collaborative learning

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

Capturing conversation to build ideas collectively

Ryan BuellRyan Buell, Finnegan Family Associate Professor of Business Administration, leveraged Scribble for his remote course to help students engage with case discussion longitudinally and collectively. The virtual board platform allowed students to engage online in lieu of an in-person experience in which the blackboard operates as a coordinating element for case discussion. “It helps students put the pieces together, allowing them to track any idea shared by the faculty and shared by the students.”

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.