It is that time of year again—time to take stock of a year finished and decompress before the next begins. As you settle into winter break, reflecting on the past semester of teaching, we invite you to kick back with a hot tea, relax in your favorite chair, and listen to a podcast episode or two. Or maybe five, in this instance, because we’ve compiled five essential episodes from our podcast, What We’re Learning About Learning to help inspire your spring syllabus.
Pandemic teaching taught us a lot about student engagement. In this episode, we share stories of several faculty and students who have engaged with experiential assignments. We focus particularly on learning activities that require students to get away from their screens and interact with the physical world around them—wherever that may be. And we discuss assignment design and the powerful impact that non-traditional, hands-on assignments can have on student agency, voice, and engagement. These assignments made a significant difference in learning during the pandemic, and, now that we’re back on campus, they can do the same for in-person learning.
As Professor Libbie Rifkin, Founding Director of the Program in Disability Studies at Georgetown and a Teaching Professor in the Department of English, put it, “there are many students with learning disabilities or differences or other forms of neurodivergence that come into somebody’s classroom experience. There are more folks like that at Georgetown than faculty assume.” In this episode, we spoke with faculty and staff who advocate for students with disabilities and work on building awareness of best practices, practices they share here.
In this episode, we begin a multi-part exploration of the dynamics of race in the classroom—of course, it is an enormous and urgent topic, so we have returned to this exploration in other episodes, and there’s more to come. We focus here on perspectives from faculty who have taken active steps to build anti-racist practices into their classroom. These teachers talk about how they got started on this path and what they’ve learned along the way, sharing the tools and techniques they turn to in order to make their classrooms more inclusive, equitable, and just. One thing you’ll hear repeated throughout the episode is that becoming an anti-racist educator takes time and is ongoing. There’s no easy fix—but there are many concrete, doable things we can adapt for our own classrooms to move in the right direction. We also talk about how to make this a lifelong practice.
We wrapped up our second season with a closer look at a theme that has come up repeatedly in our podcast: belonging. Our interviews with faculty across the podcast have focused on a wide range of topics, including anti-racist pedagogy, accessibility, experiential learning, well-being, and religious diversity. But, in conversation after conversation, the faculty, staff, and students we talked with emphasized the importance of the feeling of belonging in the learning experience. :
In a recent blog post, we referenced the topic on most faculty’s minds this time of year—grades. Following the publication of Susam Blum’s book Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (2020), many faculty across higher education have reflected on their grading practices and their inherent tie to learning. Grading practices and techniques range from strict policies, to contract-based grading, to assigning no grades at all. Wherever they find themselves on the continuum, in this episode, we hear Georgetown faculty wrestle with the nuances and complexities of assigning grades, and thoughts about strategies and their impact.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy your winter-break podcast listening, and stay tuned for upcoming episodes of What We’re Learning About Learning.