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New initiative for better teaching.

Article / Review by on February 6, 2012 – 8:44 pmNo Comments

New initiative for better teaching.
Scholars, experts explore creative approaches to instructing, learning.

Harvard’s ambitious new initiative to spark innovative teaching and learning kicked off with a daylong conference on Friday that drew together authorities and scholars from the University and beyond to debate, discuss, and share ideas in the field.

The inaugural conference was part of the Harvard Initiative for Learning & Teaching (HILT), a University-wide presidential initiative launched through a $40 million gift from Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser, aimed at catalyzing innovation in higher learning.

“What we hope to ask and answer with HILT is how can we fully embrace all the possibilities before us as teachers and learners, how can we make constant discovery and renewal a part of every teacher’s life, and, as we experiment, how can we best evaluate what is successful and then sustain and scale it?” said Harvard President Drew Faust during opening remarks for the conference at the Northwest Science Building.

Other early initiative-supported projects include developing a consortium of staff from across Harvard that will provide instructional and technological support, as well as an infrastructure for capturing and archiving video for teaching and other purposes, in collaboration with Harvard’s Academic Technology Group.

The initiative also has established the 2012-13 Hauser Fund Grants program that issues awards between $5,000 and $50,000 for innovative proposals in teaching and learning. Currently, 255 letters of intent, submitted from faculty, staff, and students at every Harvard School, are being considered for final proposals.

A professor of psychology from Washington University in St. Louis surprised some attendees of a morning session. Less studying and more testing enhances learning, suggested memory expert Roddy Roediger during a discussion on the science of learning. Roediger showed the audience how students who were frequently tested on a subject on the first day of an experiment in his lab performed better on the same tests two days later, compared with those who studied more but had fewer tests on the first day.

“What you really need to practice to be able to retrieve something two days later … [is] retrieving it.”

For Steven Pinker, Harvard’s Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, teaching students to write well is a fundamental charge of a good university. But, he lamented, “we are not succeeding.” To write effectively, an author must remember that he or she likely knows much more about a particular subject than readers do, said Pinker. Placing yourself in the shoes of your audience, he argued, “might be the most important cognitive process in the crafting of clear prose.”

Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching/ “You should never underestimate the power of trying to do big, collective things as an organization,” said Youngme Moon (second from left), senior associate dean at Harvard Business School. Moon was joined in an afternoon panel by Harvard Provost Alan Garber (far left), Harvard Corporation member Lawrence S. Bacow, and Michael Sandel, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government. /Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
“You should never underestimate the power of trying to do big, collective things as an organization,” said Youngme Moon (second from left), senior associate dean at Harvard Business School. Moon was joined in an afternoon panel by Harvard Provost Alan Garber (far left), Harvard Corporation member Lawrence S. Bacow, and Michael Sandel, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government. Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

A series of interactive afternoon sessions gave a group of Harvard professors the chance to show their colleagues and contemporaries what goes on in their own classrooms.

Proving that the lecture format remains an effective teaching tool, Tom Kelly delivered a lively talk based on his popular General Education course, “First Nights,” in which he explores the performance premieres of five seminal works through a cultural, musical, and historical lens.

Waving his hands emphatically to the beat of accompanying audio and video clips, Kelly, Harvard’s Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music, carefully deconstructed Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Kelly’s presentation style, which during class often involves running to a piano to play an important chord or passage, offers students a new way of listening, and hopefully fosters in them a love for the subject matter.

I want them to know “how lucky they are to be alive on a planet like this that has music on it,” he said.

Eric Mazur was in his seventh year of teaching when he realized “my students were not learning; they were simple regurgitating back to me what I delivered to them, and then promptly forgetting it a few months later.” Effective teaching requires the assimilation or “sense-making” of that information, he said. And for that, the students themselves hold the key. In his classes, Mazur, the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, uses his popular and effective peer-instruction method, in which he asks questions of students and then has them try to convince each other of their own reasoning during class.

“It is absolutely essential,” Mazur said, “that we engage them.”

But developing sustainable methods of teaching and learning also requires an infrastructure and a culture of innovation, said Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration and senior associate dean at Harvard Business School (HBS), during an afternoon panel that included Harvard Provost Alan Garber. She pointed to the School’s new experiential learning program as an example of innovative pedagogy. In January, 900 HBS students took field trips to a dozen locations around the world as part of the School’s Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development, a new supplement to its traditional curriculum.

“You should never underestimate the power of trying to do big, collective things as an organization,” said Moon, adding, “the transformative nature of the [new HBS program] is palpable.”

The symposium’s attendees ranged from the deans of Harvard Schools and distinguished professors to staff, students, and participants from beyond the Harvard community who were eager to develop and share their thoughts on innovative teaching and learning.

“Getting all these great minds together from all across the University is a great thing,” said Harvard senior Senan Ebrahim, a neurobiology concentrator and former Undergraduate Council president, who helped to create a video for the conference that captured student perspectives on teaching and learning. “The opportunity for these experts to share what they do and explore how it can be applied to different disciplines is amazing.”

Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and a longtime proponent of innovative pedagogy and excellence in undergraduate teaching, was impressed by the symposium. “This has been tremendous. … I think the culture is already changing on campus, and this is an example of it,” Smith said.

The conference showed that the University is “on the cutting edge of great change in learning and teaching,” said Rita E. Hauser, who attended the symposium with her husband, Gustave M. Hauser. “Harvard 50 years from now will be very different from Harvard today; it’s inevitable.”

The event also featured a resource fair with representatives from the University’s teaching and learning centers, related interfaculty initiatives, academic technology resources, museums, and libraries.

By Colleen Walsh
Harvard Staff Writer


The inaugural HILT Symposium opened a Harvard-wide conversation, engaging faculty and students in dialogue, debate, and the sharing of ideas about pedagogical innovation. The event convened invited members of the Harvard community and presenters from within Harvard and externally who offered interesting and informative perspectives on teaching and learning in higher education, with an emphasis on evidence-based approaches.



About Harvard Medical School (HMS)

Driving Change. Building Momentum. Making History.

“Since 1872, Harvard Medical School has been the incubator of bold ideas—a place where extraordinary people advance education, science and health care with unrelenting passion.

Whether training tomorrow’s doctors and scientists, decoding the fundamental nature of life, advancing patient care or improving health delivery systems around the world, we are never at rest. Allied with some of the world’s best hospitals, research institutes and a University synonymous with excellence, the School’s mission remains as ambitious as it is honorable: to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.”

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About Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

More at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) & Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). History. Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Logo 540 ok



About Harvard University.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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