From /Sandbox to Translation: An Overview of Transnational Scholarship at Georgetown University

On July 13, 2012, I had the pleasure to present “Translation and Transnational Scholarship” at Wikimania 2012 at  The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In the presentation I spoke about my role as a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador in two of Professor Adel Iskandar’s graduate courses:New Media, Innovation, Community, & Dissidence (Fall 2011) and  Media and Communications in the Arab World (Spring 2012) at Georgetown University through the U.S. Education Program (WP:USEP). Each course had two Wikipedia components: article creation and in-class group edits. I became involved with the USEP  because I was eager to help students visualize news and history that had not been yet been represented as a part popular knowledge.

United States Education Program logo

The U.S. Education Program came to Georgetown in the Fall 2010 term and has since been incorporated into 14 courses university-wide.  (To find out more about the Wikipedia Project at Georgetown, see this page on the GLI website.)  The program provides assistance to professors who want to integrate Wikipedia article creation and editing into their course assignments. The support materials include not only wiki markup handouts and brochures, but also both online and offline points of contact. In the classroom, a Campus Ambassador (me, in this case) gives two tutorials: one that focuses on introducing the students to the culture of Wikipedia and one that focuses more on the technical aspects, such as how to contribute a photo and how to edit existing Wikipedia articles. In addition, the program includes the support of an Online Ambassador from the Wikipedia community, who assists the students with more technical questions.

It was extremely enriching to watch the students become explorers during the course. They had to find and discover legitimate sources to not only support emerging social movements, but technologies as well. Students thus found creative ways of writing about technological phenomena as they unfolded in the Arab world, such as finding Arabic citations about the Rassd News Network (RNN), translating them, and making the topic notable for the Wikipedia community and public at large.

I would argue that the more interesting side of Wikipedia editing occurs on the article talk pages, where knowledge production takes place.  It helps students think critically about who decides what is notable or worth adding to the article’s content. It is not one person producing content, but multiple people collaborating together to decide what and how it should be said (and cited!). It is this collaborative aspect of Wikipedia editing that indirectly creates an incentive for academic research offline: What was the process of creating a Wikipedia article? Why was one source rejected and one not?  These questions help augment the following high impact learning outcomes: media and information literacy, critical thinking and research skills, and writing skills development. These outcomes help deepen student learning and engagement, both in and out of the classroom.

A total of 17 new English articles were created about Arab media and politics as part of Wikipedia courses at Georgetown during the 2011-2012 academic year. Here is the complete list of articles:

Fall 2011:

Rassd News Network (RNN)
Speak to Tweet

Spring 2012:

Abdel-Bari Zamzami (about a famous Moroccan controversial cleric)
@Mujtahidd (about a prominent dissident Saudi micro-blogger)
Telecom Egypt (about telecom egypt, a government/private telecom company)
Omar Offendum (about a Syrian-American rapper)
Reem Maged (about a prominent Egyptian talkshow host)
Bassma Kodmani (about the spokesperson for the Syrian national congress, the opposition to the government).
Al tahrir tv channel (about a prominent Egyptian satellite network)
The Narcicyst (about an Iraqi-Canadian rapper)
Ibrahim Eissa (about a prominent Egyptian talkshow host)
Al-Sadr Online (website for high board, religious media org)
Kharabeesh (about a popular Arabic animation production house)
Baladna_bel_Masry (about a prominent talkshow on Egyptian private network)
Youm7 (about a popular print newspaper in Egypt)

Nicholas Oxenhorn, a student in Professor Iskander’s course “Media and Communications in the Arab World,” noted that he decided to create the Telecom Egypt article because he wanted to shed light on the importance of the technological infrastructure that supports and aids the production of new media content in the Arab world.

Nick Oxenhorn, Georgetown Student

“Telecom Egypt played a pivotal role in the internet shut off that occurred on January 27, 2011 in an effort to quell protests,” Nick said. “Unearthing and categorizing some of the facts about governance, operations, and production behind Telecom Egypt in the form of a Wikipedia article seemed like a really good idea to me — something that might lead to a broader understanding of where the actual potential for regulation and internet freedom/decentralization might exist post-revolution if a company like this continued to persist in a comparable form.”

