From the moment he arrived on the Hilltop this fall, University Provost Robert Groves has been fixated on correcting Georgetown’s technology shortcomings. Christmas came early Tuesday for Groves’ pet project — to the tune of $8 million.

The university will invest this sum over the next three years in the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning. ITEL, which was announced earlier this fall, will support new uses of technology in the classroom, enhanced infrastructure to adequately handle this expanded use of technology and a consortium of both online and physical campuses committed to improving technology as it is used in education.

The initiative will begin by expanding the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, which administrators credited for providing a baseline for further initiatives.

“We have a leg up on other universities. If we hadn’t had [CNDLS], ITEL would’ve been a big jump,” Groves said. “I’m convinced we’ll pull it off, but I’m not sure I would be so bold without CNDLS.”

Depending on their comfort with technology, faculty and students can apply for demonstration grants, design and implementation grants or, at the most advanced level, “transformation grants.”

“[Transformation grants] are really where faculty and students are rethinking what it means to teach a particular kind of class or material,” Associate Provost and CNDLS Director Randy Bass said. “What comes out is a substantial shift in time, in studying [and] in engaging materials.”

According to Groves, introductory courses are likely to be the first affected by transformation grants. With more technological capabilities outside of the classroom, such as listening to lectures online, students are expected to be able to spend class time learning specific skills and participating in modules.

Individual faculty members, faculty teams and student-faculty pairs from all three university campuses will be able to apply for grants in mid-February, and the university will announce accepted proposals in the beginning of April.

“We’re trying to get a lot of people involved in new things and trying to go deeply in a few places,” Bass said. “Imagine what we can get out of a deeper project spread to a large number of people involved with smaller things. We’re trying to go broad and deep [and] spread out over the years.”

The university has not yet decided which schools or online groups will be involved in the proposed learning consortium, which is one of the three main goals Groves outlined in his announcement. Groves envisions the consortium as a way to bring Georgetown into the larger learning community through expansive online course offerings.

While acknowledging that some faculty members have expressed concern about Georgetown’s online presence overpowering its physical campus, as these online courses can enroll a virtually limitless number of students, Groves said he sees the new initiative as an expression of dedication to Georgetown’s future.

“Is there a danger? Yes,” Groves said. “There’s discussion among faculty about what’s true to our mission and what isn’t true to our mission. … Strategically we’ve made the commitment, decided [and] judged that there will be a Georgetown 100 years from now [and it] will be a place where students will come to interact with faculty. Regardless of technology, this deep, face-to-face interaction will be a part of university education.”

To develop ITEL, Groves created a working group of students and faculty from a variety of campuses and departments and drew on the expertise of [email protected], a group of administrators and faculty with a more specialized background in technology.

The Georgetown University Student Association and the Office of the Provost nominated Tyler Sax (COL ’13) to serve as the student representative on the working group because of his past work withCNDLS.

Sax stressed that ITEL aims to take a new holistic approach to changing the face of technology in Georgetown’s classrooms.

“It’s been a top-down conversation about how this fits into the university as a whole,” Sax said. “It’s not about putting lectures online or using clickers more; it’s about rethinking the way we’re teaching.”

During discussions focused on how ITEL would affect the university budget or faculty time spent on research, Sax brought up the student perspective.

“I recognize that everyone approaches school differently, and, as a part of this mission, we have to think about how different people learn,” he said. “If we get it right, students are going to end up getting a lot more out of their professors than they are today. … For Georgetown in general this is making a statement that we want to remain a premier, competitive university in the 21st century.”

According to government professor Mark Rom, who represented the Georgetown Public Policy Institute on the working group, ITEL would affect undergraduate courses more than graduate courses, since graduate courses are usually more discussion based and would provide limited opportunities for using technology.

But Rom, who frequently uses blogs, clickers and online presentations in his undergraduate courses, emphasized that ITEL will provide the tools for a necessary reevaluation of teaching methods.

“We have deep, intellectual concerns about how teaching as a university profession works,” Rom said. “In some ways, we kind of loom like medieval monks; we still stand in front of the classroom and talk. It seems like a lecture class is hardly the model for how we should typically do it.”

According to Bass, ITEL represents an expansion of the university’s previous forays into technology.

“It’s like Chef Emeril says: ‘Let’s kick it up a notch,’” Bass said. “We’re taking the work we’ve been doing for the last 10 to 12 years, taking what has been on the margins to the institutional level.”

Groves and Bass expect to see these larger projects implemented within the next 18 months and to see the full impact of ITEL within the next two to three years.

“We’re working toward making sure current freshmen, sophomores and juniors will see some of this before they leave here,” Groves said. “It’s not something your children will see; it’s something you should see.”

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