FAS

Establishing a rigorous and invigorating classroom


Robert Reid PharrRobert Reid-Pharr, Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of African American Studies strives to create a “rigorous but not frightening” classroom experience for the course Gender, Sexuality, and the Archive, in which students take turns leading class discussion—presenting thoughts on, challenges to, and questions about course readings derived from essays they have written. With facilitation from Reid-Pharr, their peers then ask difficult questions of the discussion leader that begin to generate meaningful conversation. 

The benefits: Students leave feeling more confident... Read more about Establishing a rigorous and invigorating classroom

Motivating students to transition from learning-for-testing to learning-for-learning


Matthew SchwartzIn his Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics course (a core class for physics concentrators) Matthew Schwartz, Professor of Physics, tries to move his students away from a binge-learning exam-based model, common in science classes, to one of sustained learning throughout the semester. To do this, he persuades students to read the course materials before class through comprehensive pre-class quizzes, replaces the midterm with a non-collaborative problem set, and assigns a take-home final weighted the same as two problem sets. 

The benefits: This model... Read more about Motivating students to transition from learning-for-testing to learning-for-learning

Engaging Students with Difficult Text Through a Flipped Classroom


Jay HarrisIn his general education courses, Jay Harris, Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies, posts two different videos prior to class for students to view: pre-reading videos contextualize and provide guidance for the week’s readings, and lecture videos replace Harris’s in-class lectures on the material. Students then send their questions and comments to Harris through Canvas, which he uses to build the class discussion.

The benefits: The pre-reading videos, in particular, give students a road map into the readings and lower the barrier for getting through difficult texts.... Read more about Engaging Students with Difficult Text Through a Flipped Classroom

Research-based teaching using a collaborative learning approach


Manja KlemencicManja Klemenčič, Lecturer on Sociology, has scaled a small research-based seminar course for sociology concentrators to one of Harvard College’s newest general education courses, Higher Education: Students, Institutions, and Controversies. While the previous iteration asked students to conduct an individual research project, the new version emphasizes the importance of group work and collaboration. “Students will learn how to conduct social science research and practice working as a research group exploring issues close to their student experiences.” Projects will culminate in a symposium presentation about student research findings and will be showcased on the platform Harvard Undergraduate Research into Higher Education.... Read more about Research-based teaching using a collaborative learning approach

Physically inhabiting new and different spaces


Virginie GreeneVirginie Greene, Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, transfers the theme of her Freshman Seminar course, The Grail Quest of Marcel Proust, to the classroom by holding every class session in a different location around the Harvard campus or in the Boston area. “Teaching a freshman seminar allows you to do something a little rash and provoke students. A knight going on a quest never stays in the same spot twice.” Whether they are exploring Sanders Hall, the Harvard Art Museum, or the Boston Public Library, classtime is split between exploring the space and discussing the week’s reading.

The benefits: By physically inhabiting new and different spaces,... Read more about Physically inhabiting new and different spaces

Flipping the classroom for deeper student engagement and feedback on learning


L MahadevanL Mahadevan, Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics in SEAS, and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics in FAS used a 2017-2018 SEAS Learning Incubator LInc Faculty Fellowship to emphasize active learning in his Mathematical Modeling course. He implemented a flipped classroom approach to enable students to come to class with problems and questions to collaborate on, time to develop their own problems from scratch, and work on modeling with peers. The foundational arc supporting this process has students move from observations through abstraction, analysis and communication, and iteration.... Read more about Flipping the classroom for deeper student engagement and feedback on learning

Implementing collaborative experimentation


Rachel Carmody, Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary BiologyRachel Carmody, Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, explores a burgeoning new field in her course Gut Microbiome and Human Health. The main goals are for students to develop the skills to understand how experiments are designed and conducted, and to critically evaluate existing studies and emerging research papers. Students are challenged to generate new data of their own and run experiments to investigate a predetermined hypothesis individually and collectively during the semester. They regularly discuss the results of their experiments and produce final research papers that use the collective data to explore any aspect of the hypothesis that interests them.... Read more about Implementing collaborative experimentation

