Maya Jasanoff, X. D. and Nancy Yang Professor of Arts and Sciences and Coolidge Professor of History, uses narratives to engage students and deepen their understanding of course content. From her Gen Ed course Ancestry to her upper-level seminar Narrative History: Art and Argument, Jasanoff demonstrates that “stories do not necessarily mean fiction; rather, stories are simply arguments based on the evidence. The former cannot exist without the latter.”
Robert 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.
In 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.
In 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.
Virginie 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.
Rachel 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
Emily Dolan, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of the Humanities, co-teaches the graduate seminar Instruments and Instrumentalitieswith Professor and James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology Jonathan Sterneof 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.
This issue of Into Practice is adapted fromInstructional Movescontent produced by the Teaching and Learning Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Though 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
Students 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.
Scott 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.
In 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.”