Not only were the students able to create new articles for the English language Wikipedia, but they fostered a new incentive for translation and the possibility of beginning an exciting form of transnational scholarship with the Wikipedia Education Program in Cairo, Egypt. The 17 new articles created about the Arab world in on the English language Wikipedia paved the way for more translation to occur, pushing students to create content that can be transferable to the Arabic Wikipedia. Now students in the Wikipedia in Arabic Education Program will have material to translate and add to over time.

If you are interested in joining the Wikipedia Education Program here at Georgetown, email

Kelsey Brannan is a volunteer Campus Ambassador at Georgetown University and a M.A. student in Communication, Culture, and Technology. Click here to view her Wikimania slides.

Engaging Diversity Through Art and Performance: The Doyle Film and Culture Series

In Spring 2012, the Doyle Engaging Difference Program presented a series of four critically acclaimed, diversity-focused films as part of the Doyle Film and Culture Series. The movies, which included both narrative and documentary films, tackled a wide range of issues related to intercultural engagement and the diversity of the human experience. They were:

The Class


Sound and Fury

The Garden

Visiting Professor Natalie Khazaal from the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies led a discussion for the film Amreeka, the story of a Palestinian mother and son who move to a small town in Illinois in the wake of 9-11. Audience members engaged in a lively and robust conversation about the modern immigrant experience as depicted in fiction on screen, and they shared their thoughts about the film’s portrayal of the complexity of cultural biases and misunderstandings.

Heather Artinian, shown as a 6-year-old girl in the 2001 Academy Award-nominated documentary Sound and Fury, conducted a question and answer session with the audience after the screening of her film. Artinian, now a sophomore at Georgetown University, shared her reflections about the film that catalogued her d/Deaf family’s struggle over whether or not to provide her with cochlear implants to stimulate hearing. The film and following discussion involved thoughtful and honest explorations of the meaning of d/Deaf culture and the impact of cochlear implants on d/Deaf society. Heather Artinian’s grandmother Marianne Artinian, featured prominently in the documentary, was also present at the screening to offer her own insights about the cochlear implant conflict.

The Doyle Film and Culture Series for Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 will include a combination of movie screenings and other diversity-related performances, lectures, and presentations on the Georgetown University campus. The content for many of these events will be presented in partnership with courses designed by the 2012-13 Doyle Faculty Fellows. Among the 18 new Doyle courses that will be offered on campus during the 2012-13 academic year are:

Neighborhoods, Poverty, and Inequality in D.C. – Professor Brian McCabe

Atlantic History – Professor Maurice Jackson

Motherhood: Representations – Professor Pamela Fox

Introduction to Justice and Peace: Non-Violent Theory and Practice – Professor Eli McCarthy

The Question of Equality: Literature and Political Theory in West Africa – Professors Lahra Smith and Samantha Pinto

A complete listing of the Doyle course offerings for 2012-2013 can be found here!

If you have any suggestions regarding relevant content for upcoming Film and Culture Series events or ideas about films and events that may match the themes in these Doyle courses, please contact Sahar Kazmi at CNDLS with your thoughts.

JUHAN Updates

Mindy McWilliams, Assistant Director for Assessment at CNDLS, presented last week at the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN) Student Leadership Conference at Fairfield University. Along with two colleagues from Fairfield University, Mindy presented the JUHAN Assessment Toolkit, a collaborative effort of 25 colleagues from three universities over the past three years.  The Toolkit is the culmination of efforts to assess student learning in both courses and co-curricular student activities in the area of humanitarian action. It has been supported by a three-year Teagle Foundation Grant.

The Assessment Toolkit consists of cognitive and affective learning outcomes as well as four tools for measuring student learning on these outcomes: rubrics with defined rubric traits, a vignette, a course survey, and prompts for engaging students in reflecting on their service experiences. Georgetown JUHAN Faculty Fellows have contributed to the conversation about the learning objectives, and Andria Wisler created the course survey for use in her Introduction to Justice and Peace course.

