Skip to main content

Address

ICC 650
Box 571014

37th & O St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20057

maps & directions
Contact

Phone: (202) 687.6400

Email: provost@georgetown.edu

 

Overdosing on Change?

Posted on

We all seem to be living through a time of rapid change.

Part of these feelings of experiencing rapid change comes, no doubt, from careful attention to news media, alerts we receive on our mobile phone, the ubiquitous “Breaking News” moniker on every screen. We now learn of a bus accident that killed three people in a remote rural area of a country far away from us, complete with pictures, within hours of the event. With such connectedness, there is a lot to cover, and we can literally see it all with a few clicks on a mobile phone. So, it seems that events are occurring faster and faster because we can follow so many events simultaneously.

Immediately after the 9/11 events, I mounted a repeated survey of a national sample of adults, containing a battery of self-report psychological health measures. We tracked such self-reported well-being over time as the days and weeks passed. A finding I will always remember is that those respondents who kept close attention to the media stories of the events after the attack, suffered from reduced well-being for a much longer period of time, relative to those who paid less attention to such media. Such attention seemed to keep the psychological wounds fresher for longer periods of time. Based on this finding, one wonders how much of a sense of living in a moment of rapid change is a function of how much attention is paid to very short cycled new media.

These thoughts may also apply to anyone in a work organization or some institution that also is undergoing change. For example, US universities are facing threats to Federal government financial support and increasing costs from demands for new academic programs, facilities, and student services. Just as economic inequality is a concern among US households, inequality in financial resources among elite private universities, state universities, and small liberal arts colleges is inducing change in the eco-system of US higher education. Further, the coming cohorts of students will come from life experiences very different from those of the last two decades. To optimally serve those students, changes in US universities must occur.

Similarly, in private sector organizations, externally influenced changes abound. Retail stores of a “brick and mortar” type and small businesses are being rapidly affected by internet-based consumption. Shopping malls, once thriving, are filled with empty storefronts. Some close completely. Department stores, offering large inventories of diverse products, are most vulnerable. Generational effects in consumer behavior seem large; younger shoppers claim never to visit stores except virtually. The manufacturers to the retail sector, once a stable industry, are undergoing real change.

With such rapid changes externally induced on organizations, one wonders how it affects the taste for voluntary change within the organizations. In this context, are proposals for change within organizations affected by the general feeling that the rate of change in the larger society is rapid, out of one’s control, and filled with fearful consequences? Do more and more people tend to seek stability in their social worlds (which they partially control) and in their work organizations, in reaction to the feeling of overwhelming rapid change in the larger world? Alternatively, do the feelings of unrelenting change in the external world spur a sense of need for innovation in other aspects of their lives?

Social Justice Technology

Posted on

Over the last few days, I was introduced to a very clever idea that serves clear social justice goals. It’s worth noting.

As we all know, there are large numbers of workers who clean houses and apartments, provide home care for children, provide services to elderly residents, deliver repeated lawn and garden services to homeowners. These workers share the attribute that they have many different clients or employers. They work for one client perhaps only a few hours every two or three weeks. Their clients change over time.

The demographics of the labor market that provides these services is disproportionately female. They are people of color in higher proportions than is true in the total population. Their education levels are lower than average. They tend to work without contracts with their clients. They are vulnerable to nonpayment for services and other abuses, as payment is often dependent on direct request from the worker.

There are between 2 and 3 million such workers at any given point. The vast majority have no provision for paid days off. When their family needs their time for care, they lose all income for their days away. Most have no insurance coverage.

So, the NDWA labs, partnering with Google.org, built out Alia (https://www.myalia.org/), a portable benefits platform for domestic workers. NDWA is the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that seeks to support domestic workers and improve their conditions.

If you are a client of a domestic worker, you create an account on Alia, providing the mobile phone number of the worker, and enter an amount of benefits that you wish to provide to the worker. The benefit total is charged against the client’s credit card automatically at the amount and timing specified by the client. (Alia suggests $5 per cleaning event, for example.) Since most domestic workers have 5-10 clients, Alia estimates an average accumulation of $75 per month. This amounts to perhaps as many as 7 paid days off per year. In addition, Alia membership provides a $5,000 life insurance benefits to the worker.

