Committee Will Advise On Activity Based Learning

Interim Dean of the Faculty David Pilbeam announced at yesterday’s Faculty meeting the creation of an ad hoc committee to advise the next dean on activity-based learning, turning professors’ attention toward a new initiative as the debate over the new general education curriculum approaches a conclusion.

The creation of a committee on activity-based learning (ABL), an initiative to integrate students’ extracurricular activities with their academic experiences in the classroom, was proposed in the final report of the Task Force on General Education released in February.

At a meeting of the FAS Standing Committee on Public Service earlier this year, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 likened ABL to international education in that it would be optional but strongly supported by the University, according to Lisa M. Boes, a member of the committee and a tutor in Quincy House.

“[ABL] would not be a requirement in the curriculum, but it is something that the University thinks should be an important part of your education,” said Boes, who is also a research officer at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.

Some administrators and students who support activity based learning have advocated using the existing programs at the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA)—the student-run public service organization—as a starting point for a University-coordinated ABL initiative, citing the success of such an approach among the small number of courses that already have an ABL component.

“The more successful ABL programs have taken what systems already exist at PBHA and made them available for ABL,” said Angelico N. A. Razon ’08, the president of PBHA.

Currently there are 13 undergraduate courses at Harvard that feature ABL. In one such class, for example, students in “Italian 60: Italian in the Community” apply their language skills as teaching assistants or aides in Boston-area public schools.

Several peer institutions—such as the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University—offer activity-based learning programs, according to Boes.

The three-professor committee charged with translating the task’s force final report into a form that the Faculty could vote on did not include the activity-based learning proposal in its legislation.

“We had consulted with the people in University Hall about precedent, and they said we couldn’t legislate on that,” said Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan, one of the three who drafted the legislation.

She explained that short-term committees with highly specific purposes, such as the new ABL committee, must be appointed by the dean of FAS and not by faculty legislation.

—Staff writer Alexandra Hiatt can be reached at