Called to Be: Learning & Discovery

Title:Four questions about technology-enhanced learning at Georgetown

Author: Interview by Jeffrey Donahoe
Date Published: November 18, 2020

Professor of English Eddie Maloney is executive director of the university’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship

Professor of English Eddie Maloney is executive director of the university’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship—better known as CNDLS—which leads Georgetown’s strategy to advance teaching and learning practices, including a major emphasis on innovative approaches to technology-enhanced learning. Georgetown Magazine asked him about the university’s 20-year investment in CNDLS and how it has served the university during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does CNDLS compare to work at other universities?

First, we are not new to this. Over the past 20 years, CNDLS has developed a strong presence on campus. There are only a few centers in higher education that are like CNDLS, and those that are similar are much newer. The full range of services and activities that CNDLS provides is definitely not common. I would say that Georgetown is probably unique in the commitment of time and energy, from both the faculty and the institution. By the end of this past summer, we have worked, over time, with about 90 percent of the Main Campus faculty, and that’s really impressive engagement.

How did CNDLS help the university pivot to an online environment to complete the spring semester?

In March, the first priority was to quickly move to the new environment. The goal was not to be perfect, but for faculty members to be compassionate with students and themselves. We had to figure out the best tools to continue instruction un- til the end of the semester. There were a few hundred courses that were really challenging because they had lab components or other unique features.

The impact of the pandemic was obviously unforeseeable, but had there been precedents over the past 20 years?

About eight years ago, there was a MOOCs craze. [MOOCs —short for Massive Open Online Course—offered open-access courses via web-based platforms like edEx.] At that time there was a lot of concern about its impact on the future of higher education. Georgetown set up an excellent process to not only understand [student motivations] at the time, but also to make sure that we were reinvesting in important ways, even after the threat of MOOCs receded. That ongoing process served us well and gave us an enhanced capacity to respond with agility this year.

The fall semester is in a remote environment. How did CNDLS help prepare the faculty?

Going into the summer, we didn’t know whether we’d be teaching all in-class, all online, or in a hybrid model so we had to think how to teach in any of those options. It was a busy summer as we helped faculty members adapt courses for an unknown environment. COVID-19 requires us to do something that we’ve never done at this scale before and we need to do so in a way that is as effective as possible because our students are depending on it.

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