In short, the platform is the accumulator of relatively small contributions from each client. When a client is dropped, they cease their Alia payments; when a new client is obtained, they are added as contributors to the worker’s account. Alia benefits are attached to the worker, not the job.

When the worker needs to draw on their Alia account, for example, for a sick day or for care for their own child, s/he requests a VISA gift card, which s/he can use to purchase anything needed from that day’s earnings.

The current outreach of the platform is to the clients of the domestic worker. It portrays the contribution as an expression of appreciation and care for the well-being of the worker by the client. It urges a set of clients of one domestic worker to offer these benefits jointly, by contacting one another and sharing the cost of the benefit accumulation. Rather that each client adding a small amount of money to each cash payment to the worker, Alia keeps track of the benefits for the worker and the client. The cumulated benefits stay with the worker until they are used.

The platform can obviously grow in many different directions – offering retirement benefit support, assisting clients in calibrating their contributions, etc.

I found it an interesting example of how technology can provide real benefits to an underserved set of workers. I wish Alia great good fortune.

Data Wastage, Data Recycling

Posted on

Using the metaphor of food production and consumption offers some interesting insights into efforts to use data for social good. For example, many reports speculate that over 40% of the food produced in the US is wasted; that is, not consumed by humans. Organizations like Food Rescue attempt to collect such food for distribution to those in need of food. Some of this collection is from organizations that had planned for human consumption but failed (e.g., restaurants, grocery stores).

One difference between food and data is that old data, for some uses, doesn’t spoil. Indeed, “consuming” data for one purpose doesn’t destroy them for another purpose. If there is another use for the same data, they can be used over and over.

Much of machine learning and artificial intelligence uses of data begin with a stock of data to extract prediction of some phenomenon of interest. For example, given all data known, what is the probability that a specific type of person will click on a popup internet ad? The practical use of these analyses is to price displays for ads to maximize sales of the advertising entity. Every click or failure to click then provides a new observation, which (along with any other new observations on a case) can be added into the data resources in hopes of improving the prediction at the next moment. The key feature is to predict the next state of some process, ideally in real time. Computation speed and richness of data permit such modeling to drive automobiles with enough effectiveness that driverless cars are an active endeavor.

Much academic use of data is quite different. Analyses seek understanding (e.g., to understand income dynamics of families, to measure the precursors to health conditions, to monitor the productivity changes in the economy). The use of the data attempts to gain insights into the processes that produce some phenomena (e.g., does divorce lead to economic hardship for children in families, to what extent does physical exercise prevent chronic health conditions, does implementation of new computer technology increase the dollar output of a company per employee?) The questions often involve multiple outcomes simultaneously in attempt to understand whether there are important mechanisms across different phenomena. For example, how does educational attainment affect health-related behaviors (e.g., dietary habits)? Do any effects flow through the fact that higher education groups tend to have incomes that permit access to better food options? Does education itself teach people the linkage between diet and health? Do the social environments of higher education people provide social support for enhanced physical activity and through that produce higher concern for healthy eating? Such questions are of interest from the perspectives of seeking identification of the causal connections among attributes. Such causal understanding is important is designing interventions that attempt to improve the final outcome of interest (e.g., would it be more efficient and effective to introduce healthy-eating messaging in public spaces frequented by low education groups or to launch a campaign for physical fitness?).

Some uses of data in companies are for prediction of the next observation. Hourly retail sales in a retail company can be used for staff deployment, just in time stock replacement and a variety of other management decisions. This “nowcasting” or real-time decision guidance is in sharp contrast to the theory-testing or identification of causal mechanisms for phenomena of interest. Indeed, the value of “old” data for nowcasting is minimal. On the other hand, some of these data might be reused to provide benefits of greater understanding of social processes.

Since the primary purpose of much digital data now being produced is real-time prediction, one wonders whether a data recycling movement might be usefully launched now. Just as repurposing unused food can serve users who were not the intended first uses, so too data recycling might provide social benefits for secondary purposes. Since the data from many commercial transactions with the public arise solely from actions of individual people, this data recycling notion can be viewed as a service back to those whose data records are collected by the companies. If the uses of the data were beneficial to the whole society, public trust in the company might increase as a function of their recycling efforts.

