2009-2010 Doyle Faculty Fellows Announced

CNDLS is pleased to announce the Faculty Fellows for the pilot year of the Doyle Initiative, which is designed to support and challenge Georgetown faculty seeking to foster active student engagement with difference and the diversity of human experience. These fellows have been meeting over the summer to share ideas with one another and with CNDLS staff as they develop strategies to integrate discussions of diversity and inclusion into their academic course material.  For more about this exciting new initiative and for further background on the curriculum infusion approach, see the Doyle Initiative page.

2009-2010 Doyle Faculty Fellows:

Shelly K. Habel, Sociology Department

Ronald P. Leow, Department of Spanish & Portuguese

Dana Luciano, English Department

James M. Mattingly, Philosophy Department

W. Gerrod Parrott, Psychology Department

Mark Carl Rom, Government Department and Georgetown Public Policy Institute

Heather M. Voke, Philosophy Department

Andria Wisler, Program on Justice and Peace

Jennifer Woolard, Psychology Department

“An Age of Composition”

In the following post, CNDLS Writer/Editor Theresa Schlafly explores questions about technology and students’ writing skills.

We are living in an “age of composition,” according to Florida State University Professor Kathleen Blake Yancey.  All of us, especially students, are constantly writing and publishing for different audiences and in different formats –  we are blogging, texting, emailing, crafting essays, and composing poetry. The ratio of formal to informal writing that students produce may be surprising: In Michael Wesch’s video “A Vision of Students Today,” a student in a large lecture classroom holds up notebook pages which read “I will write 42 pages for class this semester… and over 500 pages of email.”

Professors often view the informal writing that students do on their own as a distraction from their academic work – it’s easy to understand their aversion to these forms of writing when faced with students emailing during class or turning in essays riddled with abbreviations and spelling errors.  But might it be possible to teach students to connect these very different writing processes in a productive way?

While previous studies of student writing have only examined academic writing, a recent Stanford University study, described in this Chronicle article and also discussed in a recent Wired magazine column, explored all types of writing done by its subjects.  Academic opinions seem to vary widely on whether useful connections can be made between students’ informal and academic writing. Do blogging, emailing, and other types of online writing help develop students’ awareness of audience, tone, and voice? Or do these types of writing reinforce bad habits of disorganization, misspelling, and sloppy grammar?

Perhaps further research, such as this Stanford study or Georgetown’s Thresholds of Writing project, will shed light on these controversial questions. In the meantime, students will keep producing prolific quantities of informal writing, which Yancey exhorts us to “ignore… at our own peril.”

Science in the Public Interest Program Premieres New Collaborative Tool

In a post on her blog, CNDLS Assistant Director for Science Programs Janet Russell talks about an exciting new social networking tool which will be used this fall by Professor Francis Slakey’s students in the Science in the Public Interest program (SPI).  The tool, called GlobalSolver, will enable students to receive feedback from experts in various fields as they work together to draft legislation related to science issues. To read more about this innovative project, and how Slakey’s approach to his class has evolved, visit Janet’s blog here.

CNDLS and CCNMTL Collaborate on Project Rebirth Educational Initiative

CNDLS is pleased to announce a partnership with Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) to develop the Project Rebirth Learning Collaboratory, a virtual environment for the study of documentary footage related to the effects of September 11, 2001. Project Rebirth, directed by Georgetown alumnus Jim Whitaker (C’90), is a documentary film chronicling the recovery of ten people coping with the aftermath of 9/11 and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

Built to complement a digital library of Project Rebirth’s archival footage, the Project Rebirth Learning Collaboratory will create a social learning environment powered by flexible web-based tools to connect a broad community of researchers, educators, and community-based practitioners. Users will be able to edit, tag, annotate, and share clips of the footage with one another, and to reflect on the footage through blogs and multimedia digital stories.

CNDLS and CCNMTL will work together to develop the technological infrastructure for the social learning environment and to design pedagogical strategies to incorporate Project Rebirth into courses from a variety of disciplines. Not only will this learning environment allow for explorations of themes such as trauma, narrative, memory, and recovery, but it will also enable research on aspects of student learning, including metacognition, affect, and empathy.

More background on Project Rebirth can be found here. We look forward to working on this exciting project!

Randy Bass Presents at International Roundtable on e-Learning

Recently, CNDLS Executive Director Randy Bass traveled to the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Ishikawa, Japan to participate in the 2009 International Roundtable for Library and Information Science, which focused on the topic “New Developments in e-Learning.”

