» second in a series of posts by Emily Unrue, Ethics Lab Program Manager

As I mentioned in my previous post, our team experienced our first crit this past Tuesday.

You might be wondering what this mysterious “crit” is, and why it’s important. Before I joined the Ethics Lab team, I remember perusing their website and thinking, “oh, scary!” when I saw that word crop up in a number of places. A few earlier blog posts provide some contextualization of the concept, and there’s even a handful of full-length videos of final, juried crits from previous terms available.

In short, critiques are presentations of project-based work where classmates, instructors, and interested parties (crits are open to the public, so join us!) engage in active, rigorous dialogue to help analyze, question, refine, and (ultimately) iterate a tangible work product.

In the studio ecosystem, the crit is key because it provides a space where “mistakes” are embraced, getting tied to one idea is rarely productive, and rapid feedback is guaranteed from a variety of sources.

Stephanie, Lilyan, and I settled on a pretty solid project idea in the second week, and we felt reasonably confident that we could take our idea and run with it. But after two meetings outside class, we stepped back the night before crits, changed direction, and met the next morning to start from scratch (re)designing our presentation. And we’ll do it again. And again. And probably even a few more times after that as we continue to evolve and clarify our position.

For round one, our team decided that a low-fidelity rendering of a GU student persona would allow maximum feedback and quick pivoting if the crit steered us in another direction. You can zoom in on the whiteboard image of our team’s “Willow Bark” persona to see some of the detail and read our sidebar notes where we situate our project within the current framework of the undergraduate university system. We used an existing and successful tool—a social media e-folio—to situate our core concept: abolish the undergraduate major field of study and create a competencies-based (percentage) spectrum of progress that integrates both the curricular and co-curricular.

In Willow’s case, her professors, fellow students, and potential future employers can see a cross-tagged portfolio of all the approved projects, initiatives, and participatory ways Willow has demonstrated her leadership competency both in and out of the classroom. They can also see where she’s at in her progress and contributions in biology, community and civic engagement, linguistics, undergraduate original research, French composition, so on and so forth.

Our crit was mostly positive in that we presented a core idea with a radical component, but our medium of an e-folio was decidedly mixed and probably something we’re going to have to adjust once we dig deeper into the research on portfolios.

Over the coming weeks, we now know we’ll need to flesh out the competencies rubric and address the pressing and potentially unrealistic issue of faculty and job market buy-in of our concept given that this presents a fundamental shift in how students are classified, assessed, and how course enrollment is determined.

Our project also lacks clarity on the development and integration of a justice-centered education as a central tenet, rather than a byproduct and administrative pro-forma nod to an idealistic notion that’s tossed by the wayside as more pragmatic and urgent concerns arise. For Ethics Lab, keeping this concept at the core is vital, a ballast upon which we form our ideas and circle-back to for inspiration and calibration.

Before I move along, I want to also make sure I include a roundup of the other teams’ key concepts as I’ll be referencing them in future posts:

Team ORB: This team focused on a two-part process where the first three years of the undergraduate journey would be spent enhancing their toolkit through various platforms (reflection circles, design thinking, etc.) which would then enable them to fulfill the second part of their model which was an interdisciplinary defense of a major project or body of work with creativity, empathy, and iterative work at the core.

Team Empathy: The second team honed in on promotion of empathy as an explicit and centrally stated core value that underpinned all Georgetown learning goals. By creating an environment that allows for testing of this “skill,” team empathy would like to build upon the notion that empathy should be interwoven deliberately into the curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular framework of GU student life.

Team (Dis)courses: The final team had a three phased approach. Reciprocal relationships between multi-disciplinary academic courses and small student dialogue groups would be facilitated in safe and respectful environments that allowed optimal sharing of knowledge from multiple perspectives and multiple disciplines.

In all, I think our four teams had a lot of common threads presented in first crit (and a lot of common, first attempt pitfalls), but I’m excited for class tomorrow to see where we pivot next. Now that we have the groundwork and contextual background to get us started, we move next to building a physical model of a fractal core. Stay tuned!

» first in a series of posts by Emily Unrue, Ethics Lab Program Manager

This Tuesday, Ethics Lab hosted the first crits of the semester in Profs. Bass and Dhillon’s The University as a Design Problem class.

Proverbial wisdom says that one of the best ways to learn is by doing, so I decided to dive in this semester and get the full studio experience. As Ethics Lab’s new Program Manager, I could think of no better way to have an immersive and authentic learning experience than to take one of our courses end-to-end, participating fully as a student.

Before the semester started, Arjun Dhillon sat down with me to provide context and background on the evolution of “studio” and how it fit, specifically, into the portfolio of Ethics Lab, and how, more broadly, the studio ecosystem could serve as a powerful change agent within the university. I was intrigued, but I was fairly certain I was missing the nuance of what made courses delivered in studio so dynamic and impactful.

After some additional dialogue, Arjun invited me to join him and Prof. Bass in their upcoming course. It would not only allow me to tackle innovative ways to re-imagine the university learning environment through an ethics- and justice-focused lens (a favorite topic of mine), but it would also give me on-the-ground experience with one of the most vibrant and visible pieces in the Ethics Lab arsenal.

Which brings me to this Tuesday.

I had the good fortune to be partnered for project work with Stephanie Denoyer and Lilyan Tay, both graduating this spring. They’ll make frequent appearances in this blog over the course of the semester as I document my experience and give you a glimpse behind the scenes into studio, Ethics Lab, and what it means to approach, design, and envision innovative models of the undergraduate educational experience.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll discuss our group’s first crit in detail and share some of the other initial ideas that came out of our class. It’s going to be an exciting semester; I hope you’ll follow along and see where our project and vision take us.