Data wastage can be reduced through data recycling for the benefit of all.

The Science of Learning in Practice

Posted on

I was treated to a lecture a few days ago about the mismatch between the cumulated research in the social science and neuroscience of learning and the traditional 20th century university class organization. It was both confirming of much of the educational innovation occurring at Georgetown and humbling at what more needs to be done.

It began with an attack on a mindset among many of us devoted to our individual fields or professional affiliations. It’s an error, the speaker asserted, to state “this is what one needs to know to be called an X,” where X might be a chemist or an economist or a classicist. Our goal as educators was not to seek among our students a mastery of certain content. Such a goal was inappropriate for two reasons: a) the “content” of the field is constantly changing; disciplines and fields evolve; what is knowable today is not what will be knowable tomorrow, and b) mastering only content cheats the student of the field’s “way of thinking.” By “way of thinking” is meant how the field will incorporate new observations, findings, events, into its cumulative accepted knowledge. Knowing just the content of a field doesn’t inform how a field determines was is new and important versus what is false or trivial.

The problem with thinking of curricula as merely transmitting content to a student is that it overlooks the need for the student to take ownership of their own learning the field’s way of thinking.

The speaker relayed the story of an alumnus returning to campus to visit his favorite college instructor. The student received two top grades in the instructor’s class. Out of curiosity the instructor asked the student what were the most important facts that he learned in the classes. The alumnus was stumped, could not remember a single “fact” reviewed in the class, despite utter mastery of the content at the end of the class. The moral of the story? Humans don’t retain the ability to verbalize content knowledge very long. The distinct belief in the alumnus that the courses were most productive for him had become implicit to his knowledge base – he could not verbalize them even though he knew they would important to him. Instead of a set of recallable facts, the knowledge had become how he approached problems he encountered.

Research on learning appears to have some basic replicated findings:

  • Humans appear to do better at learning when the lessons are spread over time. Short intensive bursts of attention, when not reinforced in later encounters, threatened later memory retrieval problems. (This fits surveys of alumni finding that the greatest satisfaction with learning among those who as students spent a whole year working on a topic, for example, in a two-semester integrated course sequence.)
  •  “Interleaved learning,” where students study multiple topics in a mix appears to generate more lasting learning than an approach where intensive work on one topic exclusively is then followed by intensive work on a separate topic. (Interdisciplinary work, which treats one problems from multiple perspectives, may feature such properties.)
  • Learning that requires actions on the part of the students outperforms passive learning consistently. (This fits all the experiences of Georgetown faculty introducing project-based and research-based learning into their courses.)

The 50-minute lecture, followed by out-of-class readings, followed by content-based examinations seems far away from these principles.

Other of the principles suggest more coordination among classes within a program, an intentional layering with designed repetition.

Finally, all the research is pointing in the direction of the superior value of learning through action, under the mentorship of one more deeply knowledgeable. Learning in the midst of problem-solving offers a nature layering of actions that would seem quite well suited to the engaged learning that leads to lifetime learning skills.

We’re living at the time in which designing learning environments can truly be guided by well-established research findings. We’re lucky.

 



If you’re interested in learning about the research lives and scholarly passions of Georgetown faculty, try a listen to the Provost’s Podcast, “Faculty in Research.”  The newest episode is with philosopher/psychologist Nancy Sherman. Listen at https://soundcloud.com/user-267910017/gu-faculty-in-research-nancy-sherman

Ingredients of Problem-Oriented Centers and Institutes

Posted on

Georgetown, as a Jesuit institution, has special mission among universities. Like all of them, its task is to educate the next generation of leaders in many different fields, to expand and disseminate new human knowledge and understanding, and, as an institution, to contribute to the common good of the society.

Unlike some other institutions, however, Georgetown attempts to integrate these three goals. For example, it seeks to form “women and men for others” through its educational activities. This means that the education mission and the common good mission are joined together. It has courses which motivate, design, and implement community outreach and social justice interventions.

Over the past few months, some ideas that are coming to the fore from faculty and students could be characterized as attempts to coordinate not just two, but all three of the goals of the university – formation, inquiry, common good. Indeed, taken together these ideas form a logical evolutionary step for the university. They seek research leading to action serving the common good integrated into the educational activities through new Centers or Institutes.

