Force, Javier Jiménez, and Stefan Zimmers, all Assistant Deans in the College—aimed at rethinking the supports available for new student advising. “We wanted to take advantage of the mentorship that comes with PODS,” Force said recently, noting that the focus on reflection inherent to the design process was its own draw. “We also wanted space to think about the bigger picture.”

The issue, as the group saw it, was in the comprehensive advising manual provided to both students and faculty. Until this fall, the information was printed and distributed in late August, then supplemented by emailed links as the year went on—a process Force, Jiménez, and Zimmers described as confusing and overwhelming.

In their proposal, the group focused on two goals: differentiating information for peer and faculty advisors and identifying a more dynamic, user-friendly format. During the project week, they ultimately decided to work in Canvas, the digital course management system introduced to campus in May. This decision was deeply influenced by Zimmers, who was preparing to work with the platform this fall in his teaching work with the History Department. Using a test “sandbox” course available to all faculty, the group explored the platform and ultimately created two courses from the existing manual: one designed expressly for faculty, the other for students. In both cases, Canvas was a natural fit: faculty and students would already use the platform on a regular basis, updates could be made in real time, and the “conversations” tool would allow for reminders to go out to the whole group as important deadlines approached.

After taking the summer to troubleshoot and fine-tune, the College Dean’s Office left behind the spiral-bound manuals in August and instead added peer and faculty advisors to their respective inaugural Canvas courses. Initial responses have been positive, and the group has the additional benefit of seeing their efforts pay off through activity analytics showing how advisors interact with the material as the year goes on—real-time feedback impossible to measure in hardcopy form.

Force, Jiménez, and Zimmers will continue to edit content throughout the year, but Force credits PODS with providing the dedicated time for reflection—often a luxury on a busy campus like Georgetown—necessary to build an effective tool from the start. “When we started envisioning this project, we just wanted to get it done, which meant our instinct was to start building immediately,” she said. “That can be a hard instinct to fight for those of us wearing multiple hats, but PODS encouraged us to approach this project in a more thoughtful way.”

CNDLS congratulates this PODS team for their innovative work to transform the advising process! For more information about the most recent round of PODS projects, check out our blog from PODS 2016 and hear directly from participants in the recap video. If you’ve been inspired to explore Canvas, get started with your own sandbox course at canvas.georgetown.edu. If, instead, you have a different question for the CNDLS team, feel free to get in touch—we’re always happy to help!

Pedagogical Principles to Inspire Transformative Student Learning

James Olsen (Philosophy), Program Manager for Faculty Initiatives in CNDLS, shares how he was inspired to create transformational experiences for students at the Summit of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation Council. 


In early September I traveled with a pair of students to Merida, Mexico, to participate in the 23rd Summit of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Council and attend meetings. It’s hard to overstate how gratifying the experience was for me as an educator, observing our students’ excitement, dedication, and success as they met with and offered substantive proposals to government officials. Perhaps it was a once in a lifetime educational opportunity. My largest takeaway, however, was not simply gratitude for our good fortune in participating at a grand event. Rather, while I can’t scale and recreate this trip for each of my students, I was struck by a set of pedagogical principles that were affirmed throughout this experience, principles that we frequently advocate for in the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program. These principles can directly inform course design, substantively improving our students’ learning and growth even without leaving the Hilltop.

Facilitate student-driven projects: This was from start to finish a student-driven initiative. They sought out and connected with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, secured the opportunity and later the funding, and then researched, planned, and executed the trip. It required the direct involvement and backing of the university on multiple levels, but it was conceived, pursued, and ultimately executed by the students themselves. Similarly, our classrooms and major graded assignments can tap into and facilitate student motivation and ownership. That is, we as faculty can partner with students, setting forth rigorous criteria that empower them to research and pursue projects to which they are personally and intellectually connected.

