Into Practice, a biweekly communication distributed from the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning to active instructors during the academic year was inspired by a successful 2012 HILT grant project. The e-letter highlights the pedagogical practices of individual faculty members from across Schools and delivers timely, evidence-based teaching advice, contributing to and strengthening a University-wide community of practice around teaching.

Below is a catalog of all the Into Practice issues sorted by the publication date. To subscribe to Into Practice, please sign-up via our Mailing List page.

  • Using podcasts to build foundational relationships between students

    Matthew Potts, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, teaches Introduction to Ministry Studies, a cohort introductory course designed for graduate students who intend to go into the interreligious ministry broadly. His course offers an introduction that spans a variety of religions and simultaneously cultivates a sense of community amongst students. While the course was traditionally conducted in a lecture format with some section discussions, Potts had to rethink the course’s structure completely when it shifted online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “I wanted to get people off screen,” he explains. Rather than sitting through a live lecture, students listened to podcasts of Potts and the teaching team conversing about the readings prior to each class. To ensure students would also engage with him directly, Potts also organized Oxford-style tutorials, with students meeting in groups of two or three and with a different member of the teaching team to discuss the course material. Students would write a one-page memo reflecting on the readings and present it to get the conversation going. “I wanted a place for students to come and continue the conversation and feel invested in what they had read or what they had listened to, but not in any burdensome way.”
  • Shifting STEM culture

    Robin Gottlieb, Professor of the Practice of Teaching Mathematics, aims to make mathematics accessible and exciting to all students in each of her courses. “When students come to Harvard, they have very different but set ideas of what happens in the classroom,” Gottlieb explains. “In many high school math classrooms, the dominant cultural norm is an ‘I do, you do, we do’ model. The teacher is expected to tell you what to do. One of my main objectives is to shift the culture of the classroom so that students become mathematical thinkers.” Gottlieb works alongside colleagues on the preceptor team to construct classrooms in which students actively participate in the development of ideas. Inspired by colleagues’ such as Eric Mazur’s active learning and John Asher Johnson’s Tao of TALC, Gottlieb has students spend more time working on problems together in groups at the blackboard, reflect actively on questions and lessons from daily problem sets, and co-build community norms around supportive teamwork. Through group work, Gottlieb has developed mathematics classrooms that are more welcoming, active, and empowering places of learning.
  • Piloting an experimental and experiential course

    Senior Lecturers Archie Jones, Henry McGee, and Jeffrey Bussgang teamed up to design a new Harvard Business School (HBS) course, Scaling Minority Businesses, in which students learn about the unique challenges of Black-owned businesses. Students are grouped into teams and paired with one of ten Black entrepreneurs in the Boston area, support their business’s strategic initiatives, and assist in their continued growth. The instructors designed the class around three modules: (1) systemic racism’s impact on wealth creation more broadly, which established for students, as Professor Jones put it, “where we are and how we got there;” (2) access to capital, including what organizations can do and how the market needs to engage differently with Black-owned businesses; and (3) access to customers, for instance supplier diversity programs and how to get the first big contract. Given the lack of traditional cases about minority businesses and their challenges, the instructors designed “live cases,” with the Black business leaders visiting the class and students working with them in real-time. The professors invited a range of class speakers, including experts from the Brookings Institution and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.
  • Empowering students to make key decisions

    Dr. Phuong Pham, Assistant Professor and Director of Humanitarian Studies, teaches the required course for HSPH Humanitarian Studies Concentrators, Field Methods in Humanitarian Crises, and oversees a set of ongoing online modules titled, “Build a Better Response.” Dr. Pham stresses the need to ground studies within reality through experiential learning. She and others have created a library of case studies for students to practice analyzing complex scenarios. In addition, they collaborate with an expansive network of people each year to pull off a remarkable feat: a weekend-long humanitarian response simulation at Harold Parker State Forest where the students navigate an assigned role within a real-life humanitarian crisis simulation. “We try to provide students the opportunity to engage with a scripted real-life scenario. It gives them a tangible way to interact with simulated situations other than reading a text and listening to secondhand stories.”
  • Teaching students how to build better teams