Many of the ideas are defined around problems that face all parts of the world. They tend to be complicated issues, not yielding themselves to solutions from one campus, one school, or one department. Many of them disproportionately affect the poor or otherwise disadvantaged. These are areas like the threats of epidemic infectious diseases, the impacts of technology on society, economic and social development, environmental amelioration, and so on.

Although these ideas require very different sets of knowledge and human resources, they seem to share various needs.

Because all are interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary they will succeed only by combining talent across traditional pillars of the university. However, one can’t assemble a strong interdisciplinary group without the existence of strong disciplines.

Because the initiatives are all problem-oriented, the initiatives will succeed only if the participants are passionate about seeking solutions to the problem. The actors must leave their disciplinary allegiances at the door. They must be curious about different perspectives; they must be respectful of knowledge extracted from different fields. They must let the problem define what parts of their disciplinary knowledge is relevant.

Because the initiatives seek to integrate serving the common good and research, the participants in the initiatives need to mount activities to implement the knowledge in practical settings. Theory development must serve effective action. For some disciplines, an action step implementing knowledge in the real world is unusual.

Because of this action step, the initiatives need an intentional mix of tenure-line faculty, research faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate assistants, and professional staff. The diversity of staff is quite unlike that of a traditional teaching department.

The initiatives will profit from mixing different ways of approaching a problem. For example, they might profit from mixing design thinking, systems engineering approaches, computational intensive analysis, entrepreneurial approaches, and others.

Assembling an effective team, with alternative perspectives, but all passionate about finding solutions to an important problem requires perseverance and time, to exchange perspectives and language, in order to discover previously undetected insights from multiple fields. Effective interdisciplinary groups rarely quickly succeed on complex problems, but often only such teams can succeed.

Finally, teams solving big problems require their own physical home, where those passionate about the work can interact and teach one another. Novel mixes of students, faculty, and staff can achieve ambitious shared goals when they are “down the hall” from one another.

As we aspire to serve others more impactfully, we must build an environment that supports those aspirations.

Peer Review and Fake News

Posted on

While universities have been accused of being slow and out of touch with the modern world, they do have some redeeming features. One of them is the role of peer review in scholarly products.

An analog we see in our daily news feeds is the “fact-checker.” The fact checking features in this “fake news” era have the goal of building a trusted source of assessment. They often focus on a statement of one or two sentences uttered or written by a public figure. Most of the fact-checking reports contain hundreds or thousands of words, presenting evidence justifying a judgment of the truth of the statements made.

There are four features of this approach that deserve note. First, the needed length of the evidentiary discussion of the fact-checker probably limits readership. Second, the fact-checking is always reactive, not proactive. Third, the producers of the fact-checking are publicly known and limited often to a single author. The best of the fact checkers are careful to present multiple viewpoints and introduce the reader to the complexity of an issue. Others are less careful and are subject to criticism about their politics or ideology affecting their judgments versus only factual evidence. Fourth, the fact checkers are not necessarily experts in any of the fields they are checking. To the extent that these three features are common, the impact of the fact-checking is diminished.

In contrast to the practice in popular media, in most academic fields discernment of facts has a different structure.

1. Academic peer review occurs before and after the release, not merely after the release.
The evaluation generally precedes the release of a finding or scholarly product. For example, in grant proposals for research funding foundations, an anonymous set of reviewers read and study the proposed research. Book manuscripts are sent to reviewers who read the draft. Lengthy written reviews are given to the author. Negative reviews stop dissemination. Once the work jumps the hurdle of publication, then reviews by other scholars continue. In some fields, work that has importance is cited by later scholars.

2. The review is conducted by those deeply expert in the field of inquiry of the scholarly product, not by all-purpose “fact-checkers.”
Successful scholars in the same field as that of the author are the reviewers. There are no “all-purpose” reviewers. There are strong cultural norms within most academic fields that review work is an obligation of being an active participant in the field. Hence, the reviews are deeply informed by much prior work in the same area. The reviews probe whether the proposed work is credible and novel enough to merit support and eventual publication.

