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New Technology Changes How Harvard Learns

News Feature

By Andrew A. Green

In one Harvard class, the professor doesn't have to wonder if the class is following the lecture.

In McKay Professor of Applied Physics Eric Mazur's Physics 11 classroom, students work problems at their desks during lecture like in any other physics class.

But instead of simply continuing with the lecture when a problem is done, Mazur asks students to key in their answers on hand-held consoles at their seats. If there is a wide range in the answers, he asks them to consult among themselves and try again. After a few minutes, the responses tend to zero in on the right answer.

Mazur is not the only professor who is finding innovative ways to use technology in teaching. Throughout the University, from the Design School to the Business School, information technology is helping professors better teach their students.

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine has publically committed to encouraging the innovative use of technology for scholarship. While he admits that Harvard is not likely to be the nation's leader in developing new technology, he has repeatedly said he hopes Harvard will be the driving force in finding academic applications for the technologies others develop.

In fact, Rudenstine dedicated his Commencement address this year to his vision for the impact the Internet will have on teaching, comparing its development to the creation of the large research libraries that have been the hallmark of University scholarship for the last century.

True to Harvard's decentralized nature, the University did not wait for Rudenstine to speak out on the potential of technology. Instead of the centralized effort now underway to revolutionize Harvard's administrative uses of information technology (Project ADAPT), advances in academic information technology at Harvard have come about from the bottom up within the schools.

Increasingly, professors are finding that the Internet and the World World Wide Web provide previously unimagined opportunities to facilitate research, discussion and feedback within their classes.

Business On-Line

One of the leaders in information technology applications is the Harvard Business School (HBS). Buoyed by impressive financial support from the school's administration, HBS computer labs display a dazzling array of cutting-edge technology.

An article in last month's HBS Alumni Magazine highlights many of the applications HBS professors have created for new multi-media technology. Professors there utilize the Web, e-mail and CD-ROMs to give MBA students a better taste of what the business world will be like.

Case studies in their paper form, long the stand-by of the HBS curriculum, have been a way to give students the opportunity to simulate real-world problems through reading and class discussion. Recently, these case studies have been put on-line or on CD-ROMs making the simulation far more real by requiring increased interaction and participation by the student.

According to Dean of the Business School Kim B. Clark '74, the new technology is not only a better way to provide MBA students with traditional skills but is necessary to enable them to operate in an increasingly technological business world.

"Today's general manager is operating in an information-inundated world," said Clark, quoted in the Alumni Magazine article. "We need to prepare our students to meet that challenge. We also need to take full advantage of cutting-edge technologies that allow us to bring our students face-to-face with realistic business situations right in the classroom."

Computers have long been important in the HBS curriculum, but they are now almost indispensable. Nearly all exams are taken on computers and e-mail has become universal. Plans are even underway to extend permanent e-mail addresses to all HBS alums.

Over the last several years, the HBS has upgraded its computer labs. Its older computers have been replaced with new models capable of handling increased demands such as displaying digital video.

The Kennedy School of Government uses information technology for similar purposes. According to Peter T. Farago, director of information technology services at the school, some courses use technology to teach cases on CD-ROM in much the same way the HBS does. An Internet-based case was first tried last fall and then used within a larger class this spring, he said.

The Kennedy School is also experimenting with many of the same uses of information technology being implemented at the HBS to facilitate greater interaction between students and faculty in their academic work.

Grassroots Efforts

According to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68, HBS's efforts have benefited from the structure of the school itself. HBS has a far more centralized curriculum than any of the other schools, Lewis says, and the range of course subjects is not nearly so broad as in many of the other faculties.

The result, he says, is that Clark has been able to take a more top-down approach to increasing the level of technology in the classroom that most other schools can. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for example, has such a broad scope of courses that it is difficult for the College administration to play a large role in the planning of new applications.

"The needs of the Classics Department are going to be very different from the needs of the Astronomy Department," explains Paul C. Martin '52, dean of the Division of Applied Sciences.

The same general trend holds true in other faculties as well. Wayne K. Hokoda, director of the computer resources department at the Design School says that most of the GSD's extensive use of computerized drafting applications has come about more as a result of student interest than an administrative commitment to technological innovation.

"It has almost all been from student demands," Hokoda says. "The faculty are just catching up. Industry demands have really driven the move to computerized drafting--almost all firms are now using [Computer Aided Drafting]."

Unfortunately, the decentralized way in which new technologies are developed often makes it difficult for innovations to survive.

