“Awesome, Enlightening, and Challenging”: A Week with PODS

Throughout TLISI 2016, eight groups of professors, staff, students, and researchers started their mornings at the Productive Open Design Space (PODS). In its second year, PODS offers teams the opportunity to work on a project related to teaching and learning in a flexible studio environment as part of TLISI. In 2015, teams produced a wide variety of projects including curricular assessment plans, curriculum redesigns, a proposal for a new graduate program, a digital edition of a medieval text, and a digital capstone assignment.

This year, the projects included: (1) promoting well-being on campus through the creation of a self-care program, (2) developing ways to substitute research papers for editing Wikipedia pages, (3) creating a humanities PhD, (4) disseminating resources and materials for faculty and peer advisors, (5) implementing virtual patient simulations in the School of Medicine, (6) creating an assessment for the humanities, (7) alleviating the “sophomore slump,” and (8) advocating for experiential learning at Georgetown.

Although most of the work took place in separate groups, each PODS session began with activities that brought all of the groups together. On the first day, Dawan Stanford, Design Strategy and Operations Director at the Education Design Lab, gave a talk on the process of project development and the essential questions for determining where you are in any given project. After each group introduced themselves and their projects, the session convened for an activity in which participants were asked to draw a vase, and then to draw the best possible experience of flowers. In so doing, the activity revealed the importance of how we frame questions and activities.

Then came out the sticky notes. Dawan encouraged each group to write down their top three priorities and attach them to their respective poster boards, provided to facilitate the mapping of ideas. Over the course of TLISI, the sticky notes accumulated and the boards overflowed with ideas.

The second day began with discussion around the issue of ambiguity and resisting the desire to immediately rush to solutions. As part of this discussion, each group presented their biggest difficulty thus far in the project development process. Problems ranged from management of scale to complexity, from choosing platforms to approaches, from practical details of fostering collaboration to transcending current limitations and imagining different realities.

For the third day, Dawan presented on “Visualization and Working Larger,” encouraging participants to sketch out ideas and concepts in order to aid memory, facilitate group interaction, and engage pattern recognition. During this session, participants were also offered the opportunity to describe their projects and PODS experiences in one-on-one video interviews.

On the final day, each group had the opportunity to pose one question to everyone, the responses to which were provided on notecards and collected for future reference. “What is the best way to market a self-care program at Georgetown?” “What do the humanities currently offer Georgetown?” “How can we start an interdepartmental dialogue?” “How can we sustain student interest in our program?” These questions and more resounded through the Productive Open Design Space, revealing the deep commitment of all participants to the Georgetown community in particular, as well as academia in general.

In approaching large-scale projects, the first difficulties that come to mind revolve around the project itself: What needs to be done? Who’s going to do it? Who’s going to fund it? These questions often overshadow the most basic, yet no less important, difficulty: finding a time and place for all participants to plan. PODS resolves this logistical concern, enabling participants to focus on their projects, rather than their overloaded work calendars. As Assistant Dean Erin Force puts it, the PODS program provides “a real opportunity to slow down [and] to step back a little bit within the luxury of these few days. Instead of just taking the materials and plopping them in one spot, we’re conceptualizing and visualizing and thinking about what’s larger than the project itself: who are the people, what do they need, and what do we want them to be able to do?”

Inclusive Pedagogy Take-Aways

The final gathering of the Doyle IPC offered participants the chance to use the full day to think through what they had learned and experienced throughout the week. The day began with a discussion of how participants are atypical and how they are surprising practitioners in their field. This discussion provided some groundwork for the next activity, which was an opportunity for attendees to share with a partner their drafted revisions to syllabi learning goals for an upcoming course, consisting of both their personal goals for the success of the course and their expectations for student outcomes through course completion. As faculty came from a diversity of departments to participate in this workshop, course goals presented were themselves diverse, yet all displayed an underlying theme of inclusive pedagogy.

In the middle of the day, previous Doyle faculty fellows presented their courses as examples of how to implement new techniques and considerations learned over the week. These fellows included Erika Seamon (American Studies), Deb Sevigny (Performing Arts), Mark Giordano (STIA), Charles McNelis (Classics), and Sabrina Wesley-Nero (EDIJ). The question period that allowed the attendees to further converse with the former Doyle fellows brought up such issues as how to measure the success of this an undertaking, which is still in many cases a work in progress.

