Skip to main content


ICC 650
Box 571014

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

maps & directions

Phone: (202) 687.6400



After This, What?

It’s that time filled with retrospectives on the soon-to-be-completed year. This year’s crop of reflections seem confounded with speculation about how the world will be the same or different in the upcoming year.

Our colleague, Deborah Tannen, is quoted in one piece – “Instead of asking, ‘Is there a reason to do this online? we’ll be asking, ‘Is there any good reason to do this in person?’” Another in the same article speculates that there will be a return to a faith in expertise, in contrast to the past few months of anti-science, anti-evidence-based policymaking. What can universities learn from 2020?

A surprise to many universities was how quickly staff adapted to teleworking. Some of the lessons seem especially useful to an urban university, in which many staff and faculty have lengthy and complicated commutes into their offices. One of the benefits of teleworking is more discretionary time; for some, as much as 2-3 hours a day. This can be a real quality-of-life boost, especially for those community members with family care duties.

There are reports of better productivity in remote work. But the downside of this greater productivity is perhaps an enhanced sense of isolation. We do miss each other being in the same space. But, given the enhanced productivity and greater discretionary time, what’s the right blend of in-person and remote team work?

COVID-19 had not allowed us to experiment to determine the right periodicity of face-to-face interactions to retain the social cohesion of work groups. Would everyone coming into the office one full day make sense? How can we retain some of the benefits of learnings during the pandemic while avoiding the costs?

Similar thoughts arise in considering the teaching and research within universities. Over the past few years, any walk down the hallways of faculty offices reveals that there is much teleworking that has been common to the modern academic research life. Now that we’ve also discovered that remote teaching can sometimes be productive, how can we discover the right blend of in-person and remote? For example, both faculty and students have discovered that zoom office hours seem to be almost as efficient as face to face meetings. A added advantage of the electronic connection is that it can occur at any time that is convenient for both parties, wherever they might be at a time. Another comment applies to small classes, where several faculty have noted that it’s almost impossible to be the disengaged student in the back row. Others have noted that using asynchronous delivery of factual material in video form seems more efficient, allowing students to review the material multiple times. But zoom fatigue and social isolation abounds, in our current blend of media.

What we haven’t yet perfected, as a teaching/learning community, is determining how much time is required for all the readings, asynchronous, and exercise preparation. Students are reporting the current work often exceeds that of an equivalent in-person class. If we learn more optimal mixes of asynchronous and synchronous, in-person and remote, we can imagine faculty spending more time in small group discussions with students, synthesizing lessons from the readings and the asynchronous content they’ve consumed. Getting that mix correct seems important. This is a sine qua non of our future wise use of technology.

Universities coping with the pandemic permits consideration of new flexibilities. The M-W-F class might not meet in-person three times a week. Students might be freed to have more out-of-class learning experiences – internships or group project work connected to courses.

With the likelihood that this pandemic will gradually be controlled, we need to consider what blends of remote asynchronous, remote synchronous, and in-person might permit more effective experience-based learning.

Imagine research-based classes, where some of the students are working in a group away from DC and others are working in DC, under the direction of a faculty member guiding the research. Imagine study abroad students continuing to take some courses from the DC campus, while they are experiencing the immersion in a new culture. The new BS degree in Business and Global Affairs, with its movement of students and faculty to locations outside the US, seems well suited to such designs. But, thinking broadly, any course where the learning can be enhanced with experiences of remote learning outside the Hilltop campus, seems ripe for new thinking.

We can look forward to designing new ways for universities to do their work, but we need some freedom to experiment that the pandemic’s demand for full remote work did not permit.

5 thoughts on “After This, What?

  1. When designing new ways for Georgetown University to do its work, I recommend considering whether to incorporate best practices from consultancy work operating procedures and piece work operating procedures (especially with regard to how faculty and staff are to be supplied and resupplied during the course of each year or semester). So far, IT logistics seem to be working well for everyone (just based upon anecdotal experiences) while office logistics seem to be working unevenly since the supply/resupply process has been decentralized/delegated to each team or individual still having a pro-card. Will logistics become the responsibility of the employee in the manner of a consultant who covers logistics through the consultancy fee or in the manner of a piece-worker who receives a bundle of capital and resources from which to produce output? The current supply chain (except concerning IT) seems to be slow, and uneven with regard to the distribution of financial and productivity risks among employees.

  2. Excellent thoughts.
    The “sense of community” Mr. Smith mentions is fundamental to the discussion. The successes we’ve achieved in responding to Covid19 circumstances trace back to that sense of community…to the pride and loyalty cultivated over the years, indeed decades and, in Georgetown’s case, centuries.
    I worry that in a culture that relies on more “asynchronous” relationships we may not have the same depth of community pride and loyalty that will motivate us to meet the next great crisis, whenever and whatever that might be.
    Provost Groves is right: finding the proper blend will require imagination and experimentation. We should embrace this exciting and essential challenge.

  3. Interesting book review In this weeks wsj on latest book by Tannen which is about her late dad and how he modeled early on trying to understand the context and true meaning of language. I think in Tuesday or Wednesday’s WSJ editorial page book review. Very interesting !

  4. I am a Senior Auditor. I took part of Psychology of Personality and all of Psychology of Gender remotely. Prof. Stearns likes to use break out groups. I found that they worked better in some ways on line.
    That said, even as a senior, I very much missed the being on campus where everyone is more or less immersed in the shared experience of learning. I got my BA and JD at Stanford. In my 7 years I never felt the same sense of community that I do at Georgetown. It’s been very enriching for me to feel part of that community. Too much of a move away from in person classes risked losing that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

Connect with us via: