Framework courses in arts and humanities

Awardees: Diana Sorensen (FAS), Homi Bhabha (FAS), Peter Sacks (FAS), Jennifer Roberts (FAS), Robin Kelsey (FAS), Alexander Rehding (FAS), John Hamilton (FAS)

Summary: Awardees plan three Graduate Seminars in General Education that will ultimately lead to proposals for foundational Gen Ed courses in the arts and humanities.

“The instructors and TAs highlighted the ability to really critically analyze something and give a nuanced argument — abilities that are sometimes more valuable than a lot of ostensibly more practical disciplines like economics or hard sciences.” — Darius Altman ’17

“Positive mutual vigilance” in cross-disciplinary teaching

Awardees developed an ambitious set of foundational courses in the arts and humanities, Framework Courses, intended to be pathways into more advanced courses. In their original Letter of Intent, the group stated, “We perceive a need for an integrated set of introductory courses for students who come to Harvard with the desire to acquire the categories of analysis needed to successfully engage in the study of disciplines broadly conceived as humanistic.” Humanities 11a: Frameworks: The Art of Looking, Humanities 11b: Frameworks: The Art of Listening, and Humanities 11c: Frameworks: The Art of Reading were offered first as graduate seminars in spring 2013 before being launched in the 2013-2014 academic year as undergraduate courses in general education.

The courses were targeted at freshmen and sophomores and enrolled about 60 (Looking), 30 (Listening), and 25 (Reading) students. The team spread the word with posters and postcards reaching every freshman and sophomore, as well as with a few events. Students participated in a lecture, section, and lab every week. The aim was to explore how students acquire interpretive skills and categories of analysis that lead to understanding, integrating methods, tools and assignments that equip them to confidently address questions of meaning, form, and historical tradition.

The team of instructors who co-taught these courses aimed to emphasize the relevance of the humanities in the broader world. The structure of the courses enabled instructors to teach in an interdisciplinary manner. The teaching team met several times throughout the semester, and also provided opportunities for students from all three courses to meet and share their experiences with one another. According to Diana Sorensen, the instructors’ co-working relationship could be characterized as “positive mutual vigilance” – everyone wanted the other courses to succeed. The group had vigorous discussion around lecture format and capping enrollment (they’ve decided not to cap enrollment in future offerings). Sorensen also noted that most departments count one of more of these courses toward concentration credit.

The Fall semester courses earned good Q ratings. All will be offered again in spring 2015.

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