The rest of the afternoon allowed participants to share with the Doyle IPC facilitators their feedback from the week of sessions and included additional team-building exercises that encouraged attendees to think about the role of inclusive pedagogy in institutional and cultural change, strategies and skills for action, and the intersection of social and professional identities.

Digital Humanities at Georgetown

As part of the Digital Humanities Panel, an interdisciplinary group of Georgetown faculty shared examples, methods, and ideas about how to build a network of resources to support digital humanities efforts across campus. In one example, Michael Ferreira (Spanish & Portuguese) collaborated with Mark Davies (BYU) to make the “O Corpus do Português” (a Portuguese corpus.) Seeking to make the corpus as diverse and representative as possible, Ferreira demonstrated how the project allows users to search 45 million words in almost 57,000 Portuguese texts from the 1300s to the 1900s. His hope is that the project allows scholars to compare Brazilian and European Portuguese, and he gave examples of how the corpus can be used not only for linguistic purposes, but historical purposes as well.

Adam Rothman (History) showed attendees the Georgetown Slavery Archive—a repository of materials relating to the Maryland Jesuits, Georgetown University, and slavery supported by the Archives Subgroup of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. He explained the challenge of making the information useful for visitors to the website. “Right now there is very little analysis, very little storytelling. The archive is really just documents, and they don’t speak for themselves. The next step is to give guidance,” Rothman said. He shared plans to add more interpretation and analysis to the archive in order to transform the project, and to attract an NEH grant to expand and bring more resources.

Salwa Ismail (Library Information Technology) advised faculty on technological resources such as Digital Georgetown. She encouraged attendees to learn about available tools at Georgetown that can aid faculty in creating digital projects such as “O Corpus do Português” and the Georgetown Slavery Archive. “Digital humanities projects rely on tech expertise to make it accessible and discoverable,” Ismail said, and the library is there to help.

Title IX: “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct”

On Wednesday morning of TLISI, Georgetown staff Jen Schweer (Associate Director of Sexual Assault and Prevention Services), Laura Cutway (Title IX Coordinator), and Adam Adler (University Counsel) gave a presentation entitled “The Culture of Care: Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct.” Together, these three presenters worked to review the basics of employee responsibility in adhering to Title IX, as well as to contextualize the types of conversations about sexual misconduct that occur at Georgetown and at other universities as well.

The talk was split into three parts, with Cutway first discussing the administration of the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey that was held at Georgetown during the spring of 2016. Results from this survey are forthcoming in the fall semester, but Cutway was happy to report that 51% of the Georgetown student body invited to participate (including undergraduates, graduate students, and law students) successfully completed the survey. Cutway also pointed out that these types of surveys are offered every two years at Georgetown. The goal of the survey was to assess the incidence and characteristics of sexual assaults occurring on campus, along with assessing student’s awareness of their access to important resources like the Crisis Counseling Center or the LGBTQ Center. The survey data will also be used to compare Georgetown’s results to those of other colleges and universities and to the national data as well.

Second, Adam Adler spoke about the national conversation surrounding sexual misconduct on college campuses. He specified that Georgetown has a “longstanding commitment” to this issue, and is one of the first universities to hire a full-time confidential counselor for sexual misconduct. Adam continued to outline the differences between the different types of misconduct that fall under Title IX’s jurisdiction, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. He then discussed the specifics of Title IX in unique circumstances at Georgetown, including its impact on college students who decide to study abroad.

Lastly, Jen Schweer picked up on the various kinds of employee responsibilities that Title IX often leads to. Schweer discussed the specifics of compulsory reporting, which is a category that includes almost all faculty except for health professionals and others labeled with a “confidential” title, and how the focus at Georgetown is always on supporting the student first, then having the faculty member report whatever incidence of misconduct gets relayed to them to their Title IX Coordinator after they’ve heard the student out. Her motto for employees is “first support, then report.” Among other important issues regarding Title IX resources for students, Schweer discussed the difference between confidential spaces and semi-confidential spaces, as well as how faculty and staff can file a formal complaint with her office in the event that an incident is reported. Schweer listed numerous resources for faculty and staff to recommend to students as they continue supporting them, including Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Education Services, and the Student Health Center. To research the issue of sexual assault at Georgetown more deeply, please visit the website for sexual assault resources at Georgetown, as well as the Title IX main page for the campus.