The relatively centralized Business School has a number of natural advantages in creating new information technology applications, Lewis says. Not only is their curriculum narrow enough that it allows the creation of a rubric of technology requirements but it also has the advantage that its new applications are easily marketable.

Corporations and other business schools have shown a great deal of interest in the information technology applications the Business School has developed, but applications that come from other faculties tend to have less-broad marketability, Martin says.

The result, coupled with the flexible nature of the curriculum, means that innovations tend not to outlast their creators, Lewis says.

"The tradition of local control and faculty autonomy works against innovation upkeep," Lewis says.

The Paperless Class

The most common new use of technology in Harvard's classes is a web site which handles many of the administrative details of the class. Typically sites include syllabi, problem sets, course announcements, lecture outlines and other information that used to clog copy machines and clutter trash cans.

Richard G. Bribiescas, a teaching fellow for the 500-student Science B-29: "Human Behavior Biology," said he created the class' web site out of some of the traditional frustrations of teaching a large class.

"It seemed to me we gave out reams and reams of paper in the form of syllabi, problem sets and other handouts and as soon as we passed out 500-plus sheets of paper, students would ask for more because they had lost them or weren't in lecture," Bribiescas wrote in an e-mail.

Hokoda says he took the "paperless class" idea to a new level for his GSD 2307: "Advanced Digital Image Processing" course. No paper whatsoever was exchanged for the class, including assignments. Students' final projects for the class are available online in the GSD web site and Hokoda plans to give students CD-ROMs of the entire course site over the summer.

Even sites that begin as administrative labor-savers tend to evolve into specialized academic tools for the course being taught. Bribiescas says the Science B-29 web site included an innovative way to prepare for tests. Old tests were uploaded to web pages and students could take mock tests by clicking on answers on the page, providing them with instant feedback on whether or not they chose correctly.

The Electronic Library

Rudenstine said in his Commencement address that he envisions the Internet becoming the electronic equivalent of an extremely large reference library with the electronic equivalent of thousands of reference librarians. For many professors, the research applications of the Internet are already apparent.

Lecturer on History Thomas J. Brown says his web site for History 1607: "The Old South" has received national attention for the way it makes vast amounts of census and other data available to students.

A search program at the History 1607 site allows students to select a census year from which they want information. They then enter what statistics they want, for example, the number of slaves in a given county in Virginia in 1840. Armed with this kind of detailed, and often complex, statistical knowledge, students were able to become experts on a given county, matching up the subjective impressions they received from the reading with the quantitative information they gained from the web site, Brown says.

Links to other sites provided students with access to the nearly 3,000 original slave narratives that are published on-line, allowing them to search the texts for key words or phrases for subjects they were researching for papers, he says.

"People were very enthusiastic about it," Brown says.

The inspiration behind many of these innovations may have come from the professors, but the computer skills necessary to put them into practice most often have come from information technology departments set up by the schools to facilitate such new ideas.

FAS' Instructional Computing Group (ICG) is typical of the usual sort of arrangement throughout Harvard. Rather than working from the top down to increase the use of information technology in the classroom, the ICG is designed to facilitate the efforts of professors who want to try new approaches to teaching.

"The idea is to provide mechanisms whereby people in the departments can become proficient and make their own decisions," Martin says.

The ICG was extremely helpful in putting together the History 1607 web page, Brown says.

"I called up and had some ideas, and they had some of theirs," Brown says. "Some of mine were completely unfeasible and they came up with things I never dreamed were possible."

Role of the Center

Rudenstine has, since he came to Harvard, supported a number of new uses for information technology, such as the complete wiring of the campus for Internet access and the creation of HOLLIS. Most recently, he verbalized the importance of the Internet as an emerging technology for teaching and the need for Harvard to pursue its uses.

"The cluster of technologies that we call the Internet has very distinctive powers--to complement, to reinforce and to enhance many of our most powerful traditional approaches to university teaching and learning," Rudenstine said in his Commencement address.

However, it seems unlikely that the central administration will play a major role in the development of new academic applications for information technology.

On the administrative side, the center is investing $50 million over the next several years on Project ADAPT, an initiative designed to revolutionize the way the University deals with administrative data.

No similar push is likely from the center for academic initiatives, according to Assistant Provost for Information Technology Anne Margulies.

"The use of information technology for academic purposes will most definitely be driven by and managed within the schools," she says. "The center's role may be to identify or work with the schools to identify areas where collaboration makes sense, and then to facilitate that collaboration."

