FAS

Developing cultural and linguistic competencies through music


Taiwo EhineniTaiwo Ehineni, Preceptor of African Languages, emphasizes the importance of “cultural frames” in language learning, or the ecologies in which the language is developed and used. “When students come to take my language class, it is an opportunity to introduce them to Nigeria.” One way this is accomplished is by using songs and music, which express culturally resonant ideas through creative uses of language. Ehineni teaches Yoruba as well as West African Pidgin. Class begins with students singing a song in Yoruba together while Ehineni plays the drums. Then they generate a vocabulary list based on the song they sang together, examine the grammatical use of the word in the lyrics, and look up the meaning.... Read more about Developing cultural and linguistic competencies through music

Exploring creativity in the (virtual) classroom


David Atherton, headshotDavid Atherton, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, taught Creativity, a general education course which explores the nature of creativity and the role it plays in our lives, remotely in spring 2021. The course was originally designed before the COVID-19 pandemic and was proposed in response to undergraduate students’ desire for more creative expression, spaces for reflection, and connections to their personal lives in the classroom. “Once the pandemic hit, the goals felt more critical than ever.” Atherton and a team of teaching fellows collaborated with the Bok Center to design the course, grounding it around four core questions. Every week, students were given a creative assignment coupled with an analytic reflection about how their creation connected to the course readings. The course’s capstone project invited students to apply the course themes and create something that would impact someone in their lives, beyond the context of the course. Students included a final reflective essay that explained their project goals.

Witnessing and practicing open-minded conversation


Aravinthan D.T. SamuelAravinthan D.T. Samuel, Professor of Physics, created The Science of Optics in the Visual Arts, an interdisciplinary freshman seminar that explores the mystery behind Renaissance-era innovations in realism that reached the standard of modern photography long before the camera. Samuel took advantage of the virtual classroom to bring world experts into the Seminar. “We ‘Zoomed’ to museums around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Mauritshuis in the Netherlands.” Students spoke with curators at the very museums that hosted artworks discussed in class and asked world experts about the methods and practices of artists including Vermeer, Ingres, and Van Eyck. “Together, we learned that the answers to many questions are uncertain because of gaps in the historical record. Historians of art and historians of science are continuing in debates that may very well last forever.” For Samuel, the class was a safe space to witness expert debates and examine questions from all points of view. “Settling debates would be terrific. But many debates are perennial with people on all sides. If students can nevertheless gain an appreciation of why someone with a particular background or set of experiences holds another contrasting view, they learn the more important art of intellectual empathy that will be useful in any academic pursuit.”... Read more about Witnessing and practicing open-minded conversation

Shifting STEM culture


Robin GottliebRobin Gottlieb, Professor of the Practice of Teaching Mathematics, aims to make mathematics accessible and exciting to all students in each of her courses. “When students come to Harvard, they have very different but set ideas of what happens in the classroom,” Gottlieb explains. “In many high school math classrooms, the dominant cultural norm is an ‘I do, you do, we do’ model. The teacher is expected to tell you what to do. One of my main objectives is to shift the culture of the classroom so that students become mathematical thinkers.” Gottlieb works alongside colleagues on the preceptor team to construct classrooms in which students actively participate in the development of ideas. Inspired by colleagues’ such as Eric Mazur’s active learning and John Asher Johnson’s Tao of TALC, Gottlieb has students spend more time working on problems together in groups at the blackboard, reflect actively on questions and lessons from daily problem sets, and co-build community norms around supportive teamwork. Through group work, Gottlieb has developed mathematics classrooms that are more welcoming, active, and empowering places of learning. 

