Smith Hosts Panel on Education

Faculty explores ways to enhance undergraduate edcuation

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith joined three instructors at a symposium on teaching and learning this past Friday.

The panel discussion—with Computer Science Lecturer David J. Malan ’99, Professor of the Practice of Theatre Diane M. Paulus ’87, and Sociology Professor Christopher Winship—focused on initiatives the three have spearheaded to better educate Harvard undergraduates.

“If the student learns best from sitting in lectures, then we have that option,” Malan said. “If students learn more from skimming the slides and then really exploring the material in sections, students can do that too,”

Colleagues and students have credited Malan for boosting enrollment in his popular class, Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science.”

“We’ve spent some significant amount of time on how to get to the students invigorated in the class,” Malan said.


As dean, Smith has consistently stressed boosting “teaching and learning” in classes within FAS. Friday’s panel, hosted by Smith, was the latest initiative aiming to draw attention to the subject. Past efforts have included increased emphasis on classes that prepare teaching fellows at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.

Malan described how both his teaching fellows and he placed tremendous emphasis on course problem sets, which allow students “to really get their hands dirty in the material—and can take up to 20 hours, sometimes.”

Malan encouraged the faculty and staff present—including Smith and Dean of the College Evelyn M. Hammonds—to “interactively” learn, encouraging audience members to participate in one of the games that he uses in his opening lecture of CS50 to determine the number of people present in a room.

“One-hundred and twenty-two—well, given that the capacity for this room is 120, and there are some people standing in the back, I’d say that’s pretty accurate,” Malan said.

Paulus used examples of local theater productions—such as “The Donkey Show”—to demonstrate audience involvement in successful performances.

“My whole priority in theater is to get the audience to feel like they have an opinion,” Paulus said. “I’m always craving that sports environment where you have people criticizing the plays.”

Still, Winship discussed some attempts he made that were unsuccessful due to student resistance.

“We tried to implement a new system, where students build their grades up from a zero,” he said. “And we quickly changed, when we realized that students didn’t really like having a 29 mid-semester.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at


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