Another integral part of JUHAN is student leadership development. This past year, CNDLS Graduate Associate Susannah Nadler worked with four undergraduate students as JUHAN Fellows to educate, advocate, and communicate about humanitarian issues and projects to other members of the Georgetown community. Two of these fellows, Fatima Taskomur and Nora Rosegarten, both rising juniors at Georgetown, also presented at the conference on a metric the student fellows developed for evaluating and providing a framework for response to variations among humanitarian crises.

In addition to the nine main campus Georgetown students in attendance, six SFS-Qatar students and three staff members attended the conference. Immediately after the conference, the Qatar students, along with a few of the main campus students, headed off to a service immersion trip to work with Habitat for Humanity in Pennsylvania.

To find out more about JUHAN, visit the website at For more specifics on the JUHAN Student Conference, which happens every other year at a different Jesuit university, please visit:

Student Learning Summit Recap

CNDLS Graduate Associate Leslie Cochrane shares this summary of the recent Student Learning Summit.

From May 30th through June 1st, CNDLS co-hosted with Student Affairs “A Student Learning Summit: Toward an Integrated Georgetown Undergraduate Experience.” The Learning Summit brought together students, faculty, and campus leaders to strengthen the Georgetown learning experience both in and out of the classroom.

Special presentations were given on:
• Georgetown’s Student Life Report, by Shuo Yan Tan, SFS ’12, Clara Gustafson, SFS ’13, and Jack Appelbaum, COL ’14
• High-impact educational practices, by Ashley Finley, AAC&U
• Georgetown’s General Education survey, by Bill Hayward, Slover Linett Strategies

The Learning Summit provided an opportunity for participants to have fruitful discussions with other members of the university from across schools, departments, and specializations. Three working groups were convened during the Summit. The first focused on creating a Center for Undergraduate Research and Inquiry. The second worked on developing curricular/co-curricular pilot projects to bridge the gap between students’ experiences in the classroom and outside it. The third planned a roadmap for undergraduate learning that will communicate to students the opportunities they have during their four years at Georgetown and offer them ways to integrate their experiences. All three working groups will continue to meet over the summer and into the fall semester.

The Learning Summit was supported by the Engelhard Endowment for Engaged Learning, which is made possible by a generous gift from the Charles Engelhard Foundation. The Endowment enables ongoing inquiry into transformative educational practices. In 2011, the Endowment launched the Institute for the Study of Engaged Learning, a three-day meeting with Georgetown faculty and staff. This year, the Learning Summit added undergraduate students as participants and presenters.

For more information, or to get involved, please contact Randy Bass.

The Bottlenecks and Thresholds Initiative at TLISI

The Bottlenecks and Thresholds (BTI) initiative was one of the three CNDLS projects that participated in TLISI two weeks ago. This year’s BTI group consisted of about fifteen professors from such diverse departments as English, Spanish and Portuguese, History, Sociology, Art and Art History, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown College, and Science, Technology and International Affairs. Also participating were several research librarians from Lauinger Library and facilitators Randy Bass, Maggie Debelius, and Matthias Oppermann.

After the first day of TLISI, the BTI group began its separate session by discussing threshold concepts. A threshold is a concept that a person must fully grasp in order to progress in a given field. Threshold concepts are at the core of what it means to think within a field–they are likely to be transformative, irreversible, and integrative. The BTI professors discussed the threshold concepts in each of their fields. For instance, one professor suggested that in the social sciences the concept of social construction–the idea that what we experience as “real” is bound by socio-historical forces–is a threshold concept. One important aspect of threshold concepts is that they are often troublesome for students. In other words, threshold concepts are often learning bottlenecks. As Maggie Debelius memorably explained, not all bottlenecks are thresholds, but all thresholds are bottlenecks. Randy Bass then asked the BTI professors, What is troublesome to students about the threshold concepts in your field? Everybody brainstormed various ways of helping students through these crucial learning bottlenecks, from making tacit expectations explicit to creating intermediary steps for crucial assignments. In the afternoon, each BTI professor met with a BTI facilitator to discuss a threshold concept that has troubled students in a specific course. Each professor worked to explicate the tacit, intermediary moves that experts in field use to negotiate these troublesome concepts.

