Research and Scholarship

CNDLS is home to the scholarship of teaching and learning at Georgetown University, and we are engaged in advanced research on the pedagogical conditions and environments that best help students learn.

CNDLS Research and Scholarship

Since its inception in 2000, the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) has been actively engaged in national conversations around the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). As a teaching center distinguished by the principle of integration--bringing together teaching excellence and technological innovation under one organization--we have continually sought out opportunities to examine our applied work with faculty through the lens of current theories of learning and learning design. And in the last 15 years, we have often been thought leaders in this burgeoning body of SoTL scholarship, with projects related to Bringing Theory to Practice, the Visible Knowledge Project, and, more recently, the growing market of Open Learning through MOOCs.

We invite you to learn more about our ongoing research and scholarship in the following areas:

Learning Design and Analytics

Our research in learning design examines the design and study of learning environments within curricular and co-curricular contexts to better understand how people learn so as to enhance the learning intervention. Learning design is a broad interdisciplinary research area with varied foci such as technology-enhanced learning, collaborative and project-based learning, instructional communication and others. We focus on several themes that are central to our research in learning design, including:

  • the creation of better flow between research and practice for effective learning designs;
  • the analysis and assessment of learning through experimental and design-based implementation, research, learning analytics, and connected learning models;
  • the examination of the process of design as a learning intervention.

One particular research question we are exploring is: How can learning analytics and learning design help us to “articulate a vision for defining and measuring the outcomes of holistic learning so that the value of educating for formation can be made central” to reshaping higher education? (As described in the Formation by Design Report, 2014-15). Formation is a concept of learning and development at the heart of Jesuit education that pays attention to the individuality of each student as a distinctive person with unique potential. Under the larger notion of formation, we are pursuing several sub-questions, such as the following:

  • How can cognitive science help faculty sequence learning activities to promote reflective sensemaking in support of formational outcomes?
  • How can the techniques of discourse analysis facilitate evaluation of a corpus of reflective writing?
  • How can platforms and technologies be used to design an environment that supports contemplative reading?
  • How can faculty most effectively design learning with formational outcomes in mind?

Learning analytics are a crucial part of understanding learners and their contexts, and help to support an effective learning environment. Our research in learning analytics collects, measures, and evaluates formational concepts of learners, and our research in this area supports the postsecondary success of a wide range of students. In our research, we draw upon the tools of learning analytics, including Social Network Analysis, Virtual Learning Systems Analysis, Information Visualization, Discourse Analysis, and Disposition Analytics.

Technology-Enhanced Learning

From its inception, CNDLS took the model of a teaching center incorporating technological innovations into the core of our work on teaching and learning. In this sense, we have always been exploring research questions about how technology can enhance learning. Our research questions have asked:

  • As the technological tools available to educators have grown exponentially over the last 15 years, how can we best harness technology for the benefit of teaching and learning?
  • Through data and analytics, how can technology help us capture evidence of student learning and acquisition of knowledge?

One our our earliest research projects in this area was the Visible Knowledge Project (VKP), a five-year project, conducted from 2004-2009, on the scholarship of teaching and learning involving 70 faculty on 22 university and college campuses. Former CNDLS Executive Director, Randy Bass, served as Director and Principal Investigator of the VKP, which explored the impact of technology on learning, primarily in the humanities. Through this project, CNDLS was able to explore pedagogical innovations--on Georgetown’s campus and beyond--from a research-oriented perspective, asking how new media environments, and, specifically, digital learning environments could transform the way students engage with learning. By evaluating theories on teaching and learning to assess their applications in the classroom, the VKP allowed CNDLS to play a lead role in national conversations on bringing theory to practice.

More recently, in the spring of 2013, CNDLS launched the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL)—a three-year, $8 million investment in faculty grants, digital infrastructure improvements, and a partnership with edX—which has provided funding and support to Georgetown University faculty in order to bring technology-focused teaching and learning projects to life. This initiative, one component of the capital campaign For Generations to Come, serves as an incubator for boundary-pushing experiments in teaching and learning, facilitating the widespread adoption of promising tools and approaches both on-campus and globally online. Over the last three years, ITEL has supported several educational research projects in Learning Design research. These were implemented in collaboration with the ITEL Principal Investigator (PI) and CNDLS faculty and staff.