    Scott Westfahl, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, intentionally develops students’ team-based collaboration skills in his law school courses on leadership fundamentals and innovation. Throughout the semester, student groups learn, reflect, and act on what makes a great team in real-time. Westfahl begins with a focus on the academic frameworks for successful teams. Then a series of scaffolded activities and assignments allow students to collaboratively reflect on what they want as a team, consider over time what is working and what isn’t, and work on projects throughout the semester. At the end of his innovation course, Westfahl surprises his students with a “graduation,” where he reads aloud paraphrased reflections from students on each of their group members' contributions.
  • Learner-centered Pedagogy for Skill-building

    Christina Warinner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, empowers students to explore real-world, thorny topics in science that also have widespread social implications through course work and guest speakers. She brings her own experience as an interdisciplinary researcher to the classroom and directly supports students as they delve into more complex material and learn how to navigate the hidden curriculum (norms of the discipline). Her students practice grappling with interdisciplinary dilemmas in realistic ways. “I want each assignment a student does to be both knowledge-building and skill-building,” she explains. Her courses attract students from both the humanities and sciences, creating a more intellectually diverse learning environment.
  • Interdisciplinary learning through accessible, intentional technology

    Hong Qu, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, taught Data Visualization virtually last spring to over 70 students from different Harvard Schools, levels of experience, and corners of the world. To foster a close-knit community among students from diverse backgrounds, Qu intentionally curated a set of online tools and learning exercises to generate an “ambient telepresence.” For instance, he assigned group data visualization projects to promote peer learning and used VoiceThread for assigned peer critiques. During synchronous class time, students were invited to sketch with Qu using Jamboard on the shared screen—a novel form of participation to draw out the inner artist/designer in every student. “I wanted to give them a sense that we’re spending time with each other in this very challenging period to learn as a community, to work together on group projects, and to achieve organic connections and authentic relationships between all our unique places during this pandemic.”
  • Team-based learning in a foundational course

    Carrie Conaway, Senior Lecturer, and James Kim, Professor of Education, teach the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s new foundational course, Evidence. The course trains students to understand and apply a variety of evidence to a real-life problem of practice. In order to learn about different types of evidence and how to apply it to solve real-world problems, students work in small teams using team-based learning (TBL). Conaway and Kim use survey data to construct teams that are diverse in terms of background, program, and comfort with different types of evidence. Each group activity is centered around a different component of a case developed from Kim’s research. The activities culminate in final recommendations for how to improve literacy outcomes for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina.
  • Teaching system-level thinking with an interdisciplinary lens

    Fawwaz Habbal, Executive Dean for Education and Research and Senior Lecturer on Applied Physics, and Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies, co-teach systems-level thinking. Their course, Aesthetic Pleasure and Smart Design: Janus Faces the Future, trains students to look at complex problems from the perspective of both artists and engineers. This requires the development of skills in scientific assessment and disinterested aesthetic judgment. In the spirit of Renaissance Now, an international movement to promote sustainable development, Habbal and Sommer model the combination of boldness and humility. Students in ES 27 read and reflect on material which ranges from aesthetic philosophy and history to triggers for scientific revolution. Then they tackle a complex problem through a proposal that will gain aesthetic acceptance and be scientifically effective.
  • Building virtual community in a foundational class

    Much 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.”
  • Demonstrating that everyone’s voice is valued

    Dr. Monik Jimenez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, uses different pedagogical approaches to elevate diverse voices and styles of learning. In her Mass Incarceration & Health in the US course, she balances speaking time between a traditional scholar and an impacted community member, and emphasizes to the latter (and to students) that they are an expert. Dr. Jimenez also provides a variety of ways for students to participate and ask questions that include different cultural and neurodivergent learning styles. “It’s important to think about decolonizing the classroom in a layered way,” she reflects. “What are the multiple ways in which systems of power and white supremacy have impacted what we consider to be an ‘optimal’ student through the metrics we’ve been taught?”
  • Centering student need in gateway courses to the field