On the second day the BTI group discussed how to model these critical intermediary steps for students, and professors brainstormed about low-stakes opportunities for students to practice these tasks. Staff from Lauinger Library also presented about the bottlenecks that they see students encounter when researching, and the group discussed ways for professors and research librarians to work together to help students through research bottlenecks. The message of the librarians was loud and clear: they are here to help! Please feel free to bring students into the library or librarians into your classroom multiple times a semester. The group then examined samples of research assignments and discussed ways to make these assignments more successful for students. After lunch, the group focused on ways of linking class time with out-of-class time. Several professors (including Eddie Maloney of CNDLS) presented the ways that they incorporate blogs into their course design.

On the third morning, the BTI professors took some time to reflect on how they would use the tools from TLISI to rethink their course design. As a part of this process, the group revisited the idea of backward design, which dictates that we design assessment around student learning goals. Bottleneck analysis changes how professors think about both learning goals and assessment. Rather than being abstractions, learning goals consist of many intermediary steps that are difficult to teach.  Assessment criteria become explicit instead of tacit throughout the semester, engaging students in experiences that achieve several kinds of learning simultaneously. The BTI group closed out the morning by discussing the best ways of giving feedback on student writing. The conclusions of this session were, Don’t copyedit! Instead of writing comments on every little thing, focus comments by thinking about the most important ways they will help students. The group also discussed ways to empower students with rubrics, peer editing, and other devices, helping students to be readers of their own writing. The session ended with a discussion of how BTI can work with professors throughout the year, making TLISI the beginning of an ongoing endeavor.

Teaching for Critical Thinking

The CNDLS community recently came together to discuss Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking. Brookfield has a PhD in adult education and is currently a Distinguished University Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He began his teaching career in 1970. In his book, Brookfield lays out a series of methods for professors to teach critical thinking in their classes.
Brookfield’s definition of critical thinking involves 4 steps:

  • Identifying assumptions that frame our thinking and determine our actions
  • Checking how valid and accurate these assumptions are
  • Approaching the problem from different perspectives
  • Taking informed action

Brookfield contends that his definition of critical thinking applies across the curriculum.Whether or not this is actually the case, this definition provides a good starting point from which to analyze the role and impact of critical thinking. We found that the most helpful parts of Brookfield’s book are his pedagogical methods for encouraging students to think, talk, and write in unaccustomed ways. These methods include:

  • Peer interactions in small groups: Brookfield finds that students learn new habits of mind best when they practice in small, supportive groups. He explains that involving the whole class in a discussion can often make students hesitant to participate and share their viewpoints.
  • Modeling by the professor: By sharing their personal experiences with critical thinking, professors create a safe space for students to first observe and then experiment. Professors should also make a point of questioning their own assumptions and explaining the rationale behind their choices in front of the class.
  • An incremental application of new thinking skills: Have students practice new habits of mind on hypothetical or distant situations before asking them to apply those habits of mind to their own lives and assumptions. Also, begin with small-scale tasks and provide as much scaffolding for the process as possible, giving regular and specific feedback.

Brookfield provides an array of tools to help professors teach students how to think, read, and write in unaccustomed ways. One of these is the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ),  a list of questions that Brookfield has designed to get anonymous student feedback. The CIQ gauges students’ understanding of and feelings about critical thinking (or anything else). This helps the professor teach to students’ needs. You can see Brookfield’s version of the CIQ on his website. Along with the CIQ, Brookfield also suggests that professors create “disorienting dilemmas” for students. Brookfield explains that when students are put into a situation that makes them uncomfortable, it can ultimately be a learning experience because they are forced to reconsider their assumptions. He does not suggest specific ways of tackling these dilemmas beyond using discussion groups and processes of reflection – since they vary from from discipline to discipline – but he generally stresses their value as (embodied) learning experiences. We discussed how both the CIQ and the theory of “disorienting dilemmas” could be useful concepts to bring in to CNDLS programs such as TLT, Doyle, and the Englehard project.

