The New Gen Ed Lottery System, Explained
Armed Individuals Sighted in Harvard Square Arraigned
Harvard Students Form Coalition Supporting Slave Photo Lawsuit's Demands
Police Apprehend Armed Man and Woman in Central Square
107 Faculty Called for Review of Tenure Procedures in Letter to Dean Gay
To the editor:
Sections are some of the worst and best educational experiences Harvard students have. The impulse behind the recent demands by the Graduate Student Council and the Philosophy Department reported by The Crimson last Friday is right on. Harvard needs to see sections as a critical component of undergraduate education and provide the necessary support so that sections provide the best and not the worst of experiences.
However, the demand that all sections have 12 or fewer students is off the mark. Certainly when sections are made mandatorywith the intent of incorporating a seminar experience within a lecture course or when teaching fellows are expected to provide extensive comments on written work, section sizes of 12 may well be needed in order to provide students with a first-rate experience. But when sections are not required, and their purpose is to review lecture materials or they are simply help sessions, effective sections can be much larger. What is needed in a philosophy course may be quite different than, say, a statistics or math course. One size does not fit all.
Focusing on size also misses other important problems with the current system. Departments that offer many large courses frequently have to hire non-departmental students who too often don’t have the requisite background. Similarly, graduate students frequently don’t know what course they will be assigned to until the second week of classes, meaning that they have no time to master the course material prior to the beginning of the semester. Departments also differ widely in how much training in teaching they give their graduate students—some require semester long courses, e.g. psychology and sociology, others little to none at all. If a department has to hire students from outside (HLS, HKS, other FAS departments, or outside Harvard altogether), there is no guarantee at all that the teaching fellowwill have had any preparation for teaching.
Harvard attracts the very best graduate students in the world. More than a few will be both superstar researchers and teachers in the future. In the role of teaching fellows, they can be a key component in the undergraduate educational experience. Harvard, however, needs to make sure that it supports, and uses sections in a way that ensures that its undergraduate receive the very best education.
Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.