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.
New on the Georgetown University Digital Commons site: a guide to Creative Commons. Learn about options for licensing your own work using Creative Commons, and explore resources that you and your students can use to find Creative Commons-licensed images, audio, and course materials.
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.
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.
In a post on the Georgetown University Digital Commons Labs blog, Kevin Donovan (SFS ’11), who is working at CNDLS this summer on the OpenCourseWare Initiative, shares his thoughts on creating an ePortfolio. Specifically, he discusses how this process differed from other projects he has done, and the impact it has had on his overall experience at Georgetown. Read Kevin’s post here.
CNDLS is pleased to announce the pilot launch of the Georgetown OpenCourseWare Initiative.
OpenCourseWare (OCW) consists of high-quality educational materials made available freely online for students, faculty and self-learners around the world. These materials could range from syllabi and assignments to lecture videos and online presentations.
OCW started in 2002 at MIT and has since expanded to nearly 200 universities around the world. In the United States, schools as varied as Yale, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame and the University of Michigan are already publishing OCW. Georgetown OCW will bring our unique educational focus and Jesuit identity to the community.
The small group of Georgetown OCW pilot courses currently available includes courses in the following departments: Computer Science, English, the School of Foreign Service, and Communication, Culture, & Technology.
For more information, please see the OpenCourseWare Initiative site. If you are a faculty member interested in contributing materials to OCW, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back soon for more information on this developing project.
In the following post, CNDLS Assistant Director for Assessment Mindy McWilliams reflects on how the goals of the Engelhard Project resonate with a recent study on predictors for a happy life:
One recent morning as I was grumbling over my second cup of coffee, I followed a Facebook link to the Atlantic article “What Makes Us Happy.” The article detailed a Harvard study that followed 268 male students for over 70 years in order to examine the question of what makes for a good and happy life. The simple answer, according to study director Dr. George Vaillant, may be love. But Vaillant also identified seven major factors that predict healthy physical and psychological aging: education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, healthy weight, and a mature strategy for overcoming adversity and challenge.
These factors made me think immediately of our Engelhard Project, which integrates discussion about well-being and healthy behaviors into academic courses. Jim Sandefur in the Math Department, for example, crafts exercises where students model the effects of alcohol on the body, hoping that with new skills and information about how their bodies work, students will make more informed choices about drinking practices.
Is our Engelhard project, at its heart, perhaps about helping students to discover a pathway toward leading a happy life? What a different and interesting way to think about the education of our students – that we want them to graduate not only with highly developed critical thinking, analysis and writing abilities, but with practical skills that will enable them to lead happy, healthy and productive lives.
Given that premise, what would it look like to help students build these “happiness skills”? I think it would look a lot like some of the courses currently taught by Engelhard Fellows. Courses that create safe spaces for conversations that merge the personal and academic sides of topics such as sexual practices and sexual health, mental illness, and what it means to flourish in college and in life. Courses where students are encouraged to explore their own behaviors and attitudes, and then build skills and find resources that help them change, all within the context of an academic course of study.
I suggest we challenge ourselves to add happiness to the set of skills we arm students with when they leave here. For who are we if not stewards of our students for a short time, as they journey along toward the people that they want to become? And what better gift could we give them than skills that enable them to find happiness?
In his course on Dante & the Christian Imagination, Frank Ambrosio (Philosophy) found it difficult to teach students to move beyond basic levels of interpretation and to relate Dante’s Divine Comedy to their own lives.
Inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts, Frank Ambrosio envisioned a digital version of Dante’s Divine Comedy which would allow students to create personalized annotated versions of the poem. As Ambrosio puts it, his goal isto“introduce Dante to a whole new generation of readers, in a way that makes Dante at home in our world and us at home in his.”With the help of CNDLS’ Eddie Maloney and Bill Garr, Director and Assistant Director for Research & Development, this project, known as MyDante, became a reality.
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. In class, Ambrosio helps to make Dante’s poem meaningful by relating it to poetry by Pablo Neruda, sculptures by Michelangelo, and the film Dead Man Walking. Students enjoy and remember Amrbosio’s teaching. In an anonymous course survey, one student called the course “perhaps the most personally relevant of any I’ve taken at Georgetown thus far.” Ambrosio has been selected by students to receive both the Edward Bunn and Dorothy Brown teaching awards.
Ambrosio is currently at work on a public version of MyDante, which will allow students, teachers, and researchers across the world to join a diverse interdisciplinary community of Dante readers.
Georgetown recently announced the launch of the Doyle Building Tolerance Initiative, a campus-wide initiative designed to promote intellectual engagement with the diversity of human experience. The Initiative, funded by a gift from alumnus William J. Doyle (’72), will be administered by CNDLS in partnership with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Georgetown College. Building on the curriculum infusion approach used in the successful Engelhard Project, CNDLS will work with a small group of Doyle Faculty Fellows from a variety of disciplines to integrate into their courses topics that engage difference and build empathy and open-mindedness. The fundamental goal of the Doyle Fellowships is to enable faculty to create inclusive pedagogies and diversified course content that will transform the teaching and learning experience for faculty and students in deep and varied ways.
In addition to the faculty fellowships, the Doyle Initiative will also sponsor lectures and workshops, host a Virtual Commons space where members of the Georgetown Community can discuss issues of tolerance and understanding, and extend three existing Berkley Center projects: the Undergraduate Fellows, the Junior Year Abroad Network, and the Undergraduate Learning and Interreligious Understanding study of student attitudes towards religious diversity.
In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Young discusses the merits of course blogs as an alternative to the popular course management software Blackboard. For example, he cites the customizability of blogging software and the opportunity for students to learn how to use tools they might encounter outside the university setting as reasons that faculty and students might prefer blogs to Blackboard. The article also touches on some of the advantages and disadvantages of opening course blogs to public comment.
If you would like to explore some examples of blogs used in courses at Georgetown, please visit the Georgetown University Digital Commons. If you are thinking about using a blog in your course, feel free to contact us to set up a consultation.