collaborative learning

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.” 

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

The Secrets of Great Teamwork

For a more recent exploration on how to structure teamwork in the classroom, seeHaas and Mortenson’s (2016) article in the Harvard Business Review on the secrets of great teamwork.

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.

Team-based learning in a foundational course


Carrie Conaway, Senior LecturerJames Kim, Professor of EducationCarrie Conaway, Senior Lecturer, and James Kim, Professor of Education, teach the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s new foundational course, Evidence. The course trains students to understand and apply a variety of evidence to a real-life problem of practice. In order to learn about different types of evidence and how to apply it to solve real-world problems, students work in small teams using team-based learning (TBL). Conaway and Kim use survey data to construct teams that are diverse in terms of background, program, and comfort with different types of evidence. Each group activity is centered around a different component of a case developed from Kim’s research. The activities culminate in final recommendations for how to improve literacy outcomes for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. 

Building virtual community in a foundational class


Dr. Tamara KaplanMuch like all our faculty across the University, Dr. Tamara Kaplan, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, shifted the pre-clinical neuroscience course, Mind, Brain, and Behavior, to a remote learning space this past year. In addition to considering curricular materials, Dr. Kaplan and her team agreed that it was especially important to think about the learning environment and students’ social connection with the material, the teaching faculty, and other students. As a result, they developed several systems to foster this social sense of community and “combat the sense of isolation and disconnectedness that can result from online learning” in her class. All course instructors recorded three-minute introductory videos about both their career/research and personal interests. Dr. Kaplan used Canvas to send students daily announcements with learning objectives, key points that came up that day in class, and friendly support. A balance of synchronous and asynchronous communication was used to minimize student burnout and make sure students stayed engaged. Finally, the team built in time for genuine connection with daily half-hour breaks between classes for students to get to know faculty and ask questions. Dr. Kaplan notes, “we realized that creating relationships with faculty is a huge driver of a positive learning environment.”... Read more about Building virtual community in a foundational class

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