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The Administrative Board recently tightened its regulations regarding simultaneous enrollment, maintaining that students cannot rely on videotaped lectures to be an effective replacement for missed class time. This new policy serves little purpose, and will only be a detriment to learning for students at the College.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the practice of watching lectures rather than attending them. Large lectures with hundreds of students and minimal interactivity do not necessarily present any better learning value than videotaped lectures that can be slowed down, paused, and watched at one’s desk or library. The Ad Board’s embrace of the former over the latter represents an attachment to a traditional method of teaching that is not proven to be universally more effective. It should be up to students to decide how they best learn, and how they wish to structure their schedule.
If a teacher prefers interactivity, and believes that his course will be limited by students missing lecture, then he or she can choose not to film the class, or to make the films available only for students with excused absences. A lecturer could also integrate participation into students’ grades such that students would be hesitant to miss lecture. It should be up to each individual instructor to choose whether he or she believes that students will gain from attending class, or whether they should be allowed to substitute videotaping for lecture.
Students will still have the opportunity to attend office hours and sections, and will consequently still be interacting with their professors and peers—CS50, exempted from the Ad Board’s rule, does not have a monopoly on learning without lecture attendance. We do believe that there is value in this exchange of ideas and support the continuation of sections with physical student presence. There is difference between sections and lectures that the Ad Board has failed to recognize.
Ultimately, the consequence of the Ad Board’s decision is a negative limit on students’ abilities to pursue the fields they most wish to study. The major lecture classes often meet at the most heavily trafficked time in the day; consequently, if a student wishes to take one of these classes—and often must, as a result of General Education or concentration requirements—he or she becomes very limited in what other classes he or she can take. At Harvard, the primary focus of the institution is learning, as well as the freedom of students to pursue their specific studies in a liberal arts setting. It is important that, going forward, the administration recognizes this goal of expanding students’ learning opportunities, and becomes more willing to embrace new technology and methods of study to further this goal.
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