GSAS Seminars Serve College

Grad students collaborate with faculty for new Gen Ed courses

Though undergraduates and graduate students usually dwell in separate spheres at Harvard, students from both groups may find themselves connected through a new pedagogy project that began this fall.

In seminars offered at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, faculty members and graduate students will collaborate on the development of courses for the new General Education program, which was ratified by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last spring.

The graduate seminars will address the intellectual, conceptual, and methodological issues of course design, such as evaluation methods and selection of course materials.

“[The new curriculum] really led us to think about how we can engage these incredibly talented graduate students,” said GSAS Dean Allan M. Brandt. “I didn’t want this to be something simply in the College.”

“I want to make sure undergraduate and graduate students have a chance to interact in very productive ways,” he added.

A seminar about ethics and aesthetics is currently in progress for the fall term. Next semester, seminars will be offered in a variety of subjects, including animal studies, Asia in the making of the modern world, American food, international human rights, literature of the Civil War, and probability.

After exploring the “intellectual and pedagogical” aspects of developing an innovative curriculum, the seminar’s students will ideally go on to become teaching fellows, Brandt said.

“They’ll have had a chance to go from the very beginning to actually seeing [the course] put into practice,” he said.

According to Brandt, because the seminar’s intense training of graduate students will ultimately lead to a product that benefits the College, the program is a “win-win” situation for grads and undergrads alike.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris also emphasized the benefits of the transition from pupil to pedagogue.

“Having graduate students feel a sense of ownership of these courses will make them better and more enthusiastic teachers,” he wrote in an e-mail.

According to English professor John Stauffer—who will lead a seminar about the literature of the Civil War in the new program—professors will reap benefits as well.

He said he is excited to learn from his students how to make the material accessible to a larger audience.

“Graduate students know better,” Stauffer said. “The relationship between mentor and mentee is two-directional.”

Though the seminars focus on collaboration between graduate students and faculty, Stauffer said his seminar will also be open to qualified undergraduates because they possess firsthand experience about what is effective in a college classroom.

The new curriculum generated by the seminars will require “a significant amount of time and thought,” said Brandt.

There will likely be a year’s lag between a seminar’s conclusion and the implementation of the designed course, he said. That year will help accommodate professors’ leave years, potential disapproval by the Gen Ed committee, or the actual creation of the course.

“The idea is that if we get 20 or 30 of these seminars up and running, we’ll have 20 or 30 new courses within a year or two,” said Brandt, who hopes to double the number for the next academic year.

Brandt said he hopes that the seminars will become a “regular institutionalized” program that brings together faculty, undergrads, and grad students.

“I think Dean Brandt is spot on with his vision of making this connection,” said African studies professor Caroline M. Elkins, who will lead a seminar on international human rights in the spring.

“What we’re aiming for is the best intellectual experience...to draw upon all the great minds that are around us.”

—Bonnie J. Kavoussi contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff Writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.