Engaging students via field trips, near and far

James Hanken, MCZ

James Hanken, Professor of Biology and Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), increases student engagement by taking students out of the traditional classroom. Whether organizing his freshman seminar around weekly excursions to Harvard’s museums, or guiding a spring break field trip to Costa Rica for undergraduates enrolled in OEB 167 Herpetology, these immersive experiences “provide opportunities for students to see and understand things they simply won’t get in the classroom.”

The benefits: While Hanken favors the traditional lecture for certain material, field trips expose students to people and ideas unavailable in the classroom setting, like interviewing museum directors about the challenges of curation and exhibit administration. The field exposure in Costa Rica, a trip largely sponsored by the MCZ, gives students an understanding of animals as living organisms, not just static entities—an immersive experience "we are uniquely qualified to offer."

Research: An Investigation of the Educational Power and Potential of the Harvard University Art Museums Study Centers

A collaborative investigation into the nature of visitor learning at the Harvard Art Museums revealed that museum study centers provide active learning opportunities not only through interaction with the objects, but also through engagement with the museum staff and other visitors, as well as …

Framing the Material Past (ablConnect)

Online active learning database ablConnect includes examples of instructional use of museum collections, including curation of a Zeega online gallery of medieval artifacts.

Analyzing Andean Artifacts (ablConnect)

Online active learning database ablConnect includes examples of instructional use of museum collections, including examination of Andean artifacts at the Harvard Peabody Museum.

Harvard Art Museums teaching staff

The museums’ team of educators, curators, conservators, scientists, and technologists consult with faculty from all disciplines to explore how the collections might support their course goals. 

Museum collections: Using objects to teach the abstract

Assistant Professor Kirakosian encourages students to have a last look at the course installation prior to the final class discussion. (Photo by B.D. Colen)

Racha Kirakosian, Assistant Professor of German and of Religion, selected works of art for an installation at the Harvard Art Museums for students in her freshman seminar, Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Finding Justice and Truth in the Middle AgesShe planned three visits—one to introduce the works depicting justice and truth in the University Study Gallery, another for student presentations of assigned objects, and a final Art Study Center session where students debated their personal definitions of justice. “I like the parallel of moving into different physical spaces as we move from historical cases and medieval law texts to more abstract concepts.”