Georgetown to Teach Course Designers Through a Social-Impact Lens

Man working at his desktop computer in the office.

No learning occurs in a vacuum, a sealed capsule removed from the world. There is no pure science, pure history, pure English or philosophy; and the once-vaunted Ivory Tower belies its relation to the world even as it purportedly seeks to remove itself from it.

The people who design programs at Georgetown University are well aware of this fact, and that is why every professional graduate program at the University’s School of Continuing Studies—from Journalism to Technology Management, Cybersecurity to Global Hospitality Leadership—includes a course in ethics as it relates to the practice of these enterprises in the real word. Many graduates recall it as their favorite course.

‘Agents of Social Change’

Shenita Ray, the school’s Vice Dean for Education and Faculty Affairs, was also well-acquainted with Georgetown’s approach to learning when she approached Dean Kelly Otter more than a year ago with the idea of creating an internal training program to onboard new staff members who would be helping to design online courses for the school. 

Otter thought it was a good idea, Ray said, but wondered how this internal program would be different from the kinds of programs the school offers to its students. So she asked Ray “to articulate those skills and abilities that really make someone an exceptional instructional designer.”

“When I listed those traits, we recognized that we had something very special that we could offer to individuals who have an interest in pursuing or advancing their career as an instructional designer, or for those who simply want to learn how to develop online courses,” Ray said.
The result is the Online Certificate in Instructional Design, an eight-course program beginning Spring semester that introduces students to “the fundamentals of creating online learning experiences that integrate social impact concepts to inform and activate students, employees, and clients to serve as agents of social change in work and the world.”

An Intentional Approach

Why approach instructional design from a social impact perspective?

“Because it’s needed, especially in today’s social and political climate,” said Ray, who noted that she could not find another instructional design program that uses a similar approach. “Diversity, inclusion, and social justice are concepts that can be embedded in the design and development of online courses, but it needs to be intentional. We need to help instructional designers and other members of the design team learn the language of social impact so they can bring these concepts into discussion with content experts.”

The instructional design model for the course is informed by social impact frameworks, such as Design Thinking and Human Centered Design; teaching and learning frameworks such as Quality Matters and Problem-based Learning; and social constructivism theory.

“Social impact design is a practice of creating solutions with the intention of positively impacting people and communities that have historically been marginalized,” Ray said. “Social justice is the outcome.”

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