Giving students practice with constructive criticism

Mark Mulligan, Associate Professor in Practice of Architecture, requires students in Tectonics Lab to work collaboratively on design-build projects of increasing complexity over the course of the semester that are subject to critique by peers, guest experts, and Mulligan himself. For example, with an assignment such as construction of a simple joint between two pieces of wood, “I tell them that we’re actually going to test the joint to its breaking point, so they know that they have to build something that can withstand real force;and to make it fun, I get everyone to predict where it is going to break”—a metaphor for gaining practice with receiving constructive criticism.

Research: Discouraged by Peer Excellence: Exposure to Exemplary Peer Performance Causes Quitting

Professor Todd Rogers co-authored a paper that showed subjects were more likely to quit an online course when they reviewed exemplary peer work, suggesting that exposure to exemplary peer performances can undermine motivation and success by causing people to perceive that they cannot attain their... Read more about Research: Discouraged by Peer Excellence: Exposure to Exemplary Peer Performance Causes Quitting

Assessing and Reflecting (SLATE)

The Strengthening Learning and Teaching Excellence (SLATE) Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School provides guidelines and strategies for gathering feedback from students.

Lending structure to collaborative work

Kathy Boudett, Into PracticeKathryn Parker Boudett, Lecturer on Education, carefully structures the way students learn to collaborate with one another in her course, Data Wise: Using Data to Improve Teaching and Learning. For example, she models collaborative learning through an open discussion of student feedback, or “pluses and deltas,” collected in the previous session with the whole class. She also makes sure students receive plenty of experience putting into practice the ideas from one of the core texts for the course, Meeting Wise: Making the Most of Collaborative Time for Educators. She does this by teaching them to use “rolling agendas” (which can be used by student groups working in any discipline) via Google Docs. The template makes it easy for students to remember to collaboratively set objectives, delegate tasks, and document the ongoing work of their teams. Boudett, or one of her teaching fellows, can then access the shared document to provide formative feedback in real time.

Identifying knowledge gaps through illustrations

Carl Novina, Into PracticeDr. Carl Novina, Associate Professor of Medicine, and his co-instructor Shannon Turley, amended the traditional graduate seminar Critical Reading for Immunology  to teach students comprehension and presentation skills essential to a career in biomedical science. To introduce a topic, students read research papers and present a focused background on the field the paper sought to advance. Then, rather than discussing the paper linearly, students select a key figure that best highlighted the main point. Throughout the semester,students revisit central points of papers and diagram them on the white board—“an effective means to help students better process information and have greater insights into central concepts from the presentations and papers.”

Questioning, Listening & Responding

The Harvard Business School’s Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning offers guidelines for questioning, listening, and responding for faculty leading class discussion.