Pedagogical Innovation Made Real
One of the hopes of the Designing the Future(s) Initiative was that the program might liberate faculty to mount courses in ways that made great pedagogical sense but did not fit the usual mold of a 3-credit, 15 week class, centered in a single school within Georgetown.
The Red House on 37th Street is used as the incubator for the ideas, and design assistants help to shape the ideas of the faculty into rigorous new practices. Since some of the courses truly span all schools, we needed to create new faculty academic review procedures to make sure perspectives from multiple schools were used in initial evaluation. Overall, we want to balance the need to get creative experiments into the system with an inclusive and deliberative process. The initial successes show how important wide faculty consultation assists experiments meant to flex our own model.
There are themes emerging in this work: enriching face-to-face interactions between students and faculty, maximizing experiential and research-based learning, combining theory and practice, fostering support for team-teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration.
All the work is now bearing fruit that offer new learning experiences for Georgetown students in the near term.
One example is a course that involves faculty from multiple departments on the main campus and multiple groups of the Medical Center. The course needs an interdisciplinary approach because multiple fields have contributed to the knowledge now viewed as key to understanding. The field in question is childhood, specifically children’s physical health, and cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. These topics are covered with a keen interest in the interplay between these attributes of children and the social contexts in which they live, learn, and play. This is one example of scores of issues which have been studied from many different perspectives, each in itself focusing only on a part of the issues.
The design exposes undergraduate students across the university to this issues from multiple points of view–in both classroom and community (forcing students outside their comfort zone). The design lies outside the one-size fits all 15 week 3-credit course but retains a commitment to coherence and connection among the parts. It uses a set of 1-credit modules to give students flexibility in putting together an experience that links theory with practice with policy formation challenges.
A group of five faculty members coordinated the content of four one-credit modules. The first, “Principles of Challenges in Childhood and Society,” is required of all students. Those who desire only an introduction can take only that module. However, those who want a deeper exploration of the topic have three other modules (1-credit each) from which to choose. They are offered as four-week bundles, with 3-hour meeting blocks in each week. Some are mixes of multimedia-based learning and face-to-face interaction. One is a community-based learning module, with field placements in social service agencies, schools, and community-based organizations. Another is centered around a “hot topic” in the news related to children (e.g., cyber-bullying, school shootings), where students examine the existing research literature and attempt to apply theories to real events. Another is centered around policy issues, where students are asked to reflect on the real-world experiences they had in field placements or the Challenges course to prepare Congressional-style testimony or suggest a new set of policies improving child welfare.
Experiential learning, quick application of existing literatures to new events, exposure to multiple fields’ thinking on the same topic, theory and practice – all guided by talented, passionate faculty. This new structure and others like it hold great promise for Georgetown students. I am pleased to see it being offered next semester.