In reaction to the spread of COVID-19, universities throughout the world are grappling with delivering their educational mission, while keeping faculty, staff, and students safe. Across the United States, there is a vast mix of fully remote learning, a variety of hybrid designs, and traditional in-person teaching. Further, because of the uncertainty in the course of the pandemic, many institutions have had to change their plans initially made in late Spring or early Summer. Some of these changes were announced before the start of the fall term (as we at Georgetown did). Some of these changes were moves from in-person instruction to remote instruction because of outbreaks of COVID-19 positive cases after the term began. (Obviously, the latter are quite costly to all involved.)
In preparation for this term of uncertainty, faculty have been asked to prepare for different scenarios, often not knowing which pedagogical tack they would be asked to take. They are quiet heroes in this moment, displaying needed flexibility.
There is a Georgetown advantage here, which was the result of some years of support for innovation in educational delivery. The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) has been developing both R&D initiatives that lead to improved learning outcomes, but also hands-on staff support for faculty in the nuts and bolts of different pedagogical approaches. They became the secret sauce of Georgetown’s adaptation to the crisis.
In an effort that exceeds that of any university we have studied, CNDLS mounted a large series of virtual workshops, seminars, and help sessions. These actually began in the Spring, with rapid strike forces to help faculty move from in-person to remote delivery.
The efforts of CNDLS in this regard is remarkable. Many extra hours by staff were required to design the efforts and more to execute them.
Equally remarkable and important was the Georgetown faculty response to these efforts. Indeed, without participants, these workshops would not achieve their goals. The faculty used their summer time to learn new techniques, conquer new software tools, and evaluate how pedagogical approaches might fit their courses.
There were three initiatives as part of Georgetown’s preparation for the fall. All of them acknowledged that we were uncertain about how best to conduct fall semester activities. Hence, the target was to plan courses to be hybrid that might have both online/remote features and in-person features. In this way, faculty might more smoothly change mode of delivery if so demanded by the course of the pandemic.
The first of these was the annual Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI). This occurred immediately after the end of the spring semester, on May 19-20. TLISI included 23 webinars over 2 days, and introduced faculty to approaches and tools to begin planning their fall courses. This year’s version attracted over 900 instructional participants – one of the largest on record. It, thus, became instantly clear that the experiences of the spring semester with remote learning generated real interest about how to use new technology for the benefit of learning outcomes.
Next were Course Design Institutes which ran throughout the summer (May 11-Aug 14). These were intensive week-long, cohort-based seminars designed to help faculty plan and implement a signature Georgetown academic experience for our students in a flexible or remote learning environment. These took on different features for different schools. In some schools, separate departments asked CNDLS to deliver their own Design Institute, to help the entire curriculum of the department reap the benefits of preparation for hybrid instruction. An added benefit of this was faculty hearing each other’s questions and ideas, for the benefit of the integrated curriculum within a program. Some Design Institutes supplemented these seminars with one-on-one consultations. There were over 1,100 faculty participants in these Design Institutes!
Finally, there were Digital Learning Days, held at the end of the Summer, August 18-20. Through a series of 22 interactive workshops over 3 days, these provided opportunities for faculty to practice using GU-supported applications. These attracted nearly 300 faculty participants.
Many faculty throughout the University attended multiple of these events. In total, about 1900 different participants voluntarily took advantage of the opportunity to learn new skills tailored to remote learning and hybrid pedagogy. When we had to make the decision to move to full virtual learning for the start of the Fall, these faculty were ready to alter their plans.
If anyone had any doubt about Georgetown’s ability to support new pedagogy or about the devotion of Georgetown faculty to use available technology to its full advantage, the Summer of 2020 should dispel those doubts. Well done, Georgetown!