Last Thursday, March 28, faculty members submitted 42 final grant proposals for the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning, with some proposals aimed at this upcoming fall semester and others as the foundations of massive, open online courses.
A working group of faculty, administrators, and students will now review the proposals to allocate funds. ITEL was launched in December as an $8 million initiative to allocate grants over three years, and although it seems to many students that Georgetown has barely developed an adequate technology infrastructure, ITEL aims to bring the University to the cutting edge of online learning.
55 preliminary proposals were submitted, in mid-February with the intention of being an easy point of entry, according to Randall Bass, associate provost and executive director of the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship.
“We wanted people who maybe thought they had an idea to have a low-risk way of throwing their hat in the ring,” said Bass. “For us, the two-stage process worked perfectly.”
According to Bass, the proposals cover a large range of topics, though he declined to give specifics about any proposals.
“The three largest areas where we saw proposals were from the medical center; from international relations, government, public policy; and a significant number from the languages,” Bass said. “The rest were distributed broadly, but lots from the humanities, lots from the sciences.”
A common theme across proposals was “flipping the classroom,” a new teaching style that introduces new content outside of the classroom.
“[We want to start] moving lecture content online, [with] some kind of interactive assessments, so that the material would be available before class and as part of the architecture of the class,” Bass said. “[Now] class time could be spent doing much more interactive things.”
Several proposals focus on what Bass referred to as “gateway” courses. “That first course that is an introduction to the major, [we] see that course as a course that’s really worthy of a lot of collaborative work,” said Bass.
“People were really creative and I think it speaks a lot about what professors really want in their classrooms and it shows the Georgetown community is really thinking about this,” said Tyler Sax (COL ‘13), the undergraduate member on the ITEL working group.
A significant number of proposals were collaborative between faculty members and across departments. “We had so many proposals that came in with anywhere from two or three to 10 or 12 faculty involved—faculty across departments, faculty who don’t normally create curricula together, trying to re-imagine what an interdisciplinary approach to a course would look like,” Bass said.
Some proposals were aimed at developing MOOCs to go onto the edX platform Georgetown joined in December. EdX is an online consortium between Georgetown, Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, the University of Texas, and the University of California ,Berkeley that is creating a free online learning system open to all.
“Over the next two or three weeks we will be selecting through both the review process and a broader strategy process which courses will be the first courses we develop to put up in the edX space,” Bass said. The proposals will go through the same review process, but funds for edX courses are separate from ITEL.
Sax has spoken to students who have expressed reservations about edX and the development of online courses.
“More often than not, [students’] vision is a world where people are taking classes on YouTube and that’s it,” said Sax. “But it’s important to realize this is as much a conversation about about pedagogy and the way we teach people as it is about technology and the internet.”
To Sax, ITEL and edX are about keeping Georgetown on the edge of technology. “The university model is changing under our feet and we’re fortunate to be at a place that’s ahead of the curve,” he said.
Although some proposals will involve several years of development, others will have immediate impact. “I would say many [proposals] would be in action in the fall, even if it’s to test something that would then be revised and reviewed,” Bass said.
With such a broad range of experimental proposals, the innovation is likely to continue to grow. “What excites me is that this is such a concerted effort moving in the same direction at the same time.”
The working group will announce its final decisions in the last week of April and funding will begin May 1.