Into Practice Issues

Learning effectively through teams


Matt Andrews, Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International DevelopmentMatt Andrews, Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development at Harvard Kennedy School, is the faculty director of the Building State Capability program in the Center for International Development at Harvard and trains students in Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) for solving complex policy and management problems alongside his co-instructor, Salimah Samji. PDIA is a step-by-step approach – developed over years of applied action research - that helps students break down a problem into its root causes, identify entry points, search for possible solutions, take action, reflect upon what has been learned, adapt, and then act again. It is “a dynamic process with tight feedback loops that allows students to build their own solution to a problem.”  This approach is most effective, Andrews believes, when “learning happens in groups.” 

Tapping the power of virtual reality to enhance public speaking


Candace BertottiCandace Bertotti, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, teaches The Arts of Communication, a class focusing on public speaking. To help students overcome their fear of speaking in front of others, Candace incorporates virtual reality (VR) into her classroom. Students put on VR goggles and are instantly transported to the front of a large virtual crowd awaiting their speech. Students experience a range of audiences and audience reactions. It's realistic—and feels safe.... Read more about Tapping the power of virtual reality to enhance public speaking

Leveraging asymmetry in student's prior knowledge through peer learning exercises


Salil VadhanSalil Vadhan, Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics & Lead PI on Harvard’s Privacy Tools Project, teaches COMPSCI 120: Introduction to Algorithms and their Limitations, a new introductory course in theoretical computer science “aimed at giving students the power of using mathematical abstraction and rigorous proof to understand computation with confidence.” Many computer science students are “builders” who enjoy the creative aspect of the field, yet their mathematical backgrounds are often quite diverse; to some, mathematical theory is unfamiliar. In redesigning the undergraduate computer science curriculum, it was a priority to make this “new language, reasoning, and way of thinking” accessible to students early in the program.... Read more about Leveraging asymmetry in student's prior knowledge through peer learning exercises

Designing solutions in response to real-world problems


Martin BechtholdMary TolikasMartin Bechthold, the Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology at the Harvard School of Design, and Mary Tolikas, Chief Innovation Officer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Visiting Lecturer on Engineering Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, work together to teach Independent Engineering Design Project I & II, a small, seminar-size course for second-year students in the Master in Design Engineering program. Students spend the academic year designing prototype solutions to real-world problems about which they are passionate. Throughout the two semesters, students work towards understanding the complexity and dynamics underlying the problem and, by collaborating with relevant stakeholders, they explore visionary solutions and iterate on prototypes that would best address their challenge. Analyzing and quantifying potential impact is central to solution development. Early in the course, students are placed in self-selected “affinity groups,” based on shared interests. Students use these groups throughout the term to bounce ideas from and relay feedback. They also receive regular feedback from faculty advisors throughout each stage as they continue to evolve their project.

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.

Practicing complex, new skills in a supportive environment


Linda KaboolianLinda Kaboolian, Instructor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, teaches Negotiations for public health students who will continue to practice these skills in everyday and high-stakes settings all around the world. “I’m a social scientist,” she explains, “so I’m very concerned about how to modify practice as a negotiator to be relevant to the context you’re working with.” Kaboolian underscores the importance of understanding the power dynamics and cultural context at play before negotiating. She designs stylized cases steeped in research on culture and scaffolded in complexity, building from one-on-one discussions to multi-stakeholder, multi-issue dilemmas.

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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

Identity, vulnerability, and courage in classroom discussion


Christina VillarrealChristina “V” Villarreal, Lecturer on Education and Faculty Director of the Teacher Education Program, empowers, uplifts, and nurtures communities of students every year through her popular course Ethnic Studies and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). With pedagogical approaches grounded in ethnic studies, she works with students to co-create a classroom community where vulnerability, courage, and honesty are encouraged and valued. Through discussion facilitation, Villarreal creates space for students to bring their lived experiences to topics and shares her personal and political views together with them. She also utilizes small break-out groups for in-depth sharing and a physical circle for large-group discussion to facilitate more democratic engagement.

Using podcasts to build foundational relationships between students


Matthew PottsMatthew Potts, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, teaches Introduction to Ministry Studies, a cohort introductory course designed for graduate students who intend to go into the interreligious ministry broadly. His course offers an introduction that spans a variety of religions and simultaneously cultivates a sense of community amongst students. While the course was traditionally conducted in a lecture format with some section discussions, Potts had to rethink the course’s structure completely when it shifted online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “I wanted to get people off screen,” he explains. Rather than sitting through a live lecture, students listened to podcasts of Potts and the teaching team conversing about the readings prior to each class. To ensure students would also engage with him directly, Potts also organized Oxford-style tutorials, with students meeting in groups of two or three and with a different member of the teaching team to discuss the course material. Students would write a one-page memo reflecting on the readings and present it to get the conversation going. “I wanted a place for students to come and continue the conversation and feel invested in what they had read or what they had listened to, but not in any burdensome way.”

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. 

Piloting an experimental and experiential course


Senior Lecturers Archie Jones, Henry McGee, and Jeffrey Bussgang teamed up to design a new Harvard Business School (HBS) course, Scaling Minority Businesses, in which students learn about the unique challenges of Black-owned businesses. Students are grouped into teams and paired with one of ten Black entrepreneurs in the Boston area, support their business’s strategic initiatives, and assist in their continued growth. The instructors designed the class around three modules: (1) systemic racism’s impact on wealth creation more broadly, which established for students, as Professor Jones put it, “where we are and how we got there;” (2) access to capital, including what organizations can do and how the market needs to engage differently with Black-owned businesses; and (3) access to customers, for instance supplier diversity programs and how to get the first big contract. Given the lack of traditional cases about minority businesses and their challenges, the instructors designed “live cases,” with the Black business leaders visiting the class and students working with them in real-time. The professors invited a range of class speakers, including experts from the Brookings Institution and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.  

Empowering students to make key decisions


Phuong PhamDr. Phuong Pham, Assistant Professor and Director of Humanitarian Studies, teaches the required course for HSPH Humanitarian Studies Concentrators, Field Methods in Humanitarian Crises, and oversees a set of ongoing online modules titled, “Build a Better Response.” Dr. Pham stresses the need to ground studies within reality through experiential learning. She and others have created a library of case studies for students to practice analyzing complex scenarios. In addition, they collaborate with an expansive network of people each year to pull off a remarkable feat: a weekend-long humanitarian response simulation at Harold Parker State Forest where the students navigate an assigned role within a real-life humanitarian crisis simulation. “We try to provide students the opportunity to engage with a scripted real-life scenario. It gives them a tangible way to interact with simulated situations other than reading a text and listening to secondhand stories.” 

Teaching students how to build better teams


Scott Westfahl, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law SchoolScott Westfahl, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, intentionally develops students’ team-based collaboration skills in his law school courses on leadership fundamentals and innovation. Throughout the semester, student groups learn, reflect, and act on what makes a great team in real-time. Westfahl begins with a focus on the academic frameworks for successful teams. Then a series of scaffolded activities and assignments allow students to collaboratively reflect on what they want as a team, consider over time what is working and what isn’t, and work on projects throughout the semester. At the end of his innovation course, Westfahl surprises his students with a “graduation,” where he reads aloud paraphrased reflections from students on each of their group members' contributions.

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

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