3. The review is conducted by multiple persons, not a single fact-checker.
The value of the multiple reviewers is greater assurance that diversity of viewpoints is uncovered. It is not unusual for authors reading such reviews to be surprised at some of the comments. Through this process, no one reviewer has the power to determine “truth.”

4. The review process is controlled by the media of dissemination, not by a different medium.
The authors submit their work to these media. Publishers, editorial boards, and editors organize the review of submitted products. They seek to find the novel, the important, and the credible. Only such work is published. Such quality filtering is important for the publisher to maintain their stature in the field.

Each of these differences between the fact-checking culture of modern media and the peer review process of academic fields is important. The academic process slows the release of findings, but it reduces the likelihood that bad work, unreliable findings, and poor scholarship are disseminated.

At times, especially in the internet-dominated world, when I attempt to weed through reams of information, searching for the truth, I admire the academic peer review process even more strongly.

Enhancing the Culture of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown

Posted on

One of the less widely known features of Georgetown is the volume and intensity of entrepreneurial activities ongoing at the university. The array of resources in the area is getting richer and richer.

The longest standing activities in support of entrepreneurship are located within the McDonough School of Business. The Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative was started in 2009, and, along with StartupHoyas, quickly proved to be a magnet for interests of students throughout the entire university. The initiative linked to alumni pretty quickly, sponsored pitch competitions, and forged networks among interested students and young alumni.

The entrance of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation onto the campus was an added impetus to thinking about entrepreneurship with common good themes — social impact with sustainable business models, organizations that achieved social benefits supported by ongoing revenue streams, and public-private partnerships of long lasting value. Much of the design thinking workshops and classes were symbiotic with other entrepreneurial activities at the university. The Center brought to Georgetown a whole new perspective on building organizations and activities that innovate for social impact.

The support of the Leonsis Family supported the Georgetown Venture Lab in 2018, a 90-person space devoted to supporting student and young alumni startups, sited within a WeWork space in downtown DC. The space is thriving, with a mix of commercial startups and nonprofit startups, all of them starting from scratch, most with interdisciplinary teams, many with mixes of technology, data, and products or services. The teams are supporting one another and the knowledge-based connection to the Hilltop campus is strong.

As Georgetown’s work in the area evolved, it has been increasingly noted that entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It is a way of approaching problems. It values deep thinking about a problem or prospect. It rewards new approaches that produce significant improvements over the status quo. It almost always assumes starting with few assets. It is consistently seeking ideas that can expand in volume successfully. Every student could profit learning this way of thinking. Further, some of these ways of thinking can be taught. So, an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship was launched about the same time as the Venture Lab, with a four-course requirement.

Well, not all of the action in entrepreneurship was solely campus-based. The Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance was formed within the Georgetown Alumni Association. This is a network of entrepreneurs who support one another, sponsor alumni pitch events, and entrepreneurship awards.

A recent development under the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance umbrella is the Georgetown Angel Investment Network (GAIN).  GAIN is a membership group that facilitates the introduction of entrepreneurs to potential investors through meetings, presentations and other mechanisms. GAIN members consist of individuals who are Georgetown alumni and are interested in investing in privately held companies or ventures typically in an early stage of development. GAIN seeks to foster camaraderie within the Georgetown alumni community and to give alumni entrepreneurs potential access to capital for their ventures.

Given that entrepreneurship is a way of thinking and approaching problems to be solved, Georgetown’s eco-system is a rich one. It is distinctive in its blend of entrepreneurship for the common good and entrepreneurship for profit, side by side (and even combined in one effort). It’s something to be treasured.

Something Beyond Ourselves

Posted on

An unusual juxtaposition of events over the last few days coalesce into a single thought.

First, the US leader of a worldwide team told the story of the first visualization of a black hole (a nice 4-minute video describing can be found here).  It’s estimated that within a few days 5 billion people on earth (of the 7-8 billion) saw the image.

While the discovery itself inspired awe in everyone, a briefing for the National Science Board provided the back story. Since assembling the data to visualize the black hole so far from earth required a telescope the size of earth, the only way this could be accomplished was to form a coordinated global team of scientists. The success followed years of assembling a network of telescopes throughout the planet, recruiting over 200 astronomers and astrophysicists in many countries of the world, negotiating for completely synchronized time on the telescopes to focus on the same part of the universe – all of this to centralize reams of data from all telescopes and assemble a coherent picture of this never-before-seen entity. One can only imagine what it took to subordinate all the egos of the scientists to cooperate in a united search of discovery.

