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As faculty and students across the University adjust to this fall’s online academic model, some are turning to a web app developed by a team of Harvard affiliates to promote inclusive classroom learning.
Dubbed Teachly, the app collects data on how often students participate in class as well as how often professors call on any given student, helping professors identify participation gaps and encourage wider class participation.
The Teachly team — composed of Harvard Kennedy School professors Dan Levy and Theodore “Teddy” Svoronos; Kennedy School alumni Kartikeya “Karti” Subramanian and Louise Baldwin; College alumna Amelia R. Knudson ’13; and faculty assistant Victoria Barnum — began developing the app in 2015. They say that pedagogy research shows that class participation translates into better learning outcomes, and that the app’s goal is to improve the entire class’s learning.
Svoronos — who was Levy’s teaching fellow at the time Teachly was developed —said the two first came up with the idea for the app because they wanted such a tool for their own course.
“We sort of feel in our teaching that the backgrounds and experiences of students in the classroom are some of the greatest assets that we have,” Svoronos said. “And it felt like we weren’t making as much use of that as we could.”
In addition to tracking class participation, Teachly allows professors to get to know their students through learning profiles, which provide information about students’ backgrounds and interests. Levy and Svoronos collected the initial data for the profiles through a survey of students, according to Subramanian, who was Levy and Svoronos’s student at the time.
“Teachly came about because they were trying to use data to see how they can make better decisions in the classroom to further teaching practice and learning objectives,” Subramanian said. “I had a background in technology, so we basically whipped up a very quick web application that pulled in various data that they were already capturing from students in the class.”
The app also allows professors to check “conscious or unconscious biases” by collecting data on whether a professor tends to call on a certain demographic more than others.
“Our co-founder Dan Levy often tells the story about how he was certain he didn’t have any implicit biases on his call patterns, and that he was calling on male and female-identified people equally until he was able to get data on this and found out that he was actually calling on men 14% more than women,” Knudson said.
Knudson added that through using the Teachly tool, Levy is now “easily able to achieve parity across most of his demographic groups."
A number of other professors have begun using Teachly in their classes at the Harvard Kennedy School, including Ambassador Samantha Power and professors Cass R. Sunstein, Sheila P. Burke, and Randolph Wentworth.
Barnum said in an interview that Power uses the app to prepare for class in the same way she once prepared for diplomatic meetings.
“She kind of took the approach of using Teachly as a way to have a binder about her students with the profiles and the different information, to kind of enter the classroom as she would one of her former meetings in her other careers, and have a strategy for how she wanted to kind of take on the classroom for the day,” Barnum said.
The Teachly team said an open version of the app is available for K-12 schools and other universities, and a Harvard-specific version is accessible through HarvardKey.
“Any faculty member at Harvard can be using Teachly, and anyone in the world can use this open version of Teachly. No matter what kind of class they teach, and what contexts they teach it whatsoever,” Svoronos said. “And we just sort of want to see how useful people find it and to see if we can actually help kind of make a dent in some of the things that we care about.”
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.
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