    Dr. Carmen Messerlian, Assistant Professor of Environmental Reproductive, Perinatal, and Pediatric Epidemiology, remodeled the department’s gateway Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology I course after her first year teaching it. Drawing on key observations and 6-8 hours of one-on-one student meetings per week, “I wanted to understand students’ learning needs and requirements, their goals for the course, and where their training was going to take them.” From there, she synthesized both her own experience in the field and quantitative student review data to radically revise the course’s structure. Now the course helps students develop their scientific research skills, explicitly scaffolding how to perform activities that students rarely get formal training in, like academic journal peer reviews, abstract writing, and poster presentations. At its core, the course trains students “how to become a reproductive epidemiologist,” and to learn how to put on “an epidemiological lens” when they produce, digest, or evaluate material in the field.
  • Capturing conversation to build ideas collectively

    Ryan 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.”
  • The importance of incorporating mentorship into your teaching practice

    Dr. Anita Vanka, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Associate Advisor & Director of Hinton Society at Harvard Medical School, co-directs Practice of Medicine with Dr. Katherine Johnston, Assistant Professor of Medicine. The eleven-month course involves several hundred faculty members at different teaching hospitals and is designed to teach first-year medical and dental students how to effectively interview and communicate with patients, perform a thorough physical exam, reason through diagnostic possibilities, and translate findings effectively in both oral and written form. Given the size and breadth of the course, Drs. Vanka and Johnston developed a mentoring system which allows for each student to meet with an assigned faculty advisor at their hospital site several times a year. These meetings encourage faculty to develop personal relationships with the students, oversee their clinical progress, provide feedback, and guide students into setting goals for their learning and progress.
  • Encouraging learning by creating alongside diverse feedback

    Paul B. Bottino, Co-Founder, Executive Director, and Lecturer at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, offers Start-up R&D to undergraduate students across disciplines who are interested in the field and have a particular project idea in mind. Within the workshop course structure, “each student project is the educational centerpiece.” Student groups work on a variety of innovative startup projects seeking solutions to problems they care about. The course uses multiple approaches to help students build upon their ideas and receive constructive feedback: “challenge sessions” where students outline their biggest obstacles to a small group of peers; individual meetings with Bottino and teaching fellows; and connections with alumni. “It’s like a Greek forum of peers, near-peers, and mentors” with students learning that “entrepreneurship is a creative and iterative research practice of idea formulation, experimentation, and feedback.” At the end of term, students present and receive feedback on projects at a public event “Demo Day.”
  • Enhancing learning through an alternative (and immersive) classroom

    Nicole Mills, Senior Preceptor in Romance Languages and Literatures, helps students grasp the French language and experience the culture through “alternative classroom contexts.” Specifically, students participate in virtual reality (VR) experiences alongside the curriculum. During the first week of the semester, students immerse themselves in the daily lives of four different Parisians from the same quarter through a series of 360 VR videos that were self-recorded by the Parisians themselves. They then partner to challenge stereotypes of Parisian culture and compare observations and findings. For remote learning, Mills added both amateur and professional VR films showcasing Parisian life with accompanying tasks. These VR experiences are mediated by one-on-one 30-minute discussions with Parisians designed to both develop interactional competence and encourage the discovery of cultural phenomena. VR can transport students to culturally immersive experiences that are otherwise impossible given COVID-19 travel restrictions.
  • Empowering students to develop research skills

    Terence 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-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.
  • Using the classroom to challenge the boundaries of a discipline

    Sawako Kaijima, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, challenges students’ preconceptions towards material often defined by their disciplinary norms though the use of visual programing to foster an “intuitive understanding of structural engineering in architectural design.” Structural design and architectural design often live separately in teaching and practice but are fundamentally linked. So her Interface Design: Integrating Material Perceptions course seeks to fuse these two disciplines. The use of a software tool developed specifically for this course, which is accessible even to students with no programming experience, “defamiliarizes architecture students from the common way of looking at materials” and introduces them to an engineering perspective right from the start.
  • Bridging practice and theory in the professional classroom

    Dr. 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.
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