Vulnerability in the classroom: instructor's ability to build trust impacts the student's learning experience

This study on “Vulnerability in the Classroom” uses the social, political, economic, legal, intercultural, and technological (SPELIT) environments, called the SPELIT model, and the Kruger Iceberg Change (2011) model to analyze the impacts of changing a traditional college culture to one that... Read more about Vulnerability in the classroom: instructor's ability to build trust impacts the student's learning experience

Cultivating a convivial academic setting

Janet GyatsoJanet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, teaches seminars on Buddhist and Tibetan intellectual history and literature at Harvard Divinity School and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Gyatso aims to “cultivate an experimental and convivial atmosphere in the classroom” that encourages students to draw connections between the past and present, interrogate a diverse set of primary sources, and create a community that allows students to feel comfortable taking intellectual risks and asking questions. This is particularly important in her field, which is often unfamiliar and engages with historical contexts that may seem distant from contemporary issues. Gyatso inspires her students to draw connections between the literature, philosophy, religion, and arts of the past and contemporary conversations on topics ranging from identity to gender to climate. By encouraging students to ask questions and find links between past and present, Gyatso is able to help them find an entryway into otherwise unfamiliar topics.

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.

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.”

Bridging practice and theory in the professional classroom

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.

Richard SchwartzsteinDr. Richard Schwartzstein, Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medicine and Medical Education, is revolutionizing textbook-dependent classrooms by incorporating real-life applications. In this case, first-year Harvard Medical School students apply their reading through case simulations. A robot functions as the patient, and a small group of students take on various roles to work together and treat the patient. Students are supported by a facilitator, who offers guiding questions but no direct answers, as well as the rest of the class, who serve as consultants or in other supporting roles in the case, like the patient’s family. “Instead of a paper case, now it feels much more real. And suddenly, they’re immersed in taking care of a patient,” Dr. Schwartzstein reflects. After a simulation ends, the whole class debriefs the case, including what students struggled with and how they felt during the exercise.

Physically inhabiting new and different spaces

Virginie GreeneVirginie Greene, Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, transfers the theme of her Freshman Seminar course, The Grail Quest of Marcel Proust, to the classroom by holding every class session in a different location around the Harvard campus or in the Boston area. “Teaching a freshman seminar allows you to do something a little rash and provoke students. A knight going on a quest never stays in the same spot twice.” Whether they are exploring Sanders Hall, the Harvard Art Museum, or the Boston Public Library, classtime is split between exploring the space and discussing the week’s reading.

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