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New Ed Portal Initiative Combines Online Courseware, In-Person Lecture For Allstonians

By Karl M. Aspelund and Michael V. Rothberg, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard-Allston Education Portal formalized on Monday night a new community outreach initiative which aims to combine in-person faculty-led discussions with courseware from HarvardX.

Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol delivered the evening’s lecture to around 75 residents gathered in Allston as it was simultaneously streamed online. The event, which was part of a series known as “On-Ramp,” was designed to provide a connection between Harvard faculty and community members.

“Our hope is to expand over time the offerings for HarvardX and Allston,” said Robert A. Lue, the faculty director of HarvardX and the the Education Portal. “It’s an opportunity for us to build programs that help the community of Allston connect with information in the digital age.”

The Portal, created in 2008, offers mentoring and enrichment opportunities for neighborhood children and educational programs for adults. The HarvardX for Allston project is funded by a multimillion-dollar community benefits package approved last October as part of the University’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston. That package set aside $10 million for a “transformative suite of projects” for the Portal, including an array of new programming.

Lue also mentioned plans to move the Portal from its existing space to a new “iStudio”—a larger space to develop, film, and livestream MOOCs—currently slated to be built next door to the Harvard ceramics studio in Allston early next year.

“We’ve seen from the very beginning with HarvardX that it’s an online thing, but we’re trying to encourage more in-person interaction to bring the community together,” Lue said. “What always struck me was I kept seeing members of the community that haven’t really plugged into the digital age yet—even if they had a smartphone, they weren’t aware of how much it could be used for.”

The Portal is designed to enable both the Allston community to learn from Harvard faculty and to provide Harvard with the ability to research what makes for effective learning both in the classroom and online, Lue said in an interview after the event.

“It’s a portal for both Harvard and the Allston community, so it’s a bi-directional relationship,” Lue said. “These are like test-run pilots. We are going to see what combination of things really enable a community to come together.”

Reaction to Portal programming has been very positive in the Allston-Brighton community, according to Bruce E. Houghton, a Newton resident who attended the event and is a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, the body that reviewed the community benefits package that included new funding for the Portal.

As with any new community initiative, the Education Portal will have to make every effort to advertise and entice Allston-Brighton residents to utilize its resources, Houghton added.

“When you try something new, you try everything to get people involved and excited,” Houghton said.

“We are anticipating that Harvard [expands] this kind of programming,” said Fran M. Gardino, a Brighton resident who attended the event. “Allston-Brighton is very happy that there is a lot of educational activity coming over into Allston from Harvard.”

Following his lecture, Bol led an open discussion of the Chinese folk story of YingYing, a narrative teeming with conflict between sexuality, mortality, and Buddhism that was the subject of his lecture. The discussion allowed for both in-person and online participation.

–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

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

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