One such project investigated the use of web-based simulations for enhancing doctor-patient communication skills following a quasi-experimental, non-equivalent groups design. This project involved the design and development of the simulations in such a way as to enable the lead PI to gather student responses and usage data in addition to pre- and post-test knowledge test scores. In Learning Design Research for Applied Innovation, finding ways to capture and analyze learner interaction within a particular environment is critical for helping researchers determine whether a change in the environment’s design could enhance learning outcomes. Another significant area of ITEL research has explored the role of technology in foreign language studies, specifically the role of teletandem and telecollaboration in the acquisition of language learning. You can learn more about these projects and others at our ITEL page, as well as in our page on Current Research on Technology-Enhanced Learning.

Open Learning

Since Georgetown University launched its partnership with edX in 2012, GeorgetownX has launched several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) featuring Georgetown faculty. Given the experimental nature of MOOCs and their role in higher education, CNDLS has taken an active role in contributing to research in this burgeoning field. In particular, our research areas explore the following questions:

  • How do students’ reading practices adapt to an online medium? More specifically, how does our own signature MOOC platform, MyDante, through which we have run three MOOCs on Dante’s Divine Comedy, facilitate the practice of contemplative reading?
  • What is the learner’s cognitive presence in MOOCs and how does that impact student engagement with these courses?

Exploring how learning works in this new online medium has been central to our research as we continue to innovate our own design practices for each new MOOC under development. We have shared some of these practices in recent publications on developing MOOCs and teaching online in this medium.

Since 2012, CNDLS has developed 8 new MOOCs and 8 reiterations, from which we now have a growing body of research on integrative learning analytics specifically for MOOCs. One current research project in this area of learning analytics involves the MyDante MOOC and addresses the following research question: What is the depth of contemplative reading that students engage in during their written reflections within a Massive Open Online Course? To answer this question, the research team operationalized learning engagement at three levels of reading instructed in the course: literal reading, whereby students get acquainted with the characters and understand the narrative structure of the poem; metaphoric or ironic reading, in which the poem is decoded as a message on the sense of human life; and reflective reading, requiring the active involvement of the students and their personal experiences. This is a mixed methods research project. Journal entries are coded to assess learning engagement in relation to the three levels of reading while platform activity data such as the number of annotations per user, discussion forum entries per user, length of journal entries per user, private journal entries per user, and peer assessment scores are used to enable further examination of the depth of the reading in relation to interaction with the learning environment and assessment scores. To learn more about this project and other scholarship by both faculty and CNDLS staff, visit our page on Current Research on Open Learning.

Reflection and Engaged Learning

CNDLS engages in research questions relating to reflection as it is used as pedagogy and practice in college classrooms and its relationship to engagement in learning. Additionally, lines of interest emerging from two signature CNDLS programs (the Engelhard Project and the Doyle Program) that include fostering student well-being as an important factor related to engaged learning, and inclusive pedagogy. With both of these programs using a curriculum-infusion approach to learning, our research also explores ways to assess for formation outcomes for students, particularly around student well-being.

Reflection in teaching is another area through which both CNDLS staff and Georgetown faculty have published scholarship, specifically in relation to reflective grading practices and the assessment of reflection in student writing. In particular, our research questions in Reflection and Engaged Learning include the following:

  • How do curriculum-infusion models that focus on student well-being and inclusive pedagogy contribute to student well-being and other formational outcomes?
  • Does reflective writing enhance the learning process and facilitate both academic and formational outcomes?
  • How can reflective learning be implemented in a course most efficiently, and then identified and better recognized in faculty assessment practices? How can faculty overcome biases in their evaluation of reflective learning (and other assessment measures)?

One current research project is in the area of student well-being. Led by a faculty committee, or “Community of Inquiry,” this project aims to examine the outcomes of the Engelhard Project on student well-being. To learn more about this and other scholarship by both faculty and CNDLS staff, visit our page on Current Research on Reflective and Engaged Learning.

To learn more about published work by CNDLS staff, visit our page on CNDLS Scholarship. Or, to see a comprehensive list of presentations by CNDLS staff and associated faculty, visit our page on CNDLS Presentations.