One area in which the center may have an impact is in helping to create standardized systems across the schools to help reduce barriers to interaction, Margulies said.

Currently, certain Internet resources in some schools are inaccessible from other schools. Law School case studies, for example, cannot be accessed from within the FAS domain.

"I have heard a lot about the complexities and problems caused by our non-standardized environment," Margulies says. "One of the things the center should do is to help establish standards--not create, but help the faculties arrive at a system that will work throughout the University."

Regardless of how and to what extent the University's administration chooses to support new uses of information technology, it has already gained the support of those who may ultimately be most influential to its success: the students.

"It fulfilled its primary goals in minimizing paper waste, providing students with an instant and extremely convenient source of course material and information, as well as providing an innovative source of preparation for tests," Bribiescas says of the Science B-29 web page. "In all, I've had nothin

Business On-Line

One of the leaders in information technology applications is the Harvard Business School (HBS). Buoyed by impressive financial support from the school's administration, HBS computer labs display a dazzling array of cutting-edge technology.

An article in last month's HBS Alumni Magazine highlights many of the applications HBS professors have created for new multi-media technology. Professors there utilize the Web, e-mail and CD-ROMs to give MBA students a better taste of what the business world will be like.

Case studies in their paper form, long the stand-by of the HBS curriculum, have been a way to give students the opportunity to simulate real-world problems through reading and class discussion. Recently, these case studies have been put on-line or on CD-ROMs making the simulation far more real by requiring increased interaction and participation by the student.

According to Dean of the Business School Kim B. Clark '74, the new technology is not only a better way to provide MBA students with traditional skills but is necessary to enable them to operate in an increasingly technological business world.

"Today's general manager is operating in an information-inundated world," said Clark, quoted in the Alumni Magazine article. "We need to prepare our students to meet that challenge. We also need to take full advantage of cutting-edge technologies that allow us to bring our students face-to-face with realistic business situations right in the classroom."

Computers have long been important in the HBS curriculum, but they are now almost indispensable. Nearly all exams are taken on computers and e-mail has become universal. Plans are even underway to extend permanent e-mail addresses to all HBS alums.

Over the last several years, the HBS has upgraded its computer labs. Its older computers have been replaced with new models capable of handling increased demands such as displaying digital video.

The Kennedy School of Government uses information technology for similar purposes. According to Peter T. Farago, director of information technology services at the school, some courses use technology to teach cases on CD-ROM in much the same way the HBS does. An Internet-based case was first tried last fall and then used within a larger class this spring, he said.

The Kennedy School is also experimenting with many of the same uses of information technology being implemented at the HBS to facilitate greater interaction between students and faculty in their academic work.

Grassroots Efforts

According to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68, HBS's efforts have benefited from the structure of the school itself. HBS has a far more centralized curriculum than any of the other schools, Lewis says, and the range of course subjects is not nearly so broad as in many of the other faculties.

The result, he says, is that Clark has been able to take a more top-down approach to increasing the level of technology in the classroom that most other schools can. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for example, has such a broad scope of courses that it is difficult for the College administration to play a large role in the planning of new applications.

"The needs of the Classics Department are going to be very different from the needs of the Astronomy Department," explains Paul C. Martin '52, dean of the Division of Applied Sciences.

The same general trend holds true in other faculties as well. Wayne K. Hokoda, director of the computer resources department at the Design School says that most of the GSD's extensive use of computerized drafting applications has come about more as a result of student interest than an administrative commitment to technological innovation.

"It has almost all been from student demands," Hokoda says. "The faculty are just catching up. Industry demands have really driven the move to computerized drafting--almost all firms are now using [Computer Aided Drafting]."

Unfortunately, the decentralized way in which new technologies are developed often makes it difficult for innovations to survive.

The relatively centralized Business School has a number of natural advantages in creating new information technology applications, Lewis says. Not only is their curriculum narrow enough that it allows the creation of a rubric of technology requirements but it also has the advantage that its new applications are easily marketable.

Corporations and other business schools have shown a great deal of interest in the information technology applications the Business School has developed, but applications that come from other faculties tend to have less-broad marketability, Martin says.

The result, coupled with the flexible nature of the curriculum, means that innovations tend not to outlast their creators, Lewis says.

"The tradition of local control and faculty autonomy works against innovation upkeep," Lewis says.

The Paperless Class

The most common new use of technology in Harvard's classes is a web site which handles many of the administrative details of the class. Typically sites include syllabi, problem sets, course announcements, lecture outlines and other information that used to clog copy machines and clutter trash cans.

