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History of Science Rethinks Sophomore Tutorial

By Francesca Annicchiarico and John P. Finnegan, Crimson Staff Writers

The History of Science department unveiled a revamped sophomore tutorial this semester featuring virtual interviews, student-driven lectures, and a chance for students to engage in independent research.

Designed and taught by History of Science professor and department chair Anne Harrington, the class aims to challenge students by blurring the line between learning and teaching.

Harrington’s project was funded by a grant from the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. Founded in 2011 by a $40 million gift from Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser, the Initiative provides resources for faculty such as Harrington looking to develop new ways of pedagogy.

To offer a more engaging and innovative learning experience, Harrington’s sophomore tutorial features original videotaped interviews as part of the weekly course material.

The department hired six junior concentrators to conduct interviews with experts on the topics discussed in class, according to Daniel Z. Wilson ’14, one of the students chosen for the job.

“I think readings, especially in the humanities and in the social sciences, can feel sort of anonymous,” Wilson said.

“It’s hard to put faces to the names and really have a feel for what it’s like for a scholar to do his work.”

According to Nathan Greenslit, a teaching assistant in social studies who oversees the logistics of the interviewing process, the recordings will become a permanent component of the tutorial in future years.

Greenslit said that history of science scholars have responded enthusiastically to the project.

“Behind the theory or scholarship is a human being who is really excited by the material,” Greenslit said.

In addition to the multimedia component, Harrington’s new tutorial divides the traditional lecture into sections and plenaries—sessions that consist of presentations led by student groups and discussions facilitated by Harrington.

“I’m not expecting people to be teachers, I’m not expecting them to do my job,” Harrington said. “I’m inviting them to take ownership of their materials.”

Finally, after the course concludes, students will have the opportunity to go on a two-week trip to conduct independent research through a grant program.

“We envision it as an opportunity for sophomores to have the kind of experience that [is] normally reserved for juniors and seniors—which is to say, research,” said Christopher J. Phillips, a history of science lecturer who oversees the program with Harrington.

Although the program is currently only funded for this year, Phillips and Harrington say they want the experience to become a permanent part of the tutorial.

“Our hope is that this will become a model across the social sciences—that concentrations and programs can use it to really show how sophomores can be involved in an in-depth research project even in that early stage,” Phillips said.

Enrollee Edwin L. Whitman ’15 put it another way: “[This model] should be replicated because it’s very much in line with what the college learning experience is about.”

—Staff writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.

—Staff writer John P. Finnegan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @finneganspake.

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