Attending a teaching and learning forum at Georgetown University

Bryan Alexander presents some trends on the future of higher ed in the US

The other week, I attended a four-day conference at Georgetown University. The Teaching and Learning Innovation Summer Institute gathers faculty and staff to discuss the university’s most pressing topics in pedagogy. It was especially impressive to see the turnout of participants considering it was the day after the graduation ceremony.

Attending the conference made me the proverbial fish out of the water. My role in academe has been largely on the other side of the classroom, as a student in the Philippines and later in Germany for my graduate studies, on the receiving end of learning and teaching. Getting to know the challenges of faculty and staff, and the innovation they implement in the classroom to enhance student learning was both, seemed both familiar and yet novel. I attended as many sessions as I could, and let me share some bite-sized summary of each that I attended over the four-day forum.

May 20, Monday

How Learning Works – Northeastern University professor Susan Ambrose shared her work based on her book “How Learning Works: Seven Principles:

  1. How Does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning?
  2. How Does the Way Students Organize Knowledge Affect Their Learning?
  3. What Factors Motivate Students to Learn?
  4. How do Students Develop Mastery?
  5. What Kinds of Practice and Feedback Enhance Learning?
  6. Why Do Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?
  7. How do Students Become Self-Directed Learners?

Leveraging VR and Immersive Technology for Enriching the Classroom Experience – Faculty shared how to:

  • use a 360 camera to document field trips to the Potomac River when collecting samples to measure water quality
  • harness the power of storytelling in the form of 360 videos to amplify advocacy and facilitate call to action
  • simulate underwater diving through VR and identify species by placing 3D flags on the seafloor
  • represent electronic waves in 3-D and view them from different perspectives

Topics in Inclusive Pedagogy:  Climate and Power in the Classroom – It’s quite obvious that power structures and dynamics exist between teacher and students, but it was surprising to learn that these also exist between teachers and between students.

Tech Exploration Social Hour – Show and tell for gadgets and gizmos in and out of the classroom, including online Italian courses, an online platform for annotating Arabic characters, an electronic pen for annotation and group discussion, and online archives to collate information about less-known historical events. Did you know that MLK gave a speech in divided Berlin?

May 21, Tuesday

Building Writing into Your Course: Why and How? Writing assignments should be intentional, and “low-stakes” and faculty can use easy-to-grade writing assignments to gauge learning progress. I proposed using 750-word blog posts to present popular versions of research papers to a wider (online) audience. The blog post should avoid using discipline-specific jargon and buzzwords, and may include listicles or include memes and gifs.

The Future of Georgetown’s Classroom Design – Electronic devices such as projectors and computers are now a staple of the modern classroom. But simple tech such as chairs and tables on casters to create multiple classroom configurations: a seminar room, a semi-circle, or the classic teacher behind the desk can also offer quick fixes that promote interaction among students and teachers.

Teaching and Learning Behind Bars – Two former inmates gave testimonials to how attending university – and another shot at life – opened opportunities from cocaine dealer to a legit entrepreneur and from illegal activities to a paralegal career.

Apply Universal Design for Learning – an Accessible, Usable and Inclusive Class – How do you design a class that takes into account different learning styles and even disabilities? Taking inspiration from the field of architecture, universal design for learning encourages using various materials, teaching methods, and tests to accommodate students’ cognitive abilities.

Curriculum Integration with the Maker Hub – What stood out was the example from an assistant professor who asked her students to form groups and create a 3D-printed mascot for their team. In doing so, the design process turned into a team-building activity. It’s one of those times when process is more important than the product.

May 22, Wednesday

Making the Invisible Visible: Student Art Influencing Teaching & Learning – Close-looking at students’ handwritten messages on their feelings of inclusion – or exclusion – on campus. How do the students of color navigate a predominantly white institution? How do white students interact with students of colors’ clubs and organization, their so-called safe spaces?

“Sleep When You’re Dead”: Achievement-Orientation in Student Leadership Practice – A fascinating phenomenon of joining and leading multiple student clubs, by sophomore year, to build the ultimate resume. A university non-profit managing the university’s convenience stores, a credit union, and a campus tour guide student association have acceptance rates lower than the elite university they are attending.

