Professors use D.C. as teaching tool

Professor Michael Shanahan’s Washington Reporting class incorporates interviewing a congressman, listening to a congressional hearing and visiting the House Press Gallery on Capitol Hill in its curriculum.

Professor Robert Shepherd’s Honors Sociocultural Anthropology course requires students to do social science fieldwork at various Smithsonian museums.

One of the lures of GW’s downtown D.C. location is that the city is at students’ disposal, something the University advertises in its admissions brochures as part of its “Classroom, Campus, City” marketing campaign. A number of GW classes often require students to use educational resources in the District, and sometimes the city can act as a supplement to classes that do not require any downtown excursions.

Shanahan said that using city resources in a class about political reporting was just an automatic, natural way to teach the class.

“In many ways the class is the city,” he said. “Students who come to GW and don’t take advantage (of D.C.) are denying themselves the unique experience of living in this city.”

Shepherd said he sees the city as a way to break out of the textbooks in his class.

“It’s a practical way of starting to think of knowledge as something that doesn’t come out of a book,” he said.

Both Shepherd and Shanahan said they have found that students respond positively to their assignments.

“It got them to see things that they might not have been able to see,” Shanahan said. “They loved it.”

Among the best places to augment an academic experiences are the Library of Congress, located just behind the Capitol Building, and the Smithsonian museums, which are found on the Mall and scattered throughout the city. In addition, think tanks and research organizations can provide expert help and opinions on papers and projects.

Junior Brian Herscher said that using the city in classes can be beneficial, but added that not all classes are appropriate for city assignments.

“Something like going to the Russian Embassy (for international affairs) is sweet, but if the (economics) department starts sending me out in the city for class, it would blow,” he said.

Not all GW professors see using D.C.’s resources as a beneficial part of their curriculum. Professor Forrest Maltzman, who teaches a history course on the American presidency, said he prefers not to include the city in his curriculum because he does not see the need.

“I think students at GW do a great job of using D.C. all the time,” he said. “I am more concerned with getting students to understand the literature of the class.”

Senior Julian Peterson said she sees many advantages in taking advantage of D.C.’s academic resources, whether it is to get help in writing a 10-page research paper or just listening in on a congressional hearing.

“I use the Library of Congress often to help with research,” he said. “It opens up a wide array of resources that Gelman (Library) alone doesn’t have.”

-Amanda Hess contributed to this report

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