Artifacts, Talks, and Chocolate—Oh My!

The social hour on the third day of TLISI 2016 served as a capstone to the past three years of the Initiative for Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL) and combined a series of lightning talks from ITEL awardees and hands-on exhibits of faculty projects with a chocolate fountain, creating a fun and celebratory environment for the nearly 100 attendees.

In order to make the wonderful work of ITEL awardees tangible, the showcase featured “artifacts” from 22 different projects, ranging from custom-developed platforms and tools, interactive games, and multimedia presentations. Some of the artifacts on display included the MyDante platform for reading and annotating the Divine Comedy, a custom application built by the CNDLS team in collaboration with Frank Ambrosio (Philosophy); a game for second-language Spanish instruction being used by Ron Leow (Spanish & Portuguese); and a demo of the software “Splunk” which Betsy Sigman (Business) used to give her students hands-on experience in data analysis. Attendees interacted with the artifacts while enjoying refreshments, hors d’oeuvres, and chocolate-covered treats.

The event also featured a series of brief PechaKucha-inspired talks by faculty addressing how ITEL had impacted their teaching. Ben Harbert (Music) shared how his music annotation software helps students from a wide range of backgrounds listen to and analyze music in new ways. Stacey Kaltman (Medicine) shared the impact of realistic patient simulations on students’ preparation for medical practice. Overall, the speakers showed the breadth of this Initiative’s impact on teaching and learning across the university.

Check out a few of the digital artifacts from the ITEL Showcase below!

Artifact: POGU, a webpage featuring articles written collaboratively by students at Georgetown and Sciences Po Lyon. This artifact comes from “Extending the Use of Teletandem in Language Courses Department,” led by Alissa Webel (French).

Project Description: Webel’s project is part of an extended ITEL project through which six Foreign Language Learning departments are using teletandem to connect Georgetown students with peers at universities in Brazil, Mexico, France, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Jordan, and Japan. For her French for Politics course, Webel worked with a professor of American politics at Sciences Po Lyon to explore a different type of teletandem course that goes beyond speaking: students in Webel’s class were instructed to write a 2,000-word article in the target language, which was edited and advised by the French students. At the end of the semester, the students publish their articles on POGU.


Artifact: Virtual Build Steam Still, an interactive lab module implemented on a touchscreen for use by organic chemistry students as part of the open track “Making the most of Laboratory Time Department” project by Ron Davis (Chemistry).

Project Description: This project extends work begun as part of the Round 4 games cohort to develop a self-paced, interactive lab preparation exercise for an introductory Chemistry course using affordable, accessible software and computing tools. The aim was to increase student confidence and efficiency during lab time, resulting in few broken glass tubes, fewer student tears, and additional lab time for instruction in other aspects of the practice of science.


Artifact: The Medieval Reader platform, under development by Emily Francomano (Spanish & Portuguese) and team for “The Medieval Reader: A Platform for Digitally Enhanced Reading in Manuscript Culture.”

Project Description: Through this project, a digital edition of Libro de buen amor [The book of good love] was created to develop a platform for undergraduates to immerse themselves in the multidimensionality of manuscript culture in the Middle Ages.

Bias and Intersectionality of Student Identities in the Classroom

Daviree Velázquez facilitated a second session in the Social Room Wednesday on self-awareness and implicit bias in the higher ed context, leading off with establishing “conditions for success” for the discussion among attendees of the workshop—a tie-in to a practice learned earlier in the day during the Facilitating Difficult Discussions workshop. These conditions emerged from suggestions from the attendees and were posted throughout the discussion on a poster at the back of the room. They included such considerations as tolerance, honesty, and listening.

There followed a team-building activity to encourage sharing of personal identities among attendees, which, though challenging, was also rewarding as a means to encourage trust and experiential sharing among participants. Next, Velázquez helped participants to navigate the differences between their personal and their social identities, with worksheets to be completed and discussed in small groups at tables. Attendees were guided through a conceptual framework of the cycle of socialization, which traces socialization to social identificational categories throughout development from birth into adulthood.

