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Our Moment in Time

Online classes of hundreds of thousands of students worldwide (so-called MOOCS), disruptive innovation, tuition protests, for-profit universities, the “business model” of a university, student loan default – we live in times when the future of universities is discussed throughout the world.

At moments in time like this, it’s important to reassess goals and ways to attain them.  Georgetown must deliberate about these changes in charting its own future.

Universities produce knowledge and instill it in students’ minds.  The newly acquired knowledge adds both to human fulfillment, making the students better people, but also producing attractive employees of organizations in the society.

As a “student-centered research university,” Georgetown’s goal is to have students fully absorb the content of their courses, to synthesize the material with other knowledge they possess, and to make deductions from those facts.  Most courses also build skills, techniques of absorbing new knowledge or of producing original synthesis.  We want our students to use writing, quantitative reasoning, and research skills to enhance their futures.

As a “Catholic and Jesuit” university, we believe the knowledge that students acquire has a purpose larger than mere possession of facts.  It is to be used in the service of others.  Further, we are devoted to striving for more, to use every device possible to make ourselves better at knowing and serving.  Thus, as human knowledge grows, we must become more efficient in transmitting that knowledge to students.

Much of the current buzz is about new modes of delivering content of courses. The ability of massive open online courses to deliver exactly the same experience simultaneously to thousands and thousands of students breaks the mold of traditional university education.  We can all see their potential to increase access to education and reduce the costs of education.

Georgetown offers environments with rich, intense, multifaceted faculty-student interactions that often lead to higher-order understanding of material.  This permits the linking of knowledge across domains and the ability to apply it in diverse settings.  But not all learning requires those rich interactions.

Georgetown needs to remain focused on the end, not just the means.  Its legacy consists of students as whole persons filled to their individual capacity with knowledge and skills in the service of others.  The current students, faculty, and administrators at Georgetown are temporary stewards of that legacy.   We have to preserve it for those who follow us, but we also have to enhance it for their benefit.  Our obligation is to examine ways to increase efficient learning and to incorporate the winning ways as soon as possible.  When all three groups of students, faculty, and administrators work together in this innovation, we will fulfill our obligation to those who follow us.

So we enter a time of discussing new ways of learning, of seeking ways for students to learn more with less effort, of testing different ways of using research skills to learn, of evaluating innovations in faculty-student collaborations, of finding ways for faculty to use their time most efficiently for meaningful interactions with students, of permitting faculty to spend more of their time teaching the cutting-edge of their discipline, of innovating in linking research, education, and service.   We need to identify which learning is enhanced using these new techniques and which, using traditional methods.

This requires us to evaluate both what we’re now doing and what we could be doing.

We lucked out.  We got to be at Georgetown at a time of unprecedented opportunity.

4 thoughts on “Our Moment in Time

  1. Very well written introduction. It is of course important to maintain what has been traditionally valued and effective, but also to look for ways that can enhance. I would just like to say that I didn’t choose Georgetown for how accessible its education is. I chose Georgetown for the environment. There are quality professors who care and talented students who are ambitious. The meaningful and personable interactions with members of the Georgetown community are what I highly value.

    • What the provost is highlighting is in essence, the foundation of Georgetown: incredible opportunity for all of our students honoring their respective differences and different needs. I also want to point out that there are those students who come to Georgetown with high hopes of meeting great friends, expanding their knowledge base and leaving the Hilltop feeling they gave their absolute best – socially, intellectually, and through varying levels of volunteering. For some, these hopes are dashed. As one student said to me just yesterday, “I came to Georgetown wanting to have the type of experience my father had decades ago. He was involved in some extracurricular activities, however, he made great friends with whom he remains close to this day. My experience has been trying desperately to join clubs I find meaningful, only to have the competition be so fierce, that I am left exhausted and alone. I just don’t get it. I recently applied to two high profile clubs on campus who had far more applicants then available slots. I didn’t make the cut. In thinking about it, I don’t know what I could have done different. I know I have so much to give and it seems no one is really interested in allowing me to share my enthusiasm. Maybe this is not the school for me.” In fact, Georgetown is a remarkable institution, providing our students with unparalleled possibilities and potential. We must however, be aware of those students who feel cast aside or unable to “make the cut.” It is disheartening to have someone or a group say, “we don’t want you.” Especially when the person has worked so hard to be accepted and knows they can ad a level of value which can move the group or club toward its potential. If we deny someone access to a specific group or club, let’s offer other possibilities and opportunities so the person can feel a sense of personal value – that they matter here on the Hilltop. This is an unrivaled institution, who looks out for others like no other institution we compete with. Continuing to offer hope to all our students who want to join in is critical and, it is a vital part of what our Provost is inviting us all to consider. Focusing on the means which moves all of our students toward their desired end.

  2. Dr. Groves,
    Thank you for your introductory post. I think it is a great step toward setting a vision for this university’s learning model.
    Given your background in survey methods and leadership at the Census Bureau, I would like to know how you will apply your expertise to the position of Provost. I worked on an independent research project under Prof. Costas Panagopoulos, examining the adoption of cloud computing at both GSA and the Census Bureau. We can see some parallels of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative and the push for accessibility and efficiency in education. Georgetown ostensibly is confronted by constraints you have managed in the past, such as rising costs and rapidly evolving technology.
    Thank you for your time.
    Robert Lucas

  3. For sure, the potential of MOOCs has not been realized. Nor have the bugs been worked out, a sustainable revenue model developed, and quality controls implemented. But I do think that the MOOC concept can be very easily applied to the mission of a Jesuit university. One of the benefits of MOOC is that they supply a service where those who have limited access to capital can have access to education. This works on two levels, the act of providing the education is a service in good act in and of itself, and the platform can also serve to further the Jesuit mission to those with limited resources, time, or distance constraints.

    I’m welcoming Georgetown and other Jesuit institutions cautious embrace of this new education model.

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