This spring semester, the Government Department will introduce a new category of classes known as GOVX courses which will operate in a non-traditional format, using different schedules and methods of instruction to expand learning. These classes are intended to supplement traditional classes, while offering space for more creative curriculum development. Currently, the only course available to undergraduates is GOVX 400: Prison Reform Project, which will be taught by Professor Marc Howard of the Government Department.
According to Chair of the Government Department Charles King, the GOVX course designation was was inspired by Georgetown’s government master’s programs which offer alternative-style courses, often for one-credit, which aim to teach certain applicable skills.
“We hope GOVX will be a way of encouraging both faculty and students to think broadly about what a learning-rich environment means,” King wrote in an email to the Voice.
GOVX classes are to vary in their structure, meeting schedule, and number of credits according to King, but all classes will fall outside the normal class format. “The unifying factor,” wrote King, “will be classes that have an experiential, hands-on and urgent element to them.”
According to the course description, “Prison Reform Project is intended for a small number of highly-motivated students who are passionate about criminal justice and prison reform and are eager to produce an original and informed proposal for changing the existing system of mass incarceration.” Instead of meeting each week, students will form teams based on their particular policy interests and work with incarcerated students in Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Maryland, to produce these policy proposals. Howard hopes the class can meet inside Jessup several times during the semester.
Additionally, Howard believes that the Georgetown and Jessup will learn from each other as a result of the their collaboration. “For the Georgetown students, I think it’s going to give them an extraordinary access to people inside of a maximum security prison in a way that almost nobody can ever have,” he said. He also hopes that the class will effectively use the intellectual resources of incarcerated students. “What I have found is that I have students, incarcerated students, who are just as intelligent as my Georgetown students,” said Howard.
GOVX was developed in concert with the university’s other efforts to create innovative teaching techniques for the future, including the Global Future Initiative and the Designing the Future(s) program. “If we’re doing things exactly the same way five or ten years from now, we really won’t have been responsive to the profound–and ultimately positive–changes taking place in global higher education,” wrote King.
Andrew Debraggio (COL ‘16), a Government and American Studies major, says he is interested in this course because of his fascination with the public policy issue of prisons. “For me to sacrifice my Fridays as a senior I think tells you how intriguing I think this class is,” said Debraggio. He is particularly interested in the unconventional format of the class, including its opportunities to perform self-directed research and to work with incarcerated students.
Debraggio, like King, sees potential in a more interactive classroom setting. “I want to do courses that are really in my interest area and aren’t just someone talking to me for an hour and fifteen minutes twice a week,” he said.
Although GOVX will encompass a broad category of classes, Howard believes his course is particularly well-suited to be the department’s test case. “I think for many of the students taking it, my expectation is that it’s going to be a life-changing class for them. And I think it will be for the students on the inside as well.”