After introducing this conceptual framework, Velázquez led the participants in a consideration of power, privilege, and oppression, which finally allowed the attendees to define implicit bias and how it can manifest in the classroom and broader university contexts. This consideration over the course of the workshop allowed participants a renewed understanding of such terms as “stereotype,” “prejudice,” and “discrimination.”

Reinvigorating the Lecture: New Approaches to the Old Method

Once the norm for college classrooms, lectures nowadays are taboo. Not only perceived as old-fashioned and outmoded, lectures and lecturers receive a fair amount of scorn, the former considered to distance students from the content, and the latter portrayed as attention-seeking performers. Lectures render students passive, bored, disengaged. Lecturers are “sages on stages,” acting out self-serving monologues before alienated groups of students. Why do lectures get such a bad rap? How might teachers reinvigorate the lecture for today’s students?

On the third day of TLISI, Georgetown professors Nathan Hensley (English), Steven Sabat (Psychology), and Heidi Elmendorf (Biology) participated in a panel discussion moderated by David Ebenbach to address these provocative and pertinent questions, as well as evaluate contemporary criticisms of the lecture. With each participant coming from a different discipline, the panel represented various contexts for lectures in the modern university, from small humanities seminars to auditorium-filled science courses.

After sharing the extent to which they employ lectures in their own courses, the panelists discussed general approaches to teaching, particularly how a teacher should view their students. Sabat suggests not viewing pedagogical experiences as “teaching students,” but as “engaging people,” thus leveling the teacher-student hierarchy. From another perspective, Elmendorf advocates for answering the question “What do you teach?” with “students” rather than referring to specific courses or subject matter. All of the panelists agreed that teaching is much more than the dissemination of information; instead, teachers provide students with complex learning experiences that entail more than retaining and regurgitating information.

In terms of the lecture as a pedagogical method, the panelists recommended its continued use—with a few caveats. For Sabat, the lecture is not so much to blame as the lecturer, who, in order to appropriate the method successfully, needs to avoid turning the lecture into a performance. Hensley suggests viewing the lecture as one tool among many that needs to be used carefully to avoid student disengagement. In addition, he points out that there are moments (particularly within graduate seminars) in which it might make sense to allow students to momentarily assume the role of lecturer, though he warns that one should be wary of letting a student who lacks knowledge in the subject area take the class in the wrong direction.

Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of the lecture, studies have shown that students from more privileged backgrounds tend to retain lecture material better than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who generally perform better in more active learning formats. In this way, lecture-heavy courses tend to reinforce privilege. In response to this, Hensley points out that this is not only a product of lectures, but of all study habits: assuming students already know how to study assumes privilege. Therefore, Hensley advocates for constantly explaining proper study habits during the course of the semester, making sure all of the students are on the same page.

While the session may not have arrived at any definitive arguments for lectures, the panelist expanded on many of the common criticisms, as well as offering advice on how to alter lectures in order to make them more engaging and interactive. While opinions sometimes differed among the panelists, all showed a deep concern for the education of their students and the importance of engaging them in dialogue—even if the course is mostly lecture-based. As Sabat’s concluding anecdote revealed, teaching is not merely the transference of information between persons. His students were not merely grateful for his knowledgeability in the subject area; instead, they most appreciated that he “gave [them] the authority to speak.”

Avoidance of a Difficult Discussion Has Consequences for Students

Facilitating Difficult Discussions began with a question posed by Joselyn Lewis, the workshop co-facilitator (along with James Olsen): “What does it mean to you as an individual when I say ‘avoidance has consequences’?”

All at the workshop were invited to respond to this question during their introductions. At their tables, attendees shared scenarios of difficult discussions they’ve had in the past before reporting out to the larger group. Next, five scenarios were presented to the tables as prompts for difficult discussions which, the facilitators stressed, were going on whether we were having them aloud or not, and which, silently, were far more dangerous. In both discussion and reflection, it was clear that the avoidance of a difficult discussion in the classroom or in office hours was a deferral of responsibility with unforeseen consequences, such as losing the trust of an individual student or a class—as one attendee mentioned, even attempts to protect one student from discussion might exacerbate issues by coming at the expense of another student’s comfort or health. The main takeaway from this session was the ability of inclusive pedagogy to manage access to participation in the classroom and to explicitly centralize students and their issues.

