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New Lecture Policy Calls for New Forms of Student Interaction

By Michael V. Rothberg, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: Feb. 18, 2014, at 12:25 a.m.

Born out of the adaptation of the class for online education platform HarvardX, a new policy implemented in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 12: “Poetry in America” prevents students from asking questions in lectures and has prompted the course instructor, English professor Elisa New, to foster student-teacher interaction in new ways.

According to New, an English professor who has previously taught the class, the policy arose out of the technological difficulties of integrating student questions into lecture recordings, which will be presented in the virtual form of the class on HarvardX.

“The video team said, ‘No way, man. We’re not going to be able to [record student questions],’” she said.

In experimenting with the new format of question-free lectures, New said she has tried to maintain a high standard of accessibility, adding that the poetry course lent itself well to delaying questions to the conclusion of lecture. During the 90-minute lecture, the first hour is recorded without any student questions, while the last half hour is reserved for student discussion, she said.

“Over 30 years of teaching, sometimes students interrupt with [questions like], ‘what does that word mean?’ or ‘what is pentameter again?’ but it’s never felt like you’re going to miss anything,” New said. “This isn’t math class. It’s not a technical subject.”

In addition to normal office hours, the course includes off-camera discussions, informal activities, and question-and-answer sessions after lectures.

Students said the efforts made to cultivate interaction outside of lectures have sufficiently compensated for the initial frustration of being unable to ask questions.

“At first, it bothered me, but Professor New makes herself really available after class and has a lot of office hours,” said a freshman in the course who was granted anonymity by The Crimson because the student feared that his or her grade would be affected. “She stays around after class for 30 minutes to answer questions and talk. I think this setup may even be preferable.”

Viet D. Tran ’16, another student in the course, said that its experimental lecture format was a new experience for him.

“This is the first class I’ve taken where asking a question isn’t initially allowed,” Tran said. “However, questions in my other lectures are usually reserved for the end of class anyway.”

Still, New said she believes that the ideal classroom is an interactive one.

“I often leave a little lonely when I am not able to talk to students, and I’m very happy when they ask questions afterwards,” she said.

—Staff writer Michael V. Rothberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mvrothberg.

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