Second was a trio of moving speakers at the senior convocation at Georgetown. Each was a story of brutal life events experienced by an individual. Some were the results of intolerance to differences and struggles with health challenges; others were the result of the culture shock of entering elite higher education institutions; others were stark injustices that reigned on a young person, overcome only after years of struggle. Each of the talks involved a story of a life mission that evolved out of a deep personal tragedy or challenge. In each case the mission became improving the lives of others who may have suffered similar harms. The focus of the individual shifted from their own story to others. Their work, their passion, was serving others. They had subordinated their own past to a mission serving others.

Third, a set of commencements talks evoked the usual themes of avoiding fear of failure, discerning your passion, and so on. But there was also a more aggressive message. It led with the observation that we are living in a broken world. We are separating, one from another. We are increasingly isolated in the information we consume. We witness/commit hurtful rhetoric towards others. We see the devotion to self-interest much more frequently than devotion to others. We observe heighten sense of personal identities, worn with pride but sensitivities to attack.

Thus, some talks had a sense of urgency in a call to action by the graduates. The graduates were being called to leadership in addressing these problems earlier than prior generations. In contrast to the common message, that the graduates have time to find their way in life, one spoke of the urgency of the moment, the need for these graduates to take up the mantle of protecting democracy, equality of opportunity, and empathy towards others. The message was that time is of the essence; action must be taken now.

All of the messages above are ones in which the actors were subordinating themselves to a goal. Their own welfare was not the predominant concern; attention to others was paramount.

Solving big, pressing problems often requires subordinating to a goal beyond ourselves. Today’s world has no short supply of such potential goals.

The Voice of Faculty Doing Research – The Provost Podcast Series

Posted on

In talking with alumni and even some of our current students, I’ve detected a weakness in the Georgetown community culture. While most are fully aware of the performance of our faculty in the classroom and during office hours, they have little knowledge about the research or scholarship lives of our faculty.

At the extreme, some alumni assert that they don’t see the value of faculty doing any other task than teaching and mentoring students. From one perspective, such reactions seem quite understandable among those encountering faculty primarily in classroom. For many undergraduate alumni, their memories of faculty are dominated by interactions surrounding formal courses.

In contrast, faculty deeply understand that their research lives are important necessary ingredients to providing students the most up-to-date learning environments. Most faculty are deeply motivated to push the frontiers of their field. Their scholarship is an essential feature of their identity. They are ongoing students of their area of expertise. They are members of a global community of scholars who study similar phenomena.

Some students do report that they can perceive when faculty are describing areas in which they are actively doing research. They report that the instructors’ eyes widen, their voices become more animated, and they express a sense of excitement that is infectious. Not all classes, however, allow faculty to reveal these passionate interests to all students.

Because of this mismatch between what students see of faculty in the classroom and what faculty do in their research lives, there seems to be an opportunity for the provost office to help communicate to students and alumni more about the research lives of faculty.

Toward that end, the provost office has built a podcast series, labeled “Faculty in Research.” Each episode of the podcast is a short conversation (15-20 minutes) about why the interviewed faculty member finds his/her research area fascinating. It reviews how they choose projects to pursue. It describes how their interests change over time.

If you’re interested in learning about the inner research lives of our faculty colleagues, you can access the podcast here. Subscribing to soundcloud.com will facilitate your keeping up with new episodes of the podcast.

The first podcast welcomes Professor Deborah Tannen as guest; she reviews her work in sociolinguistics.

Let me know how you like the podcast.

Announcing the Provost Innovation in Teaching Awards

Posted on

Last August I posted an announcement that described an attempt to fill a void in recognition of exemplary performance among our faculty colleagues. It noted that while Georgetown has multiple awards for classroom teaching performance, we were not recognizing the amazing examples of innovating in pedagogy that are occurring around campus.

The awards could serve two purposes. First, we could thank those who have created and refined such innovations. Second, we could describe and highlight their innovations for other faculty encouraging similar innovations in their own work.