Opportunities and Challenges of Online Teaching

In “What Does Teaching Online Look Like at Georgetown,” faculty who have been experimenting with online teaching tools shared their experience with Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle through three rotating discussions. The goal of the discussion was to help faculty who are novice or still hesitating about online teaching to achieve better understanding about the affordance and challenges of online education tools available at Georgetown.

Lynn Ross from McCourt School of Public Policy and Meg Cohen from the School of Continuing Studies showcased their courses on Canvas and discussed their successes, challenges, and innovations. In particular, they highlighted Canvas’ usefulness for case studies and group collaboration, as it facilitates automatic group division, collaboration, and task management. Although group collaboration always seems to be a challenge for online education, their experience demonstrates that Canvas is able to simulate face-to-face interactions through functions such as its built-in discussion board, video/slides commenting tool (VoiceThread), and synchronous video conferences (through Big Blue Button), all of which work together to allow both students and teachers to review lectures, discussions, and progress at any time. With the affordance of Canvas, Ross was also able to show a number of taped interviews with policy experts in Washington, through which students got to know how theories learned in class are applied in the real world.

Melody Wilkinson, Joyce Knestrick, Helen Brown, and Kathryn Ellis from the school of Nursing and Health Studies shared their experience with Kiddom, a tool that helps instructors flip their classroom through synchronous video conferencing, screen sharing, instant commenting, and polling. In a flipped classroom, instructors are able to embrace the face-to-face interaction of traditional classrooms, while also making space for distance learning, digital archival, and active learning.

Glenn Williamson and Giovanni Carnaroli from the School of Continuing Studies have been teaching both on campus and online and use their experiences to critically compare campus teaching with online teaching. When discussing challenges faced by faculty when teaching online, Williamson and Carnaroli often find it difficult to use their chosen platform, Blackboard, for facilitating instant feedback, group collaboration, and progress monitoring. However, one of the benefits of online teaching is that such platforms make it easier for faculty to share resources and collaborate. For example, Williamson developed his online course with a team that shared standardized syllabi, assignments, and course materials. In additional, Williamson also discovered that he gave students higher and more consistent scores in his online class, which he attributes to the fact that students felt more obligated to ask for period feedback from him rather than waiting until after grades are assigned, as often happens in face-to-face courses.

Thriving, Struggling, and Suffering in Well-Being

Directly following the plenary talk from Brandon Busteed of Gallup on May 24, his colleague Jade Wood facilitated a workshop around well-being in the higher education context, introduced by Joan Riley as part of the yearlong Engelhard workshop series on Educating the Whole Person. Wood, an expert on implementing holistic approaches to well-being within organizations, intended the workshop to be a continuation of the ideas presented by Busteed and, in particular, how they can be implemented in a university domain.

The workshop began with a question period, with faculty members wondering about how to be better mentors, and bringing up particularly how the role of mentorship in online courses may look different than on campus. There was also concern expressed about how to best guide students who are focused more on traditional indicators of success, such as grades and GPA, to adopt new metrics of success that take well-being into account. Another point of concern broached by multiple faculty was new information about student debt from the Busteed talk indicating that average college tuition is 250% higher than in 1998, and that student loan burden is inversely correlated to a sense of well-being.

Various activities were presented to attendees, who worked in small groups at tables with the goal of articulating their practice domain and their personal and professional role in cultivating well-being. Wood also went deeper into the data on lives well-lived Busteed referred to in his plenary, presenting five natural breaks in the data: purpose (how you occupy time), social (relationships and love), financial (economic security), community (engagement and involvement with area of residence), and physical (health). She suggested that “in the future we may look back on the current unwillingness to have wellness and well-being programs in the workplace as similar to the workplace safety mechanisms that weren’t used during the industrial revolution.”

Wood ended the presentation with her holistic approach to driving organizational well-being, which involves alignment between leadership, values & rituals (unspoken rules), human capital, structure, and performance (behavioral incentives). She stressed the importance of a culture around invitation to well-being rather than a top-down mandate, and suggested that individuals can personally model the well-being change that they wish to see in the organization by answering the question “What is the most doable and impactful action you can take now to enhance well-being in your domain?”