Create temporally extended, multi-part assignments: The scholarship of teaching and learning offers consensus on the need for repetition, revision, and scaffolding of assignments in order to sustain deep and long-term learning. I was delighted to see this research borne out as the students researched the CEC, brainstormed and drafted proposals, sought faculty feedback, revised those proposals, and rehearsed multiple times prior to their engagement at the summit. I then experienced immense pride watching these capable and articulate students dialogue with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her officials in a private meeting—and especially when the students offered a respectful but direct challenge to McCarthy’s ideas, proposing an alternative that created a genuine “huh” moment of reflection for McCarthy’s team. I felt this pride even more as I watched our Georgetown students gather the handful of other youth from Mexico and Canada between sessions. Together they worked out and then presented a formal, signed proposal for structural change to the CEC that would allow permanent and substantive youth participation. Our course assignments can likewise link together, incorporate revision, and build on one another, organized around a central, motivating goal.

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Cura Personalis: Veteran Stories and the Coming Home Dialogues

CNDLS Fellow David Ebenbach (Center for Jewish Civilization) shares reflections on the importance and impact of knowing who your students are and where they come from. 


In my five-plus years here at Georgetown, I’ve been struck repeatedly by the significant and important presence military veterans have on our campus. My own writing classes have certainly benefited a great deal from various student veterans’ writing and experiences, so I jumped at the chance when Jesse Kirkpatrick, a colleague from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University, invited me to be part of the Coming Home Dialogues this summer. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to learn more about returning soliders’ experiences and to grow as a teacher of veterans, all in the quieter academic off-season.

The idea of the Coming Home Dialogues, funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, is to create and facilitate group discussions to “offer military veterans the opportunity to explore the moral, psychological, and spiritual impacts of war on the warrior as she or he returns home,” and the success of those discussion groups depends on facilitators being well-trained. That’s where I and six other educators and thinkers came in. In late August, with the summer coming to an end and another semester about to begin, the seven of us spent two days on the campus of George Mason University leading sessions to equip others to carry this work forward.

The participants attending the sessions came from a variety of institutions—the Naval Academy, the US Merchant Marine Academy, the US Marine Corps University, and others—and all of these participants will go on, in turn, to train other groups of people to lead these important conversations. We discussed a range of relevant issues, including post-traumatic stress and moral injury, the history of society’s views of war-induced trauma, sexual assault and harassment in the military, war literature from Sophocles to contemporary writer Helen Benedict, and pedagogical practices, and I got to conduct sessions on the best ways to lead productive discussions, a topic we often talk about here at CNDLS. Later, as a co-facilitator with the Naval Academy’s Temple Cone, I also conducted sessions on using writing and other methods to invite participants’ stories. The whole time I was keenly aware that I was about to resume teaching on a campus where some of my students will themselves be returning from war.

Creating a space that includes and invites those students to the conversation is an important part of what it means to create an inclusive classroom more generally. That’s an increasingly active and vital part of our work at CNDLS; this semester we’ve embarked on an Inclusive Pedagogy workshop series and we continue to develop relevant teaching resources. It’s also part of our mission more generally here at Georgetown, part of our commitments to cura personalis and care of the whole student, which means knowing who our students are and where they’re coming from. In the wake of some very powerful conversations, I’m glad to be bringing new thoughtfulness to these commitments this year.

Mid-Semester Doldrums? Get Active (Learning)!

This fall, 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 continually 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 learning, and designing assignments, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.


With the rush of the first week of classes well behind us and still a long way to go until finals, you may be experiencing a mid-semester slump—and if you are, your students probably are, too. It may be that the whole class has fallen into a predictable routine.

One solution is to shake things up with active learning. Instead of you talking and your students listening, engage them in a more dynamic process that involves them directly. What if students led some class sessions? Would role playing help them understand and internalize the points in a different way? Could they analyze some true-to-life case studies to apply learning the way professionals do? Would small group conversations elicit broader participation and introduce fresh ideas to the larger group? Not only do these kinds of methods wake everybody up, they also lead to consistently more robust learning than a passive model. If you’re interested in more suggestions, Active Learning on the Teaching Commons is full of ideas to get you started.

If you’re inspired to put active learning to use in the classroom—or if you’ve already perfected activities on this front—let us know how they work for you! And, as always, for any questions about any teaching approaches, get in touch and let us know how we can help.