Learner-centered Pedagogy for Skill-building


Christina WarinnerChristina Warinner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, empowers students to explore real-world, thorny topics in science that also have widespread social implications through course work and guest speakers. She brings her own experience as an interdisciplinary researcher to the classroom and directly supports students as they delve into more complex material and learn how to navigate the hidden curriculum (norms of the discipline). Her students practice grappling with interdisciplinary dilemmas in realistic ways. “I want each assignment a student does to be both knowledge-building and skill-building,” she explains. Her courses attract students from both the humanities and sciences, creating a more intellectually diverse learning environment.... Read more about Learner-centered Pedagogy for Skill-building

Teaching system-level thinking with an interdisciplinary lens


Fawwaz HabbalDoris SommerFawwaz Habbal, Executive Dean for Education and Research and Senior Lecturer on Applied Physics, and Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies, co-teach systems-level thinking. Their course, Aesthetic Pleasure and Smart Design: Janus Faces the Future, trains students to look at complex problems from the perspective of both artists and engineers. This requires the development of skills in scientific assessment and disinterested aesthetic judgment. In the spirit of Renaissance Now, an international movement to promote sustainable development, Habbal and Sommer model the combination of boldness and humility. Students in ES 27 read and reflect on material which ranges from aesthetic philosophy and history to triggers for scientific revolution. Then they tackle a complex problem through a proposal that will gain aesthetic acceptance and be scientifically effective. 

Enhancing learning through an alternative (and immersive) classroom


Nicole MillsNicole Mills, Senior Preceptor in Romance Languages and Literatures, helps students grasp the French language and experience the culture through “alternative classroom contexts.” Specifically, students participate in virtual reality (VR) experiences alongside the curriculum. During the first week of the semester, students immerse themselves in the daily lives of four different Parisians from the same quarter through a series of 360 VR videos that were self-recorded by the Parisians themselves. They then partner to challenge stereotypes of Parisian culture and compare observations and findings. For remote learning, Mills added both amateur and professional VR films showcasing Parisian life with accompanying tasks. These VR experiences are mediated by one-on-one 30-minute discussions with Parisians designed to both develop interactional competence and encourage the discovery of cultural phenomena. VR can transport students to culturally immersive experiences that are otherwise impossible given COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Empowering students to develop research skills


Terence D. Capellini standing next to a human skeletonTerence D. Capellini, Richard B Wolf Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, empowers students to grow as researchers in his Building the Human Body course through a comprehensive, course-long collaborative project that works to understand the changes in the genome that make the human skeleton unique. For instance, of the many types of projects, some focus on the genetic basis of why human beings walk on two legs. This integrative “Evo-Devo” project demands high levels of understanding of biology and genetics that students gain in the first half of class, which is then applied hands-on in the second half of class. Students work in teams of 2-3 to collect their own morphology data by measuring skeletons at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and leverage statistics to understand patterns in their data. They then collect and analyze DNA sequences from humans and other animals to identify the DNA changes that may encode morphology. Throughout this course, students go from sometimes having “limited experience in genetics and/or morphology” to conducting their own independent research. This project culminates in a team presentation and a final research paper.

Treating merging forms of evidence around us as a collective ensemble


Davíd CarrascoAs an historian of religions, Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, conducts his courses through an ensemble approach, which enables students to learn about complex evidence from a variety of approaches, sources and mediums. This approach contains four parts: (1) using an interdisciplinary intellectual method, (2) incorporating a variety of sources, including artifacts, texts, films, and museum exhibitions; (3) expanding disciplinary perspectives through team teaching and visiting speakers; and (4) organizing diverse student experiences and inviting a range of responses. One example of the ensemble in action is Carrasco’s annual collaboration with the Peabody Museum on their Día de los Muertos exhibition as part of his Gen Ed course, Montezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now (co-taught with William L. Fash) in which students visit and add their own interpretations and art works to the ofrendas.

Reconfiguring classroom mechanics to break down hegemony & build up student learning


John Asher JohnsonJohn Asher Johnson, Professor of Astronomy, aims to cut through dominant constructs of what teaching looks like and to disrupt hegemonies in his classes through collective norms setting and conveying to students that they are “intellectual peers with the professor.” He structures his courses around the Tao of TALC method in which students work on assignments in collaborative groups while the instructor and TFs use the Socratic method to stimulate collective problem-solving. 

Using asynchronous approaches to improve students’ learning experiences


Elisa NewElisa New, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature, has ample experience blending asynchronous and synchronous learning to teach students at Harvard and beyond. Asynchronous learning happens independently from in-person class time and can take many forms. In her courses, New has incorporated on-location “field-trips,” discussions with relevant authors, and even recordings of former student discussions, which has helped current students “up their game.” “People really love those. They like to see how a good discussion works.”

Pages