Why and when should debate be used as a teaching and learning tool?
Professors Eric Beerbohm (government), Jill Lepore (history), and Charles Nesson (law) all use debate as pedagogical practice to inspire lively class discussion and enhance learning. They shared their experiences with different methods and supportive technology at the HILT Speaker Series events on Monday, April 24, 2017, where Errikos Pitsos also demonstrated the functionality of online debate tool Kialo. Key takeaways: Read more about Debate as pedagogy: Practices, tools, and examples from Harvard faculty
Karin Öberg, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Astronomy, taught departmental introductory course Stellar and Planetary Astronomy in 2016 by building on established material and modifying the curriculum using student feedback and her own observational assessment.
The benefits: Öberg saved pre-semester preparation time by using the same in-class worksheets of earlier iterations and retaining the course’s primary elements—three lab sessions; weekly blog post assignments; and an active, collaborative learning in-class format supervised and assisted by roaming instructors. Read more about A balancing act: Making established courses your own
Alfred Guzzetti, Osgood Hooker Professor of Visual Arts, dedicates the final session of VES 52R: Introduction to Non-Fiction Videomaking—where students spend the term creating one nonfiction film on a subject of their choosing—to a class-wide postmortem discussion about all course elements.
The benefits: Unlike online course evaluations that close with students’ responses to questions, Guzzetti’s postmortem is a two-hour, informal dialogue: “I ask, ‘Why do you think that? Was it worth spending two weeks on the introductory assignment? What did you get out of it?’ It’s a conversation.” Read more about Engaging students in a course postmortem dialogue
Dr. Sadath Sayeed, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, introduces issues of ethical reasoning in medicine (e.g., confidentiality, professional boundaries, conflicts of interest, informed consent) with hypothetical cases and vignettes.
Jie Li, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, provides students with multiple opportunities to collaborate in General Education course AI 63 East Asian Cinema. Students have the option to collaborate in groups of four to five, on projects such as a short film or screenplay, for their weekly and final assignments.
Meira Levinson, Professor of Education, develops case studies about difficult questions in educational ethics—for example, grade inflation, charter schools, and policies that disproportionately impact low-income students of color—for A203 Educational Justice students to debate and discuss the ethical dimensions of educational practice and policy.
The benefits: In addition to in-depth content analysis, case discussions illuminate different views among students who may have expected they were in like-minded company. According to Levinson, this is an important goal for instructors, as we tend to assume that others think the same as we do: “Students learn that is not true. We are socialized culturally to avoid difficult conversations—‘don’t talk about religion, sex, or politics at a dinner party’—and not often provided opportunities to substantively engage with one another." Read more about Difficult topics: Seeking and considering alternative viewpoints in the classroom
Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies, trains students to interpret history through various media including graphics, data visualizations, videos, and art installations.
The benefits: By tackling creative assignments in HIST 1912 History Design Studio, students learn as historical artists to evaluate and articulate the rationale for why they might select a particular medium. “History doesn’t have to be told in the medium of print. Every medium has different virtues, and sometimes it’s beneficial to see or hear information rather than read it.” Students also complete a final project and 5 to 7-minute presentation open to peer critique. Read more about Creative projects: Interpreting history through various media
Joshua Greene, Professor of Psychology, designs course sessions for maximum engagement by creating interactive opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to grapple with problems and challenge one another. “It’s not a puzzle if there are not two competing, compelling arguments. I try to use students’ natural inclinations to achieve my pedagogical purposes—if they’re not at least a little confused, then I’m not doing my job.”
Ronald Heifetz, Co-Founder of the Center for Public Leadership and King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer of Public Leadership, uses experiential teaching methods like student case analysis—where students collaboratively develop and analyze cases drawn from their own work experiences—to promote deeper engagement and stronger retention of leadership concepts.
Marianne Wessling-Resnick, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, employs active learning strategies including debate, ‘pair and share,’ and peer evaluation to bridge gaps in student experience and knowledge. “I have found that it is to my advantage to use the heterogeneity of the class as a tool.”