The 21st Century Pedagogue

Robert A. Lue is trying to take Harvard's teachers to the cutting edge

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Denic, who says he and Lue used to run through entire MCB 54 practice lectures for feedback before the semester began, says he thinks of his co-teacher as a “benevolent dictator,” who has brought a centralized vision of education to a diverse field of educators.

For his part, Gregory Nagy, a Classics professor whose course Culture and Belief 22: “Concepts of the Hero in Classical Greek Civilization” has been adapted for HarvardX, says Lue is not so much a “boss” as a facilitator.

“What Robert Lue practices, it’s more like a musical instrument than a weapon, the ability to coordinate the energies of such a wide variety of people as Harvard represents,” Nagy says, “[A] community that is diverse as Harvard is...takes a special kind of person to bring it about.”

But for all their praise, colleagues interviewed for this story had more trouble pinning down Lue’s role and the tangible implications of his vision. Lue himself describes his role as catalyst, visionary, executive, and leader at various points in two interviews, but ultimately settled on something like a “lead facilitator.”

“Someone who basically opens doors, that helps people think about what they need, that can think about resources and help the institution think about what resources are needed for innovation,” Lue says, describing his account of education research.

There’s so much in teaching and learning that we don’t know,” Lue adds. “It’s kind of a little bit of a wide-open landscape for exploration right now.”

STRETCHED TOO THIN?

Lue quite often spends his nights at an apartment he rents in Harvard Square instead of commuting 25 miles north of Cambridge to his home in Andover, Mass.

“Nights were getting extremely late,” explains Lue, who says that before renting the apartment, he used to spend nights at hotels in order to make 8 a.m. meetings with faculty members and colleagues.

The change evinces the increased workload Lue has taken on in recent years. As his titles have accumulated and the scope of his projects has expanded, Lue says he has kept his roots in the classroom.

Of course some folks say ‘You're completely nuts,’” Lue says. “Life is intense. Harvard is a place where we live maximally.”

Though most of Lue’s colleagues interviewed for this story say they are confident in his ability to steer one of FAS’s most attention-grabbing endeavors, some wonder if his leadership is sustainable. Lue himself projects that the Bok Center will more than double the size of its staff and open an additional outpost in Allston with funding from the FAS capital campaign.

“One person can be spread too thin,” says Chair of the Committee on General Education Edward J. Hall. “Maybe he has enough energy to handle these things fine, but that’s obviously a general worry, not just particularly about Rob.”

"Do I feel spread too thin? Some days yes, but who doesn't?" Lue said.

Lue himself acknowledges that the workload can be challenging.

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