Richard G. Bribiescas, a teaching fellow for the 500-student Science B-29: "Human Behavior Biology," said he created the class' web site out of some of the traditional frustrations of teaching a large class.

"It seemed to me we gave out reams and reams of paper in the form of syllabi, problem sets and other handouts and as soon as we passed out 500-plus sheets of paper, students would ask for more because they had lost them or weren't in lecture," Bribiescas wrote in an e-mail.

Hokoda says he took the "paperless class" idea to a new level for his GSD 2307: "Advanced Digital Image Processing" course. No paper whatsoever was exchanged for the class, including assignments. Students' final projects for the class are available online in the GSD web site and Hokoda plans to give students CD-ROMs of the entire course site over the summer.

Even sites that begin as administrative labor-savers tend to evolve into specialized academic tools for the course being taught. Bribiescas says the Science B-29 web site included an innovative way to prepare for tests. Old tests were uploaded to web pages and students could take mock tests by clicking on answers on the page, providing them with instant feedback on whether or not they chose correctly.

The Electronic Library

Rudenstine said in his Commencement address that he envisions the Internet becoming the electronic equivalent of an extremely large reference library with the electronic equivalent of thousands of reference librarians. For many professors, the research applications of the Internet are already apparent.

Lecturer on History Thomas J. Brown says his web site for History 1607: "The Old South" has received national attention for the way it makes vast amounts of census and other data available to students.

A search program at the History 1607 site allows students to select a census year from which they want information. They then enter what statistics they want, for example, the number of slaves in a given county in Virginia in 1840. Armed with this kind of detailed, and often complex, statistical knowledge, students were able to become experts on a given county, matching up the subjective impressions they received from the reading with the quantitative information they gained from the web site, Brown says.

Links to other sites provided students with access to the nearly 3,000 original slave narratives that are published on-line, allowing them to search the texts for key words or phrases for subjects they were researching for papers, he says.

"People were very enthusiastic about it," Brown says.

The inspiration behind many of these innovations may have come from the professors, but the computer skills necessary to put them into practice most often have come from information technology departments set up by the schools to facilitate such new ideas.

FAS' Instructional Computing Group (ICG) is typical of the usual sort of arrangement throughout Harvard. Rather than working from the top down to increase the use of information technology in the classroom, the ICG is designed to facilitate the efforts of professors who want to try new approaches to teaching.

"The idea is to provide mechanisms whereby people in the departments can become proficient and make their own decisions," Martin says.

The ICG was extremely helpful in putting together the History 1607 web page, Brown says.

"I called up and had some ideas, and they had some of theirs," Brown says. "Some of mine were completely unfeasible and they came up with things I never dreamed were possible."

Role of the Center

Rudenstine has, since he came to Harvard, supported a number of new uses for information technology, such as the complete wiring of the campus for Internet access and the creation of HOLLIS. Most recently, he verbalized the importance of the Internet as an emerging technology for teaching and the need for Harvard to pursue its uses.

"The cluster of technologies that we call the Internet has very distinctive powers--to complement, to reinforce and to enhance many of our most powerful traditional approaches to university teaching and learning," Rudenstine said in his Commencement address.

However, it seems unlikely that the central administration will play a major role in the development of new academic applications for information technology.

On the administrative side, the center is investing $50 million over the next several years on Project ADAPT, an initiative designed to revolutionize the way the University deals with administrative data.

No similar push is likely from the center for academic initiatives, according to Assistant Provost for Information Technology Anne Margulies.

"The use of information technology for academic purposes will most definitely be driven by and managed within the schools," she says. "The center's role may be to identify or work with the schools to identify areas where collaboration makes sense, and then to facilitate that collaboration."

One area in which the center may have an impact is in helping to create standardized systems across the schools to help reduce barriers to interaction, Margulies said.

Currently, certain Internet resources in some schools are inaccessible from other schools. Law School case studies, for example, cannot be accessed from within the FAS domain.

"I have heard a lot about the complexities and problems caused by our non-standardized environment," Margulies says. "One of the things the center should do is to help establish standards--not create, but help the faculties arrive at a system that will work throughout the University."

Regardless of how and to what extent the University's administration chooses to support new uses of information technology, it has already gained the support of those who may ultimately be most influential to its success: the students.

"It fulfilled its primary goals in minimizing paper waste, providing students with an instant and extremely convenient source of course material and information, as well as providing an innovative source of preparation for tests," Bribiescas says of the Science B-29 web page. "In all, I've had nothin

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