Engaging students in political theory

Why are students in the School of Foreign Service talking about Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley? Anthony Clark Arend, Professor of Government and Foreign Service, casts rock musicians as characters in the hypothetical political scenarios he asks his students to discuss in class. This unexpected tactic draws students into the discussions and makes the theories behind the scenarios more memorable. This strategy follows Arend’s overall aim to motivate students by engaging them as peers and sharing his passion for the subject.

Listen to an interview with Arend on the Georgetown University Forum here.

Twitter in the Classroom

Twitter, a microblogging service, has captured the attention of the nation– and is now piquing the interest of the Academy.  While Twitter has been used as everything from a means of casual conversation and information gathering to image sharing and advertising, there has emerged a compelling application of Twitter in the classroom: Twitter as a “back channel,” or highly dynamic, engaging conduit for carrying on another layer of conversation during a class or event.

The back channel method has been enthusiastically embraced for use during conferences.  (See Duke U’s Instructional Showcase for an example.)  Participants can “follow” each other, watching their friends’ updates roll in through their stream of “tweets,” or they can simply search for the sanctioned conference hash tag to find the relevant tweets from all of those using the tag.  Using Twitter during these events allows rich resource/link sharing, crowdsourced clarifications, interesting rebuttals, and pithy testimonies– all within the 140-character limit constraint.

We needn’t be satisfied with just imagining what this could mean in a classroom setting– others have been trailblazers, and to good effect.  Cole Camplese, part-time instructor at Pennsylvania State University, has experimented with Twitter in the classroom.  He shares his experience with Wired Campus, noting that the extra layer of communication has enriched class discussions.  And by giving quieter students an in-class voice and all students the ability to share resource links in real-time, an energetic classroom pace is realized and sustained.

But for some students, the scholarly applications of Twitter– not to mention Twitter itself– may be a foreign concept.  Why shouldn’t we model innovative practice for our students rather than ask them to delve in without an effective example to follow?  Some professors and administrators have done just that, establishing an vocal professional/academic presence on Twitter.   If you are curious about Twitter and would like to peruse some rigorous, intelligent uses of the service, take a look at this Chronicle article or contact us for a consultation.

Frank Ambrosio Selected for Dorothy Brown Award

Frank Ambrosio (Philosophy) has been selected to receive the Dorothy Brown award, given annually by the student body to the faculty member who has had the strongest impact on the students’ collegiate experience.

Ambrosio, who has taught philosophy at Georgetown since 1981, worked with Eddie Maloney and Bill Garr of CNDLS to develop MyDante, an innovative website for the study of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Over 200 students have used the site in Ambrosio’s course “Dante and the Christian Imagination,” and Ambrosio is currently at work on a public version of the site.

MyDante teaches contemplative reading through a combination of digital tools and pedagogical resources. The site acts as a guide through the Divine Comedy, leading readers through a cohesive interpretation of the text through commentaries by Ambrosio and other materials. It enables collaboration among students by providing a structured virtual space for discussion. At the same time, it makes the reading experience profoundly personal by allowing readers to create their own annotations, images, and reflective journal entries.

MyDante builds on Ambrosio’s commitment to convincing students that the texts they read are significant to their own lives. Students enjoy and remember his courses; in addition to this year’s Dorothy Brown award, Ambrosio was previously selected by the Class of 1998 to receive the Edward Bunn teaching award.

Congratulations, Frank!

Michael Wesch’s Digital Ethnography Class

Alan Levine of the New Media Consortium recently hosted a Connect@NMC session with our TLISI 2009 featured speaker Michael Wesch, an anthropologist who studies the impact of new media on society and culture.  Wesch and his Digital Ethnography students from Kansas State University explained how their class is structured — first of all, it’s not a class but a research group, and rather than a syllabus, they follow a research schedule which is editable by members of the group. Using Netvibes, Yahoo! Pipes, Diigo, and Google Docs to keep track of their work, the members cooperate to research, discuss, and develop a project with the working title of “The Fight for Significance in the Age of the Microcelebrity: Anonymity, Anonymous, Smart Mobs, Mad Mobs, Bot Mobs and the Great American Poets.” Their efforts will culminate in a group paper and collaboratively edited video.

As the researchers write on Wesch’s blog, the aim of such an intensely collaborative undertaking is to “see all the big ideas we have entertained throughout the semester coming together to create something beyond that which any single one of us could have created.”

A recording of the NMC session can be found here, the blog post “Our class on how we run our class” is here, and the Digital Ethnography Research Hub is here.

Teaching Students How to Learn

Students of YuYe Tong (Chemistry) are often overwhelmed by the broad scope of his research on metal nanoparticles. Tong realizes that to cover all of the relevant material in lectures would be impossible; instead, his aim is to teach students how to learn.

While the challenge of synthesizing information from a variety of fields can be daunting for the new student, YuYe Tong strongly believes that involving undergraduates in real-life research is the best way to prepare them for life after graduation. Says Tong: “We need to make science education more student-centered, self-driven and research oriented. Science is a language; you have to practice it in real life it to have truly learned it.”

Tong believes in prioritizing the development of critical learning skills over the teaching of particular content. Content provides the training ground for developing active learning skills, but ultimately the process of gathering, synthesizing, and applying information to new situations is more important. This learning process, often downplayed in the scientific community, is a critical component of modern science education.

Working with CNDLS, Tong has experimented with a teaching method called POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), which has challenged both him and his students to rethink their approaches in the classroom. But the increased level of student engagement has made the adjustment well worth it.

Students seeking a model for independent learning need not look further than their own professor. With advanced degrees in nuclear physics and experimental condensed matter physics, Tong never received formal training in chemistry and instead absorbed the discipline by working with colleagues and doing research. Similarly, Tong now inspires his students in to engage in active scientific research outside the classroom.

Science in the Public Interest

CNDLS staff members, led by Assistant Director for Science Programs Janet Russell, are collaborating with Georgetown’s Science in the Public Interest (SPI) Program on an innovative virtual forum project.

The project is designed to complement the fall semester course “Science and Society: Global Challenges” (Bio 361 / Phys 203), taught by Professor Francis Slakey, which introduces students to challenging issues at the intersection of science and public policy. Students in the course research topics such as global energy consumption, infectious disease, and weapons of mass destruction, and then meet with leading scientists and policy experts to help them develop policy proposals.

The virtual forums, produced by CNDLS in collaboration with the University of California – Davis, will add a dynamic element to the course. Forums will include videotaped lectures, Q&A sessions, blogs, moderated discussions, bibliographies, and other resources. By bringing together a diverse group of experts in their fields for discussions on topical issues, the forums will not only enrich course content, but will provide a platform for public scholarship and collaboration.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting project!