In a year of heightened University focus on learning and teaching, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is premiering “Harvard’s Great Teachers” (for which it has the address http://greatteachers.harvard.edu) a series of online videos featuring prominent faculty members talking about their work with students and their scholarly passions. The videos, ranging in length from a few minutes to an hour, also include full lectures and talks with students about their classroom experiences, according to the FAS announcement.
In a statement, FAS dean Michael D. Smith said the new video series “showcases our faculty sharing their ideas, talking about what they do in the classroom, very much in the liberal-arts tradition. Harvard is a place where the nuance, complexity, and the sometimes startling beauty of ideas are explored. We hope these videos will illustrate for viewers the type of exciting and important conversations that happen here every day between our faculty and students.”
The initial videos focus on four prominent faculty members:
- Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor, an historian of science (specializing in twentieth-century physics experimentation, instrumentation, and theory) and director of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. Galison spoke last spring at an FAS panel on teaching with the University’s collections, a subject also addressed in the new video series. (For a Harvard Magazine news report on some of his research, see “The Early Days of the H-bomb.”)
- Thomas Forrest Kelly, Knafel professor of music—who taught the popular “First Nights” course, featured here. (Kelly is an FAS-nominated director of Harvard Magazine Inc.) Kelly was a participant in the recent launch symposium for the Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching, in the panel on “Improving Learning through Innovation in Practice.”
- Lisa Randall, Baird professor of science, a theoretical physicist who has written two popular books on her abstruse field (the first—Warped Passages—is reviewed here). She has recently worked on staged theatrical performances based on her books and research.
- Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law (Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School) and professor of computer science (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences), co-founder and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, who was recently named the law school’s vice-dean of library and information resources (effective July 1).
Introducing the series to his colleagues at the FAS faculty meeting on March 27, Dean Smith said two more professors will be profiled in videos to be released during this academic year.
The presentations complement the on-campus Conversations@FAS series, which this winter twice presented panels of (principally) younger faculty members from diverse disciplines exploring the ways technology might change the institution in the next quarter-century, and the enduring values that ought to guide FAS despite such changes.
Reaching Alumni and the Wider World
By making the videos available, and complementing them with other materials collected by the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, FAS manages a trifecta:
- it puts forth its renewed emphasis on teaching and the classroom experience;
- it satisfies, in part, alumni interest in accessing Harvard content (a project piloted at great length and expense through the online presentation of the acclaimed “Justice” course by Michael J. Sandel, Bass professor of government); and
- it highlights faculty leaders, on the verge of a large capital campaign.
(Other institutions have pursued different strategies for making their faculty members and course content widely available online. The “Open Yale” initiative, funded by the Hewlett Foundation, makes a broad array of entire introductory courses available for free. MITx is creating new online courses for which completion certificates will be granted to students, beginning this fall.)
FAS’s great teachers series promises to extend for as long as five years, with as many as six new video releases produced annually.