Randy’s presentation, entitled “Knowledge, Expertise, and Uncertainty in the New Digital Learning Landscape,” explored how “knowledge, expertise, and learning are all being reshaped by new forms of information and the social networks that process information into analysis, opinion, and knowledge,” and asked how educators can best respond to these challenges of the new digital landscape. Other presenters explored such topics as cyberinfrastructure and cyberlearning, the future of university libraries, and how new ways of learning challenge traditional conceptions of universities.

“No Time to Think”: Students and Technology

In the following post, Daryl Nardick, Senior Project Consultant & Director of Strategic Project Integration at CNDLS, questions some widely held assumptions about students’ attitudes toward technology.

Meandering through campus, rarely do you see a student who is not texting, listening to music, talking on a cell phone, or otherwise engaging with personal technology. While there might be a tendency to criticize students for their reliance on technology, seldom do we hear faculty wonder what students themselves think about their own constant 24/7 connection to the digital world. And it turns out that the answer to that question might surprise many of us.

One professor at the University of Washington did more than wonder. David Levy, professor at UW’s Information School, started asking his students along with students at universities across the country how they feel about being constantly connected. Surprisingly, he discovered that students are not as enamored with technology as many of us might think. To paraphrase one young man, “every once in a while I need to lie down on my floor and just block out all of the sounds in order to get quiet and to hear myself.” Students from across the country participating in David’s informal research have voiced similar sentiments about their relationships with digital technologies.

I for one am interested in testing out with students my assumptions on this topic, and I wonder if there are others here at GU who might feel the same way. And if indeed during these conversations we find that our students are not as enamored with today’s digital communications devices as some of us might suspect, then the question is – what is our role as educators in helping our students cope with the increasing pressure to adopt these tools? Surely this is a topic worth exploring here at Georgetown when David Levy visits us in September 2009. Stay tuned for more details on his visit.

For more information on David Levy’s work, see his presentation on “No Time to Think” .


Visit the blog of CNDLS’ Assistant Director for Research & Development Bill Garr to learn more about Ellipsis, a new text analysis tool currently in development at CNDLS. In this entry, to explain how Ellipsis facilitates collaboration among faculty and students, Bill uses a hypothetical case study in which two faculty members work together to study the short story “The Dead” from different perspectives.

Learning and Emotion

In the following post, Barbara Craig, Senior Project Evaluator and Director of Assessment & Diversity at CNDLS, shares her thoughts on how learning and emotions intersect.

What discussions make the deepest impression on you?  Which conversations that you’ve had in the last six months do you remember most clearly?  Chances are there’s an element of emotion – maybe even strong emotion – in them.  You may have felt that you were totally engaged in those discussions, perhaps even arguments, not just intellectually but personally and emotionally as well.  Research suggests that a strong emotional response to a topic may actually allow us to engage more deeply and bring ourselves more fully into our thoughts about the topic.  Evidence from neuroscience shows that we learn new information more readily when we engage not only the thinking areas of our brains, but also the emotional centers (Zull, 2002).

As faculty members, most of us want our students to remember class discussions, not just for the factual content, but as interactions that encourage them to grapple with new ideas, difficult concepts, competing perspectives, or unexamined attitudes.  Many students see the classroom as a place for the head, not the heart; for facts, not opinions – or if opinions are allowed, only for those that are well-reasoned and based on objective evidence.  By the time they reach college, many students have learned to drop their personal views and life experiences at the classroom door.

So how might we make it more likely that our classroom discussions will engage students emotionally?  Experiential learning theory suggests that starting with learners’ concrete personal experience makes it easier for them to connect with theoretical concepts and other academic material (Kolb).  For example, faculty may be able to structure assignments that give students a wide choice of topics for research papers or group projects, allowing students to follow their personal interests or curiosity.  Where possible, illustrating disciplinary models or theories with concrete examples from students’ lives activates familiar schemata (for more, see this introduction to schema theory), and engages students’ emotions during lectures or class discussions.

Faculty and staff at Georgetown have been collaborating and experimenting with innovative ways to address the need to engage students on multiple levels – intellectual, personal, and emotional.  A successful cross-disciplinary example of this approach is the Engelhard Project, which integrates student health and wellness topics into the academic content of courses through the curriculum infusion method.   Students report finding these class discussions of health information both intellectually and emotionally engaging.

A second curriculum infusion project, focused on engaging difference respectfully, is starting this fall through the newly announced Doyle Fellowships.  Throughout their courses, Fellows will incorporate discussions focused on building empathy and connecting with the diversity of human experience.  Encouraging students to bring their personal identities and lived experiences into classroom discussions can help them to connect more deeply – on both an intellectual and an emotional level – with course material that then becomes more relevant to their daily lives.