The New Academy: Trends for Future – Globalization and shifts in demographics, culture and politics all affect the future of the American classroom. Add to that another trend that will drive the classroom experience further to an entirely different landscape: technology. (check out this Twitter thread)

Build & Belong: Interventions for Reducing Georgetown Medical Students’ Perceptions of Isolation & Stress by Improving Sense of Belonging” – What if med students, those undergo training to heal others, are the ones who need some healing? Feeling of intellectual and emotional alienation among medical students might be more common than we think. Through video recordings, M3 and M4 students to share their trials and triumphs to M1 and M2 students, that the “downs” are arbitrary. More importantly, they are not alone and have a social support system to help them rise out of a rut.

Cura Grad Student: Collaborative Conversations to Better Support Graduate Students – Many education institutions are designed for its largest population: undergraduate students. But higher education demographics is shifting as more and more graduate students are enrolled in universities. Teaching and administrative staff alike need to revisit instruction as well as university student services, respectively, that mainly see undergrads as their top priority.

May 23, Thursday

Design to the Edges; Design for All – A more in-depth look at the concept of universal design for learning, this time focusing on making learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD more inclusive.

Podcasting with a Purpose – Faculty and staff in and out of the j-school update the requirement of the quintessential school paper with producing a podcast. Students still hone skills on research and reflection, and then some including interviewing, script-writing, audio editing.

Talking about Teaching A Collaborative Approach to Graduates Student Pedagogical Education – History graduate students take matters to their own hands to improve their teaching. Through informal monthly meetings, MA and PhD students share their notes on what learning and teaching techniques work – and what doesn’t – as they prepare to teach students at Georgetown and beyond.

Cultivating the Virtues of Good Students – “Nudges” to learn virtues in the classroom can contribute to the formation of a “good” student. Learning and working with peers are all teachable moments to instill virtues of honesty, grit, and many others.


I tried to absorb as much as I can from the four-day affair, treating it as a crash course on the future of education. The cross-cutting disciplines of pedagogy and technology are rapidly changing, where education institutions are always catching up. As a newcomer, I’m more than excited to immerse myself in these fields in the next months to come. I may not be a fish out of the water after all, but more of a sponge thrown into the ocean.


Twist and shout

Belated Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz.

I was scavenging to find a photo to update a blog post that was a couple of years old. I wanted to tweet it in commemoration of its 18th anniversary.

It’s a little online tribute to the gathering that toppled a presidency which now feels to be just a blip in Philippine history and democracy. The deposed Joseph Estrada is now back in politics serving as mayor of Manila. Gloria Arroyo replaced him and got elected as President, was found guilty of electoral sabotage and placed on house arrest, and is now the Speaker of the House. But I digress.

The photo in question showed up on Google, and after some serious sleuthing (read: clicking), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the image and the original tweet were used for a news article at the Philippine Star late last year. The image shows a spiral staircase right in the middle of EDSA, like the double helix DNA of our ineptitude. The government body in charge of its construction argued that the stairs was built as an access point for provincial bus passengers. Have fun hauling your luggage up and down the stairs. The good news is the agency will remove the stairs soon.

philstar edsa

I tweeted the photo back in 2015, three years before it “became an issue”. I wish the Star notified me as soon as they had decided to use the photo. It’s a source of pride for me not only to publish in a news website, but as a frustrated urban planner, to also be acknowledged for detecting a planning issue a few years early.

But the Philippines has been known for its patch-up planning. We haphazardly build, tear down, and re-build our structures, be they physical or political. We easily forgive, and much worse, more easily forget. Maybe we’re all just a little too twisted.

Creating the Development Aid Title Jargonator

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me tweet and retweeting frantically about the Development Aid Project Title Jargonator.


I’ve always wanted to learn how to code, signing in and later dropping out of online courses faster than you can click that like button. I was waiting for my next contract to come through this mid-summer, and what better way to spend my down time than pick-up a new skill and resolve to get serious with computer coding.

So I enrolled in and have been taking a part-time 10-week coding course at Flatiron School here in Washington, DC. I hunkered down one weekend, cobbled together a few lines of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and plugged in the few jargons I’ve collected through the years.

It’s been at the back-burner of personal projects in my Google Keep ideas list for a while. It was sparked by a few news articles criticizing the use of jargons in the development world, and the Silicon Valley Job Title Generator. I wanted to create something similar just to poke fun at the work that we do.

