Using digital resources to augment course materials

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Using digital resources to augment course materialsTheodore Svoronos, lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, developed digital-learning materials as part of the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) project and now uses them for both residential and online-learning communities.

The benefits: Svoronos found that the modularity of a BCURE course on Descriptive Evidence allowed him to repurpose the content as introductory material for his residential students in statistics: “BCURE provided rich, interactive examples that policymakers in India and Pakistan had learned from, and given that our residential students either had or aspire to roles in the policy world, using this content felt like a no-brainer.”

The challenges: The BCURE content was not “a sufficiently ‘native’ experience for the residential students” and Svoronos had to think about the translation, especially within the existing Canvas course structure. He found Digital Assets for Reuse in Teaching (DART) a useful bridge. DART is a newly developed tool that allows instructors to search, preview, and reuse Harvard digital learning assets.

Takeaways and best practices:

  • Blended materials facilitate self-paced learning. Traditional lectures expose students to the same content at the same pace, regardless of their individual comfort or previous experience, which can create challenges for both students who are bored and for those struggling to keep up: “Blended learning materials allow students to learn foundational concepts at their own pace – they can speed up or slow down the video, try practice questions multiple times, or go back to review concepts they may have missed.”
  • Multi-modal but no extra ‘clicks.’ Svoronos wanted to embed non-textual media easily into his Canvas site, without the friction of pushing students to a separate website with its own logic. He learned about DART from Dustin Tingley, professor of government and faculty director of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Research group, who helped launch the project. Svoronos anticipates experimenting more, perhaps like Tingley does in his class, to “search for speeches via their YouTube channel of people who speak at Harvard” and embed clips into residential course materials, or encourage his students to similarly explore assets for class projects.
  • Share content with other instructors at Harvard. Svoronos’ BCURE modules are now available to other instructors and the broader Harvard community. “We made the BCURE modules to be broadly applicable to the real world needs of policymakers. I’m excited to see how instructors around the University teaching diverse groups of learners decide to use this content.”

Bottom line: According to Svoronos, integrating high quality digital assets into his residential courses with relatively little friction is engendering more creativity in putting together his course materials, may better prepare his students for class, and allows more time to be spent on what he believes to be the most important part of learning: creating connections with and between students.