Campus Highlight: Ignatian Pedagogy and Learning Technologies

By Eddie Maloney, Executive Director, and Maggie Debelius, Director of Faculty Initiatives—both of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, Georgetown University

If anything has changed in teaching and learning in the past twenty years, it’s the overwhelming integration, influence, and adoption of digital technologies. While certainly not the first technologies to change how we teach and learn, digital technologies from learning management systems to social media, blogs, and wikis have had a profound impact on how teachers and students interact with course materials. They have enabled new ways of gaining access to information, teaching at a distance, and shifting the learning experience from a teacher-centered, lecture-based model to a learner-centered, “flipped” classroom. Much of the work we do in the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University seeks to understand how digital technologies can inform and enhance not only student learning but also the totality of a student’s life while at the university. We have found that the thoughtful use of technology can help Georgetown, a Jesuit institution, enact its commitment to Ignatian pedagogy, which seeks to educate the whole person and care for each individual, respecting unique gifts and insights.

While Ignatian pedagogy has a long and storied tradition, it is in many respects as relevant today as it was in 1599, when the principles of Ignation pedagogy, the Ratio Studiorum, were first published, and it offers lessons adaptable beyond just Jesuit institutions. Its principles are powerful approaches to learning that align with what research shows[1] are the most impactful ways to use technology in the classroom. At its most basic, Ignatian pedagogy consists of the continual interplay of context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. Each of these elements foregrounds an approach to learning that asks the learner to take action for their learning, to be critically reflective, and to enact learning in ways that build on experience and discernment. In fact, it’s arguable that the uses of technology that have the greatest effect on student learning are the ones that engage with one or more of the elements of Ignatian pedagogy in some way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This assertion comes on the heels of a growing body of research that suggests that digital technologies can have a positive impact on holistic student learning.[2] Many of these benefits come not from the technologies themselves but from the ways they are used. That said, the best educational technologies are ones that by design lend themselves to particular uses that encourage different kinds of learning and new ways of engaging with students. For example, because of their intrinsic design, blog technologies can be used thoughtfully to have a deep and meaningful impact on student learning. Because they allow each student the opportunity for self-authorship, they can be used to encourage creative expression, critical reflection, and a classroom atmosphere of cocreation. When navigating to a blog site, typically the first visual item is a student post, foregrounding and centering the student context and voice. By allowing multiple visible posts per author and making the entirety of their learning engagement transparent to students, blogs enable both faculty and students to see learning as a process rather than a product—a collection representative of their growth. The final product of a course blog is a narrative of learning that can be part of students’ evaluation of their progress in their thinking, and they can return to it when considering decisions about future work.

In contrast, while course management systems (CMS), also called learning management systems, can certainly be used to engage in meaningful learning experiences with students, the tools themselves tend to foreground management over learning. The first thing students see when they enter a CMS is usually a course-level announcement or administrative function. Unlike the critical reflection space of a blog post, wherein students can modify format, apply tags, and include other digital media, a CMS typically offers a discussion-based forum, often leading to surface-level dialogue. Unlike the iteration inherent to a collection of blog posts, a CMS tends to be used as a place to submit final products of learning, which are sent off to the professor for evaluation.

Within CNDLS’s Learning, Design, and Technology program, we try to pedagogically balance this tension between technology that is merely available and technology that is actually meaningful for learning in our own classes. In LDES 502: Technology and Innovation by Design, for example, instead of using Canvas (Georgetown’s designated CMS), students write weekly critical reflections in a WordPress blog, where they can express themselves in a medium designed for creative communication—utilizing media like images, videos, gifs, tags, and word clouds. Students can comment on their classmates’ posts, and resources are cocreated and transparently shared. The final reflection assignment asks them to examine the development of their own posts throughout the semester, cite lessons learned, and mention a fellow classmate’s post that inspired their own thinking. This technology serves both to speak to Ignatian values and allow our students to become more digitally literate with tools that will likely only increase in importance in their career field and world at large as technology advances. This is our approach when considering the adoption of new technologies—that combining well-designed digital tools with pedagogical models leads to the most effective uses of these tools, and also to the most impactful teaching and learning environment. Ignatian pedagogy can serve as one approach to thinking about how to utilize technologies for deep student engagement.




[1]  Rana M. Tamim, Robert M. Bernard, Eugene Borokhovski, Philip C. Abrami, and Richard F. Schmid, “What Forty Years of Research Says About the Impact of Technology on Learning: A Second-Order Meta-Analysis and Validation Study,” Review of Educational Research, 81, no. 1 (March 2011): 4–28, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23014286.

 

[2]  Anna Ya Ni, “Comparing the Effectiveness of Classroom and Online Learning: Teaching Research Methods,” Journal of Public Affairs Education 19, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 199–215, https://doi.org/10.1080/15236803.2013.12001730; Maya Escueta, Vincent Quan, Andre Joshua Nickow, and Philip Oreopoulos, “Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review” (NBER Working Paper No. 23744, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, August 2017), https://www.nber.org/papers/w23744.