Helping students see themselves as scientists


Kevin EgganWhen Dr. Kevin Eggan, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, did research as an undergraduate, it “transformed for me what science was and what it could be.” His Precision Genetics and Gene Therapy year-long course offers sophomores a similar opportunity. In the fall, students are introduced to a “jamboree of recent medical discoveries in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).” Working in small groups, they explore and then choose a gene to focus on. In the spring, they continue in small groups to experiment on mice, learn tools for analyzing the data they generate,... Read more about Helping students see themselves as scientists

Structuring intellectual collaboration and play


Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of the Humanities, Emily DolanEmily Dolan, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of the Humanities, co-teaches the graduate seminar Instruments and Instrumentalities with Professor and James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology Jonathan Sterne of McGill University in which students from both Harvard and McGill (representing a range of disciplines) engage with one another via audio and videoconferencing, trips to each campus, online documents, and other tools. 

The benefits: Students benefit from diverse perspectives when feedback on their work comes from “two sets of eyes” that don’t... Read more about Structuring intellectual collaboration and play

Enhancing student learning through field experience


Gonzalo GiribetGonzalo Giribet, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, takes students in his course Biology and Evolution of Invertebrate Animals (co-taught this semester with Professor Cassandra Extavour) to Panama to do fieldwork during spring break to help them see how invertebrate animals “are assembled in nature,” and how “organisms are integrated into systems.” Students incur no costs for the trip thanks to funding from the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The benefits: “Being in nature in the wild,” allows students to see the phenomena they’ve studied in their true context, rather than an academic vacuum; they gain an... Read more about Enhancing student learning through field experience

Enriching learning through student-led provocation


This issue of Into Practice is adapted from Instructional Moves content produced by the Teaching and Learning Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Timothy McCarthyThough Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Lecturer on History and Literature, Public Policy, and Education, plays an integral role in class discussions for his course Stories of Slavery and Freedom, students are responsible for leading the majority of classes through an exercise McCarthy refers to as “provocation.” “The provokers do not come in and give a summary of what we’ve read or a mini lecture about the top-line themes that might emerge from the assigned readings. I really want them to find some way to literally provoke us into conversation, get the juices flowing, and try to get all the students to think about something urgently at the outset of class.”... Read more about Enriching learning through student-led provocation

Understanding culture through material artifacts


Yukio LippitStudents in Japanese art and architecture courses taught by Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, often encounter cultures quite different from their own.  Lippit immerses them in those cultures through deep engagement with material artifacts, by examining roof tiles or carpentry, visiting the Japanese house at the Boston Children’s Museum, or participating in a tea ceremony.  

The benefits: For Lippit, objects unlock the “syntax of cultural practices” in ways that other forms of study cannot; they manifest “modes of meaning in the world, dispositions of thought and comportment.” Focusing on objects also equalizes participation:... Read more about Understanding culture through material artifacts

Moving from passive learning to active exploration of the physical world


Scott EdwardsScott Edwards, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ)makes extensive use of the museum’s ornithology collections in his courses and brings specimens into his lecture sessions to engage students in close analysis during weekly three-hour labs. Edwards models “ways of making meaning” by looking to specimens as key evidence for testing claims and theories.

The benefits: Student engagement increases through the immediacy and level of detailed observation that comes from holding actual specimens. Edwards claims ... Read more about Moving from passive learning to active exploration of the physical world

Using ethnographic research to improve students’ qualitative literacy


Mario SmallIn distinguishing fact from opinion, quantitative information is often seen as more reliable, but Mario Luis Small, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology, wants students also to see the value of qualitative data for assessing such claims. In his course Qualitative Network Analysis, he requires students to analyze empirical research (including their own ethnographic cases) with a qualitative lens and thoroughly evaluate “authors who believe they’re making a defensible claim about some aspect of society.”

The benefits: As the emphasis... Read more about Using ethnographic research to improve students’ qualitative literacy

Transforming your syllabus to reach and engage students


Katharina PiechockiWhen Katharina Piechocki, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, prepares for a course she has taught before, she significantly changes the syllabus to stay relevant in a rapidly-changing world, respond to students’ (and her own) growing interests, and take advantage of events outside the classroom.  

The benefits: Piechocki finds this approach increases student interest in comparative literature by helping them see connections in unexpected places—at Harvard, in the world, and in their own life experience.... Read more about Transforming your syllabus to reach and engage students

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