In his Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics course (a core class for physics concentrators) Matthew Schwartz, Professor of Physics, tries to move his students away from a binge-learning exam-based model, common in science classes, to one of sustained learning throughout the semester. To do this, he persuades students to read the course materials before class through comprehensive pre-class quizzes, replaces the midterm with a non-collaborative problem set, and assigns a take-home final weighted the same as two problem sets.
A synthesis of studies of problem- or project-based learning (PBL) concludes that such experiences are successful only if students are able to self-regulate their own learning. The authors make project design and instructional practice recommendations to optimize self-regulated learning,...
Logan McCarty, Director of Physical Sciences Education, and Louis Deslauriers, Director of Science Teaching and Learning, adopted an active pedagogy for a large introductory physics course and saw significant gains in student learning and attitudes. Assessment played a role every step of the way.
The benefits: By explicitly stating the course learning objectives and designing complementary in-class activities, they created effective feedback loops – the activities helped students assess their own understanding, and according to McCarty, “more importantly, the instructors got feedback on how students are learning.”
The challenges: Defining course learning objectives can “feel awkward. It feels artificial. And the value is not immediately apparent,” McCarty admitted. “But it is essential for creating effective assessments.”
A literature review summarizes research supporting the benefits of clearly articulated learning objectives, namely their role in helping students differentiate among types of knowledge and ensuring learners are practicing the intended skills.
José A. (Tony) Gómez-Ibáñez, Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy, who holds appointments at the GSD and HKS,defines the learning objectives of his course prior to the start of the semester and references them to frame each individual class session: “I use the first five minutes to place each class in the course – ‘The last class we talked about X and today we want to see how those ideas might apply to Y.’”
The benefits: Deliberately and specifically identifying what students should come away with each class places the focus on the learning process, rather than the specifics of a particular unit topic or case – Gómez-Ibáñez teaches economics, infrastructure, and transportation policy, primarily employing the case method.... Read more about Defining learning objectives: Pre-semester, and all semester
Teaching and Learning Week is an annual event to reflect as a community on teaching and learning at the Ed School. It's also an opportunity for our community to work on our teaching practice together. We're spotlighting powerful and innovative practices at HGSE and...
A literature review suggests that taking a formative, frequent approach to learning assessment throughout the semester to check on student progress can improve student understanding of course and assignment expectations, as well as prompt deeper individual reflection.
Karen Brennan, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, designs her syllabus for T550: Designing for Learning by Creating to not only communicate the plan for the course, but to introduce students to the course culture.
The benefits: Her use of quotations, images, and color appeals to the various ways that we engage with text, and gives students (many of them future instructors themselves) a glimpse of their upcoming course experience. Drawing on other forms of expression expands the possibilities for communicating the aspirations and intentions for the course.... Read more about Communicating course culture: Beyond the syllabus