Three years ago, Scot T. Martin, Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, decided to “start from scratch” with his approach to teaching thermodynamics. In his course Thermodynamics by Case Study, he found that by focusing on every day, concrete examples (e.g., running, the function of the heart) and demanding an intense level of participation, he could help students unpack ... Read more about Simple examples lead to deep engagement
Elizabeth Papp Kamali, Assistant Professor of Law, wants to ensure that students contribute consistently throughout the semester: "A student can get into a rut if they don't participate in those first few classes, and it can be very difficult to break that cycle." She uses different models to encourage participation—for example, the Socratic method in larger introductory courses and student-led discussion in smaller seminars—often asking students to adopt non-mainstream arguments.
Giovanni Parmigiani, Professor of Biostatistics, selects new scientific articles as well as opinion pieces for freshman seminar course FRSEMR 22H – My Genes and Cancer to discuss in-the-moment scientific discoveries in genetics research, and encourages students to also recommend topics of interest. This “equal basis of ignorance” establishes an environment where he and his students learn and develop opinions together.
The benefits:Less constrained by his expertise, Parmigiani finds students ask the really simple (and hard) questions. They have to wrestle more concretely with moral dilemmas such as the implications of changing the genome of future children, poke holes in each other’s assumptions and arguments, and develop their own voices. This deepens debate and discussion.... Read more about The merits of an equal basis of ignorance
Joshua Margolis, James Dinan and Elizabeth Miller Professor of Business Administration, demands of himself intensive listening while teaching, and asks the same from students: “When I listen really carefully it allows me to push students hard and help them see what they have within themselves.” While students speak, he makes direct eye contact and maintains it even when he moves in the classroom so they’re addressing the rest of the class, not just him. Margolis asks a series of follow-up questions and then summarizes after every three to five interactions.... Read more about Cultivating the skill and the orientation to listen
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
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
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.”
David Garvin, C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration,utilizes guest speakers in General Management: Processes and Action in order to promote deeper understanding of managerial and organizational realities. He has experimented with and refined three approaches—Q&A with a case study protagonist, themed presentations and small group conversations with executives, and open-ended conversations with a guest lecturer (often an alum) about their career.... Read more about From the source: Guest speakers in the classroom
Sandra Sucher, MBA Class of 1966 Professor of Management Practice, teaches “The Moral Leader” at Harvard Business School with a literature-based approach. The MBA elective, introduced by Professor Emeritus Robert Coles in the 1980s, has since been taught by a number of HBS faculty. Each course meeting is dedicated to a work of fiction, biography, autobiography, or history, and the structured discussion forces students to describe and analyze the characters’ decision in context before passing judgment. “Students are brought much closer to life as it is really lived than they are in traditional lectures or case discussions."... Read more about Learning through literature: ‘Closer to life as it is really lived’
Alison Simmons, Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy, made a decision in 2012 to include a policy in all her syllabi stating that electronic devices be put away during class time.
The benefits: Without distractions, her students are more actively engaged. “Philosophical discussion is a team sport that requires refraining from conversation and activities that do not contribute to the discussion, actively listening to each other, and working with each other."... Read more about Devices in the classroom? Things to consider