Well, given the great work of Vice Provost Bass and a set of faculty reviewers, I am absolutely overjoyed to note that we have completed the nominations and review process of the first annual awards.

As the nomination process evolved, some new insights emerged. It became clear that the invention of different types of awards had merit. Some of the nominations identified a group of faculty who worked together to redesign multiple courses or program curricula. They worked as an integrated team to achieve the innovation. Other nominations described the work of an individual faculty member, inventing new ways to enrich the learning in their own classes. Finally, especially in this first year, the reviewers recognized that some nominees merited recognition for consistent innovation over many years – in some sense, a career achievement of innovation.

The second change over the year was that generous donors, hearing about Georgetown’s desire to reward innovation, wanted to help us do so. We can now announce the Bill and Karen Sonneborn Innovation Fund, which permits us to offer monetary awards connected to the Provost Innovation in Teaching Awards. We will hold an event in September 2019 where the awardees will make presentations on their work in a celebration of teaching and innovation.

The awardees, in the three categories, are the following:

The Program Category Award: The Disability Studies Program

The Disability Studies Program has become a model of at least three innovations: 1) interdisciplinary coordination across the boundaries of the entire University that connects course, events, faculty and students; 2) cross-curricular coordination that links courses through “clusters” and shared assignments, projects and end of semester events that links students and student work; 3) making use of pedagogical techniques inspired by principles of universal design for learning.

Each semester, the Disability Studies (DS) program’s “cluster” approach creates a community of learning and practice by bringing together courses from fields as varied as biology, literary and cultural studies, bioethics, nursing, healthcare administration, women’s and gender studies, and anthropology around common readings and visits by scholars, performers, and advocates. The Program extends its interdisciplinary reach across GU’s campuses through new collaborations with the Med Center and The National Rehabilitation Hospital and into the community with a host of immersive learning opportunities, including internships and community-engaged experiences in conjunction with the Center for Social Justice.

Individual Category: James Freericks

Dr. Freericks’ specific innovation is how to translate complex physics classrooms from a conventional lecture format to an online format suitable for either a MOOC or a flipped classroom. Jim has been involved in both, producing GeorgetownX’s course Quantum Mechanics for Everyone, which was named a 2018 edX prize finalist, ranked ninth on Class Central’s top 50 MOOCs of all time, and was one of Class Central’s best MOOCs of 2017, and producing the flipped classroom experience for Physics 155, Mathematical and Computational Physics, for students on the hilltop.

The first project was undertaken to teach the complex subject of quantum mechanics to a wide group of students and brought part of the Georgetown course Physics 008, The Quantum World Around Us, from the classroom to the internet. The second was orchestrated to fit the specific need students have for more practice in learning the complex math required to major in Physics. Flipping the class moved the lectures outside the classroom, which is now filled with problem-solving sessions and demonstrations that actively engage the students.

Career Achievement Category: Elizabeth Hervey Stephen

Dr. Stephen is being recognized not because of one innovation, but rather for the arc of innovation over her 31-year career at Georgetown. Dr. Stephen’s innovations all center on developing a Community of Scholars. In one extended innovation, Dr. Stephen experimented with keeping her first-year proseminar students together as a cohort across four years. Assembling the four years of work starting with the students’ papers as freshmen up through the senior year, Dr. Stephen was able to analyze the inflection points at which their writing and thinking improved.

She was able to apply her knowledge studying student progress from the proseminar forward by serving as the first-ever coordinator of all 22 proseminars taught each fall in the SFS. As coordinator, she created a community of scholars among the faculty by developing shared proseminar learning goals, syllabus alignment, regular luncheons, and shared web-based resources for proseminar faculty.

Dr. Stephen’s other set of innovations include a series of experiments with online teaching that led her to teach one of the first on-line course during the academic year for undergraduates at Georgetown. She designed a course, “Border and Security Concerns,” with three interconnected sections: one section on the main campus, one section at Georgetown’s Villa Le Balze in Fiesole, Italy, and one section at GU-Q. Her reasoning was that the topic of Borders transcended campuses and that by combining the three sets of students into discussion groups that they would learn from one another.

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues on their achievements!

Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202) 687.5103provost@georgetown.edu

Connect with us via: