Georgetown's CNDLS and the History of the Integrated CTL

A Q&A with Eddie Maloney.

June 19, 2017

Dr. Eddie Maloney is the Executive Director of The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University.  Eddie and I have been developing a cross-institutional collaboration  between our CTLs (Centers for Teaching and Learning), and as part of this work we’ve been researching emerging models of organizational structure, responsibilities, and campus/industry leadership amongst CTLs.  

I thought that it would be a good idea to ask Eddie some questions about CNDLS, and Eddie graciously agreed to have our Q&A published in this space.

Q1: CNDLS is a pioneer in the Integrated CTL model. That is a center where the normally distributed campus functions around faculty development, digital education, assessment, and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) are combined within one integrated organization.  Can you share the history of how CNDLS came into existence?

A:  The relatively formal history is that CNDLS was started by Randy Bass, in part as a response to the 1996-97 Intellectual Life Report, a document representing the culmination of a two-year university-wide assessment of Georgetown’s intellectual life undertaken by the Main Campus Executive Faculty (MCEF), the lead representative faculty legislative body for Main Campus academic policy decisions. Working in concert with the University Provost and Deans, the MCEF identified a series of measures to deepen the culture of learning on campus, one of them being a call for the establishment of a robust teaching and learning center to support and promote innovative and high-impact teaching, to assess how well we carried out this mission, and to address the growing recognition that new technologies and new pedagogical approaches were poised to dramatically change how we teach and learn in colleges and universities. That work was also shaped from the beginning by a belief in the value of sharing our work as teachers just as we share our work as scholars (SoTL). With the help of Eric Hofmann, Julie Smith, Michael Coventry, and me, Randy launched the Center in 2000.


In 2003, CNDLS merged with an existing pedagogical support group on campus called the Research Curriculum and Development (RCD) group.  The RCD’s work focused on developing and supporting technology innovation around teaching and research. By bringing these two pieces together—teaching excellence and technology innovation—CNDLS was positioned to not only support Georgetown faculty in their teaching, but also to expand its impact on student learning with new technologies. CNDLS originated with a particular mission and focus to help faculty engage with their students in deeper and more meaningful ways, to connect the many partners across campus helping to deepen Georgetown’s mission as a student-centered research institution, and to continually explore the boundaries of academic innovation.

As a Catholic and Jesuit university, our institutional values—educating the whole person, care for the individual, contemplation in action, academic excellence, and others—are at the core of our mission at CNDLS,  driving our projects and programs and the way in which we operate as a Center. Over the past 15 years, CNDLS has supported and furthered this mission with services designed to advance excellence and innovation in teaching and learning. Our programs have worked across schools and disciplines not only to improve day-to-day teaching practice, but also to inspire faculty, administrators, and graduate student instructors to experiment with emerging approaches to education and bring their big ideas to life in the classroom.

We see it as central to our work to be a place where faculty, administrators, and students can come together to explore teaching and learning as a living process, one requiring ongoing experimentation, assessment, and reflection to best serve our community of teachers and learners. We collaborate with partners across the university to offer the tools and resources necessary to implement meaningful learning practices, and the impact has been clear. CNDLS has become a community on campus that inspires thoughtful integration of learning technologies and pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning that push traditional boundaries.

Q2:  I want to dig into this idea of an Integrated CTL. (One that combines traditional faculty development functions with other roles normally distributed across campus, such as instructional design, educational media, assessment, etc.  See Leading Academic Change: An Early Market Scan of Leading-edge Postsecondary Acade mic Innovation Centers, a report that came out of the Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, University System of Maryland).  Can you share in greater detail the roles and responsibilities that CNDLS has at Georgetown?  What are the main projects at CNDLS?  How is the staff structured?  What are some areas around teaching and learning that are not coordinated by CNDLS?

A:  As we’ve evolved and grown over the years, we’ve continued to value the impact of having a Center that tightly integrates the areas of teaching excellence, technology innovation, assessment and analytics, and research in all its work. This extends right down to how we’re structured and the kind of work we all do. The CNDLS team is a pretty diverse and talented group of faculty, professionals, and scholars who are passionate about innovation in teaching and learning, and because we take this integration seriously, we are always trying to make sure that our staff can work on a broad range of projects rather than getting siloed in one area or on one initiative. In the end, the goal is to make sure that experts in pedagogy are learning from and informing experts in technology innovation, who are gaining insights from the folks with expertise in assessing impact. We want all of our staff to be able to explore passions and interests and to learn from each other as they support the campus community.

We also have the support of several graduate associates who work right alongside of us on all our projects. We like to think of our GAs as future practitioners, whether as faculty in their disciplines or professionals in teaching and learning centers.  Our hope is that they’ll be able to learn a broad range of skills and have real world experience supporting teaching, learning, and innovation.

I call our work “Applied Innovation.” Through Applied Innovation, our Center offers a broad range of programming and support to new and experienced faculty on both the course and curricular level focusing in the areas of teaching & learning, technology innovation, assessment, and research. Two of our flagship programs are the Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning which infuses topics of mental health and well-being into course curriculums through meaningful connections between faculty, students and campus health professionals, and the Doyle Engaging Difference Program which invites faculty to redesign a course to promote student engagement with themes of difference and diversity. Our focus on faculty learning communities and cohort-based programming also extends to technology-enhanced learning. We also have an ever-expanding Apprenticeship in Teaching (AT) program, which helps prepare graduate students to become reflective, skilled college teachers through a series of pedagogically-focused workshops and teaching-related tasks.

Of course, one of our major areas is the support of digital technologies for teaching and learning. In 2013, Georgetown launched a three-year Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL). ITEL was an $8 million dollar investment by the university that included funding for technology infrastructure and incentives to faculty to experiment with and to assess the impact of new technologies on student learning. This initiative built on 13 years of experience in CNDLS supporting and innovating with new technologies. While the initial funding cycle of ITEL ended last year, we’re continuing this work in many different ways beginning this fall, including a faculty colloquium and ongoing grant opportunities to support experimentation with new technologies for teaching and learning. ITEL also allowed us to develop a robust set of services to experiment with MOOCs.  One of the offshoots of this work was our increased ability to support online course and program development for both the Georgetown community and outside partners. This work has really taken off in the past two years, and we continue to see new opportunities for exploring how online programming will impact residential education. 

As I mentioned in my previous answer, much of our work depends on our partnering with an amazing group of like-minded folks across campus.  We couldn’t and frankly wouldn’t want to do much of our work without our partners in The Red House, University Information Services, Lauinger Library’s Gelardin New Media Center, the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service , Kennedy Institute for Ethics, Student Affairs, and many others.

Q3:  The model of an Integrated CTL still seems to be rare in higher ed, but from what I can see the idea is starting to take hold.  We see Integrated CTLs at Yale, Columbia, Stanford and Harvard (although I'd be interested in if they use those terms).  Do you think that we will start to see this model proliferate across postsecondary education?  What are the pushes, enablers, and barriers for this sort of organizational change?  

A:  Absolutely. When CNDLS was established, we were responding to both a call from Georgetown faculty as well as to the ongoing national conversations around the need to rethink the future of education at postsecondary institutions. I think we also realized pretty quickly that siloing efforts to support technology, pedagogy, and assessment would not provide our faculty the best support and would not allow for us to continue to push new boundaries of innovation. I think we’re seeing a similar movement afoot now. 

Some schools like Georgetown and University of Michigan have created incubators for academic innovation at the structural level. There is a growing recognition of something many of us have long known.  Institutional structures are often the greatest barriers to innovation. If we can’t question notions of seat time, the credit hour, the semester-long class, etc. we will never be able to fully respond to more adaptable start ups currently challenging higher education.

But, these incubators or greenhouses can’t (or shouldn’t) work on their own.  They need to be as tightly integrated with folks doing applied innovation as possible in order to both inform and be informed by that work.  In this respect, I not only see integrated centers proliferating, I think there is more room to grow how and what is integrated into CTLs.  Online programming is another area of integration.  If we see online programs as a separate activity from residential programs, we’ll never fully understand the changing expectations of our students and the challenges colleges and universities are facing.

Of course, much of the barriers to this work is costs and perception. An integrated Center always appears larger than many smaller separate centers, even if it’s more efficient and in the end smaller than the aggregate of all of those centers.

Q4:  Can you talk some about your new Master of Arts in Learning and Design program?  As far as I know, this is the first degree of its type that is stewarded by a CTL. How did this program come to be?  Is this a model for other CTLs?

A:  In many respects, this program is the culmination of 17 years of work in CNDLS and we’re very excited to launch the program this fall under the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown. We believe it will help address many of the challenges we’ve seen and continue to see in higher education. By exposing students to a comprehensive curriculum that offers 4 core courses in critical areas in the field—learning design, technology innovation, learning analytics, and higher education leadership—the program prepares them to navigate and respond to issues posed by higher education’s dynamic landscape. While students will gain a common knowledge base from these courses, they will also focus in on a particular area to really deepen their expertise. Students will also have experiential learning opportunities through internships and CNDLS projects, as well as our Design Studio, where students will work on their own teaching and learning project. All of their work will be captured in a digital portfolio that showcases the knowledge and skills they’ve gained, along with the products they’ve created.

The program was developed in this way because we, recognized that higher education is confronting complex challenges and rapid change, which include issues of changing demographics, access, and costs. In order to navigate these challenges, instructional designers need to expand their skill-set to understand the full context, history, and politics of higher education, how to gather and analyze learning data, and how to work across multiple channels. Our curricular approach seeks to prepare students to consider and navigate these many realms of higher education, and provides them an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world setting.

CNDLS is a center for applied innovation, and we’re very excited to see how the interface between our Center and the program plays out. We expect growth and productive insights will be in the cards for both. And we do see this as a model that other centers for teaching and learning might find themselves drawn to—shepherding an academic program concurrently with our day-to-day practice means that the issues we face in our work, the things we spend our time thinking about, all inform the program and keep it fresh and incredibly relevant. We think there are amazing synergies there. Personally, I hope this program will reflect the next stage of thinking about the work we all do in this area, bridging the gap between a professional field and an academic discipline.

Q5:  Finally, I want to ask you about your thoughts about the role the CTLs are playing - and should be playing - in the strategic direction of their institutions.  As you look at the postsecondary landscape, where do you see the big challenges and opportunities - and how do you think the CTLs (and the people affiliated with CTLs) can maximize their impact and contributions?

A:  Things changed in higher education five years ago. MOOCs, tech startups, changing student demographics, increased demand for new services, and the continued challenge of the cost of college prompted a moment of reflection.  Maybe it was an inflection point, maybe it was a response to the narrative of disruption in vogue at the time, or maybe it was simply a growing recognition of the need of colleges and universities to invest time and energy to make sure our core mission of forming young men and women was being carried out in the most effective and impactful ways possible.  This not only means preparing our students for a career but it means getting them ready to be lifelong learners, to engage fully in our culture and our democracy, and to find meaning, purpose, and well-being in their lives.

I firmly believe that it’s the most important role our institutes of higher education play. I think robust CTLs play an important role in helping colleges and universities carry out this mission by supporting our faculty and engaging our students, and maybe just as importantly by playing the role of creating and curating knowledge and understanding about the interdisciplinary field of teaching and learning in higher education.


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