Education and the Campaign

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“Faculty are the content experts in the material they know and are imparting to students,” Education School Professor Joseph P. Zolner says. “They are not focused on the best ways to impart that knowledge through new forms of media, through new technologies.”

Given their relative lack of awareness of new pedagogical techniques, Zolner says, it is important that faculty members seek out the resources of the Bok Center, which provides training and professional development resources to Harvard teaching staff.

However, Kirby says, senior faculty members across the country rarely go to the teaching centers like the Bok Center for remedial work, though those who teach HarvardX courses have recently utilized the Center’s resources.

Despite increased use of the Bok Center by these senior faculty members, some still question how large the dividends of HarvardX—another of the campaign’s priorities—will be.

Criticizing the administration’s prioritization of HarvardX both inside and out of the capital campaign’s context, a number of faculty members have raised concerns about the special attention the online education platform has recently received.

In May 2013, 58 faculty members wrote a letter to FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, urging him to convene a faculty committee to oversee FAS’s involvement with HarvardX and to help determine if the platform aligns with the school’s educational goals.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that HarvardX is consistent with our commitment to our students on campus, and with our academic mission,” the signatories wrote.

Hall, one of the letter’s signatories, cautions that HarvardX, while with potential benefits, might distract faculty members away from their on campus students.

“It can easily lead to situations where you as a faculty member can fool yourself into thinking you can do something that really counts as teaching on that kind of scale,” he says.

He and others also warn that by asking undergraduates to rely on HarvardX rather than in-person lectures, students’ educational experience might be impaired.

“Any kind of course that you hope will have some kind of transformative effect on the students, it’s just not going to happen when a student takes a course online,” Hall says, explaining that HarvardX materials must be used in tandem with in-class engagement to have any benefit.

As faculty members continue to explore new methods of teaching and capital campaign money is slated to fund further experimentation, Zolner says that it is important to keep in mind the true role of technology in bringing the Harvard education into the 21st century.

Explaining that while it can greatly benefit pedagogy, Zolner says technology in and of itself is not the improvement. “Technology is an infrastructure. It’s not the solution, it’s the means,” he says. “We need to make sure that the technology tail does not end up wagging the teaching-and-learning dog.”

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.


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