The database of words isn’t really a problem. Since I started work in an NGO, the government, and international organizations, I’ve amassed a huge amount of arcane words, for better or worse. And with my current work on reviewing strategy documents, it’s like receiving an unlimited source of donor funds. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

I released it to the wild two weeks ago, posting it on a Facebook Group and hustled for retweets from more popular development professionals, including…

Chris Blattman

… and Ryan Briggs, the creator of Drunk WB:

Meanwhile, some actually found it quite useful, and wished I had made it earlier:

It even got a nod from the Innovations for Poverty Action:

I’m glad many found it funny. Some also found the resulting titles from the randomized buzzwords way too real:


The website is a parody of the development aid sector, what with our penchant for meandering language and buzzwords. It is supposed to entertain and hopefully facilitate reflection of a well-meaning industry that has recently become a target for criticism because of how words become discombobulating and get lost in translation. The website is a lampoon that started lampooning itself, the titles generated therein blurring the line between parody and reality.

On the brighter side, sharing the website on Twitter aided the discovery of almost a hundred people whom I wouldn’t have followed had they not liked or retweeted my post. Not bad for a little side project that uses language and technology for a little ribbing, and ultimately, finding out that the joke is on me.

Don’t forget to generate your own project title!


Now accepting DAAD scholarship applications for 2019

My grad school program coordinator asked us alumni to send word around that applications for the MEG program and DAAD scholarship are now open:

The application window for DAAD scholarships (open to young professionals from developing countries) will remain open until 15 October 2018.

The application period for prospective students wishing to apply for the MEG program under a DAAD-EPOS scholarship is now open. Please note that this scholarship is only available for students from developing countries and emerging economies (see a list of eligible countries here). Prospective scholarship recipients must also be 36 or younger at the time of application, have at least two years of professional experience, and an above average academic record.

Individuals wishing to join the 15th cohort of MEG students, with courses beginning in September of 2019, under a DAAD-EPOS scholarship are invited to submit their applications until 15th of October (15.10.2018).

If you are planning on applying, please be sure to first complete the Online Eligibility Assessment (OEA) to verify that you meet the minimum eligibility requirements of the MEG program. If your eligibility is confirmed, you will be invited to submit both a DAAD scholarship application and a MEG application, along with proof of at least two years of professional experience and other relevant application documents via post to:

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Fakultät für Umwelt und natürliche Ressourcen
Studienbüro / Esther Muschelknautz
Tennenbacherstraße 4
D-79106 Freiburg /Germany


Please note that this application period is only for “DAAD” applicants. The general application period for all prospective students will open on the 15th of March (15.03.2019) for courses beginning in September of 2019.

Further information on the general admissions process can be found here.


Source: MEG website

Let’s have a chat!

Update (July 11): It turns out only the creator/admin can post in the channel, so I’m scrapping this idea for the mean time. Meanwhile, just drop me a line in the comments section.

I just created a Telegram channel (Early Career in International Dev) for us to share our questions and experiences, from our frustrations with HR not responding to emails and applications, or celebrating upon signing that work contract. Don’t forget to share with your friends and colleagues. See you there!

Spring forward

The temperature hit 70’s today. Just like my blog, the city was revived by the warm weather. The District simmered with people this afternoon on my way home- on sidewalks, parks, and streets. Daylight pushed past seven in the evening.

The first quarter of the year is over, and two things have kept me busy in the dark hours of winter:

  1. Writing. For eight Saturdays starting late January, I dragged myself out of bed and braved the cold mornings to attend a writing workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda to polish two of my essays. I got to know some local writers, and developed my reading/critiquing skills. It was also a good way to test my writing to an American audience to figure out, like in any workshop, which elements of my writing worked and did not work. It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a non-native English speaker to submit pieces that I’ve shelved been working on for the past months or years.
  2. Work. I survived the week-long event last mid-March my team at the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice has been organizing since late last year. It’s a biannual flagship event my department organizes where colleagues from country offices come to Washington to network and keep abreast of corporate and technical discussions. Soon after, I also started supporting the NDC (short for Nationally Determined Contributions) Team of the Climate Change Thematic Group, where I’m conducting a portfolio of World Bank’s climate change project portfolio.

These two will likely continue to keep me busy for the few months. Work picks up this time of year as we prepare for the Spring Meetings. Meanwhile, I’ll continue carving some time, just like tonight, and keep the writing going.

Have a lovely spring, summer, or fall, depending on which part of the world you’re reading this.

P.S. I’ve been using less of Facebook and Instagram lately, but am still around on Twitter.