If professors are interested in specific examples of scaffolding activities, types of feedback, protocols for critiquing student work, and techniques for modeling critical thinking for students and colleagues, Brookfield’s book provides many examples. The tools that focus most on discussion are on pages 87-99 and 106-126, and the tools that focus most on reading and writing are on pages 142-153.

Georgetown Course Tops Wikipedia Project Leaderboard

Congratulations to the students in Diane Apostolos-Cappadona’s Art and Ethics course! They are currently #1 on the Wikipedia Project leaderboard, which tracks contributions that students in participating courses have made to Wikipedia. In their work on Wikipedia, the students have been supported by Campus Ambassador and former CNDLS Graduate Associate Christina Lee. Diane is incorporating the Wikipedia Project into her courses this year as part of her TLT fellowship.

You can learn more about the Wikipedia Project at Georgetown here.

Best Practices for Using Laptops in the Classroom

The question of whether to allow students to use laptops in the classroom can be controversial. In a post on the Chronicle’s ProfHacker blog, Mark Sample (professor at George Mason University and occasional CNDLS collaborator) shares some thoughts on this issue. He reviews a recent report on student laptop use from the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, collects some examples of “classroom technology policies” from other faculty members, and offers some tips on developing guidelines for laptop use in the classroom.

Presenting Pegasus at ELI

Earlier this month, four of us attended ELI 2012 in Austin, Texas.  During our session entitled Social Media ePortfolios, we unveiled Pegasus, a tool we are currently developing here at CNDLS.

Matthias framed our presentation by pointing out the power that learning spaces have in shaping the sorts of interactions that happen inside them.  While his illustration was architectural, the parallels with online learning spaces became evident as he talked about the importance of reflection in both public and private.

I then moved on to relate Matthias’ thoughts on learning spaces to CNDLS’ mission and history by explaining our commitment to designing new environments for teaching and learning.  This, complemented by the university’s emphasis on “contemplation in action,” has led to our interest in learning portfolios, and we have implemented several ePortfolio tools over time.  I charted our previous involvement in ePortfolios and described the types of user interactions we would like to see that the tools we have tried simply haven’t supported.

Justin then described our process of brainstorming a “wishlist” of features and capabilities that we think ePortfolios should have.  Circling back to Matthias’ earlier discussion of the importance of public and private reflection, Justin showed how we’d like to see nodes of both types of reflection at all stages of the ePortfolio-building process.  He also described the four steps– collecting, selecting, presenting, and assessing– that we thought the ideal ePortfolio tool should have.  He explained how we then moved on from brainstorming into development, building a new ePortfolio tool, Pegasus.

Marie offered a live demo of Pegasus, emphasizing the array of creative features for enriching learning that we’ve envisioned for the tool.  These include reimagining comments as iterative and reusable, designing varied spaces for reflection on artifacts and connections between artifacts, and extremely granular levels of permission for sharing.  All of these, we believe, are useful and academically sound as well as compelling and novel.

The presentation was well-received, and we fielded a number of questions about future use cases, our development process, and the sustainability of users’ accounts.  We look forward to sharing more as we continue to develop Pegasus.

See you in Austin!

Anna, Matthias, Marie, and Justin are presenting at next week’s Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting! If you’re attending, catch them at the “Social Media ePortfolios” session on Tuesday morning, where the’ll present CNDLS’ strategy for building adaptive, reflective learning environments. They’ll also run a “sneak peak” demo of our latest project Pegasus: a new app for building academic, personal, and professional ePortfolios that integrate across various dimensions of social and personal reflection.

Follow the presentation (and ongoing Pegasus development efforts) here in the CNDLS Labs and #whatisPegasus on Twitter.