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The First Fruits of the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning

Several weeks ago we announced ITEL, the initiative on technology-enhanced learning, an $8 million university-wide effort to support faculty in innovating within their courses and in inventing new courses. Most of the initiative was focused on the on-campus experience of Georgetown students; some was focused on the construction of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which through our membership in edX would be made available globally through georgetownX courses.

Friday was the deadline for initial proposal ideas. We received 55 proposals from groups of faculty throughout the university. The proposals come from all three campuses and nearly every sector of the curriculum.

A quick read of the proposals reveals that Georgetown faculty are more than ready to experiment with technology to improve learning in their courses. ITEL has clearly unleashed creative and collaborative energy.

Some ideas take particularly problematic concepts and present them in online modules that are tailored to the many different ways that the concepts can be misinterpreted. Using online tools to personalize learning can free up time in the classroom for more higher-order dialogue.

Other ideas involve using technology to make peer review and evaluation work better, as in promoting good writing. Others look at mixing online experience with in-class experience to learn both theory and problem-solving skills. Some are proposing to involve students in the design of the curricular experiments.

Innovating is not just doing what we’ve always done better. Some proposals involve “gamification”— the teaching of complicated concepts through game-like experiences. These online games can involve “virtual tools” that mimic those of real-world scholars, but can be placed in the hands of the students to discover on their own basic properties of the phenomena under study. By transforming learning into a game, all of the within-game rewards can be used to motivate the student to deeper and deeper learning.

Some proposals use communications technologies to link Georgetown students on the Hilltop with students in other countries offering complementary experiences, discussing coordinated material via diverse media. This fits the global goals for Georgetown.

A few of these strategies and techniques are already in use by individual faculty, often in isolation, throughout the University. What makes this group of proposals exciting and different is the potential to build a much more robust community of innovators. Many proposals involve collaborations of faculty who previously have not taught together, but saw ITEL as a chance to present new inter-disciplinary courses in important fields. Similarly, several proposals imagine the creation of shareable technologies and resources that would serve multiple purposes, such as lower and upper division courses, or serve both on-campus students and reach globally to new audiences through Massive Open Online Courses.

I couldn’t be prouder to be at Georgetown at this moment.

Now that we have seen some of the effects of offering to support faculty innovation in teaching techniques, it’s incumbent on the academic leadership to find other ways to keep the innovation going and to build innovation into our instructional culture. We will explore ways at the annual merit evaluations to reward those faculty who innovate in their courses. Those who are enriching the learning experience of Georgetown students—through technology or other means—should have tangible rewards.

2 thoughts on “The First Fruits of the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning

  1. How about the part-time / adjunct faculty? Are they being involved? They play a major role in the education of GU undergrads and it would be important to improve their teaching skills whether technology-inhanced or otherwise. An increasing number of colleges are providing training and orientation to part-time faculty and this should have a significant impact on improving the education of students.

  2. I am glad that the introduction of new educational technology has been met with a significant positive response. However, several observations are in order:
    First, these technologies should not be imposed on faculty. Some professors will respond, some will respond less or selectively. Some of the older faculty and those not technologically gifted may be uneasy adopting the technology wholesale. Professors should be allowed to develop their own teaching style.
    Second, there are some progressive teaching methods that do not require a great deal of technology.These are generally called participatory and experiential training methods. They include live simulations, role playing, team decision-making and problem-solving, live case studies, etc. They are generally well received by students and improve their problem-solving, decision-making, leadership, and team-work skills. These techniques are already used in the Business School and in some other social science courses. However, the Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship should also teach them more broadly so that more professors can feel comfortable using them.
    Third, my guess is that some young professors would even benefit learning more about traditional teaching methods such as preparing lesson plans, delivering interactive lectures, etc. Sessions on more traditional teaching methods could improve their evaluations.
    Fourth, the foreign born faculty bring with them invaluable knowledge about foreign countries and cultures. However, students sometimes complain that they have difficulty understanding their teachers’ accents. Special sessions in colloquial English and in professional written English for foreign-born faculty could help them improve their teaching evaluations, as well as their professional writing. Again this does not necessarily require a great deal of technology

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