collaborative learning

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.

Learning from and giving back to the community through the classroom


Deborah Jewell-ShermanDeborah Jewell-Sherman, Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership, helps students develop leadership skills and a deeper understanding of the work involved in being a systems-level leader. In her two-term course, The Workplace Lab for System-Level Leaders (WPL), students actively collaborate with school districts across the nation, including the local Cambridge, Lincoln and Boston public schools. Jewell-Sherman intentionally scaffolds the course from personal introspection to undertaking significant problems of practice for sitting superintendents and CEO’s of educational entities. Before students are assigned to teams that maximize diversity in leadership and communication styles, they deeply reflect to identify their core values. “In terms of practice,” she notes, “it’s important to know who you are and for what you stand.” Groups collaborate on simulations and analyze case studies based on real-world problems while leveraging recent research. Later, students work directly with community partners and present recommendations in a “New Haven” run before hosting an on-campus final “Broadway” run to a full audience. In January, Jewell-Sherman typically takes students on a four-day trip to a school district or educational entity in another state to collaborate on new projects.

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. 

Grappling with a global pandemic in class, as a class


Jonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International LawJonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law, adapted his digital governance course to incorporate what everyone was really focused on in mid-spring of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of “compartmentalizing” between class and crisis, he reworked the syllabus to respond to students’ needs and evolving experiences. Zittrain replaced the final exam with collaborative reports in which students examined aspects of the pandemic through the lens of digital governance dilemmas. “The idea was to offer students an opportunity to apply what they learned in the course to problems that were on everybody’s mind.”... Read more about Grappling with a global pandemic in class, as a class

Understanding pathophysiology with real-life vignettes


This issue of Into Practice is adapted from Instructional Moves content produced by the Teaching and Learning Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Barbara Cockrill, Harold Amos Academy Associate Professor of MedicineBarbara Cockrill, Harold Amos Academy Associate Professor of Medicine, uses case-based collaborative learning (CBCL) in her Homeostasis I course to help medical students explore real-life clinical scenarios they may face as practitioners. Case discussions start in cohorts of four students, formed at the beginning of the course, and focus on a series of questions. Discussion continues with the full class of 40 students, facilitated by Cockrill and other medical school faculty.

 

Research-based teaching using a collaborative learning approach


Manja KlemencicManja Klemenčič, Lecturer on Sociology, has scaled a small research-based seminar course for sociology concentrators to one of Harvard College’s newest general education courses, Higher Education: Students, Institutions, and Controversies. While the previous iteration asked students to conduct an individual research project, the new version emphasizes the importance of group work and collaboration. “Students will learn how to conduct social science research and practice working as a research group exploring issues close to their student experiences.” Projects will culminate in a symposium presentation about student research findings and will be showcased on the platform Harvard Undergraduate Research into Higher Education

Implementing collaborative experimentation


Rachel Carmody, Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary BiologyRachel 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. 

Research: Teamwork That Works

This article provides tips on how to guide and structure students on group work assignments to make the most of collaboration. 

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