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Harvard Task Force Recommends University Expand Digital Education Presence

The Harvard Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force was commissioned by Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber '76 in February 2021.
The Harvard Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force was commissioned by Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber '76 in February 2021. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Cara J. Chang and Isabella B. Cho, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force issued a report on Wednesday detailing the learning innovations inspired by the pandemic and recommending the University invest in making digital tools and new forms of online content available globally.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 convened the task force, composed of 17 Harvard faculty and administrators in February 2021 — almost a year after the Covid-19 pandemic drove Harvard classes online.

The 47-page report examines Harvard’s online learning innovations and develops strategies for faculty, schools, and the University to take advantage of them, culminating in a three-phase implementation plan.

The executive summary of the report, which acknowledges Harvard’s experimentation with remote and hybrid learning began far before the spread of the virus, cites the University’s adaptive strategies during the pandemic as opportunities for future innovation.

“Our investments in and experiences with asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid offerings over the prior decade created essential foundations for the transition to remote teaching,” the report reads. “Now those learnings have been expanded by individual and collective innovations through the Harvard community.”

The report’s recommendations are divided into three phases by time frame: immediate, over one to three years, and long-term.

Phase One recommendations revolve around enhancing a “culture of innovation,” encouraging faculty and schools to continue exploring online forms of learning for more adaptive and interactive curricula. Schools should also expand pre-matriculation programs as well as programs accommodating remote learning, the report said. At the University-wide level, the report recommends Harvard develop standardized tools and techniques for faculty, including best practices, classroom tools, and best practices.

In the second implementation phase, recommendations shift from faculty and school-led initiatives to University-wide changes, focusing on advancing Harvard’s technology infrastructure and developing content strategies. In addition to building new classrooms equipped for online synchronous learning and space for faculty to experiment with new digital tools, the report recommends that the University build a new Harvard-wide online platform, although it offered few details on what it should look like.

The report, in its third phase of recommendations, adds that investing in the University’s digital presence could create “a more global Harvard,” offering more accessible learning experiences through “Harvard Global Learning 2.0.” The report advocated more outreach to international populations and engagement with alumni from virtual and residential programs.

Phase Three also recommends updated policies for faculty who desire to share their scholarship in “short-form and other innovative formats.”

The report cites examples of such “short-form” interactive learning formats including digital encyclopedias, faculty-sponsored podcasts, and “nano-courses,” akin to Harvard-sponsored Masterclasses.

The report concludes with the hope that Harvard can diversify and innovate its educational content as well as expand its global reach.

“We will offer an improved experience to more and better learners,” the report reads. “We will share our educators and expertise more broadly, consistently, and accessibly. And we will engage deeply with learners and communities, partners and institutions, to revolutionize access to education worldwide.”

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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